By: Abdul Fateh





[As pronounced deadline of exist of NATO / ISAF/US military forces from Afghanistan by year ending 2014 is approaching, degree of uncertainty is looming large the international community about fate of peace process of Afghanistan. Pakistan being immediate neighboring country certainly has significant role to play and same is claimed by India. Many quarters visualize much divergent interests and lesser converging interests between the two competing countries may actually fall into prey of possibly envisioned big game to be played by the extra regional bigger powers.]

Overview of the Situation in Afghanistan

. Present situation in Afghanistan is far from being normal, stable and peaceful country due to unabated spate of violence and terrorism threat by Al Qaida affiliated Taliban extremists’ network targeting US/NATO and Afghan armed forces. Lately, the United States realized that possibly it was futile effort to remain embroiled in guerilla warfare fighting in rugged terrain of Afghanistan. That’s why such official announcement came from Washington DC. Still, most of the quarters felt that USA would never pull out from Afghanistan due to multitude of the strategic interests attached vis-a-vis competing power players in the region such as China and Russia. Realists also incorporate Pakistan and India in same category. Peter Hopkirk in his book “The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia” foresees “The New Great Game” in play in post 9/ 11 scenario in Afghanistan wherein “Besides the Americans and Russians, other regional powers, notably China, India and Pakistan, are looking on with intense self – interest and concern” . It is quite possible that the US would not completely pull out of Afghanistan and may only change its form of strategic engagement in the region through launching pad in Afghanistan through other / non NATO civilian modus operandi under guise of the capacity building of Afghan Army / Police/ intelligence service and sponsored reconstruction projects launched through USAID and the partner Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs).
However, prior to reaching that stage, as necessary condition “Peace” has to be attained. As a matter of fact, state of peace in Afghanistan is visualized attainable only under constructive settlement / agreement / deal on peace with warring Taliban. It is this regard some sort of efforts could be gauged on part of USA officially taking side of the need to hold negotiations with Taliban in the last two years by utilizing the access and ingress of Pakistan in certain factions within Taliban being Haqqani Group on top of the list. Previously, the US sponsored Taliban office was also established in Doha, Qatar. Main stake holders including USA and Afghan governments do realize that Pakistan has natural advantage of historical engagement with major Pashtun community including various factions within Taliban on both sides of the border and has determinable role to play in pre / post exit situation of US / NATO forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan has experienced long tortuous history of strategic partnership with US, previously during cold war era against expansionist designs of former USSR in Afghanistan to reach out to warm waters of Pakistan. Further, after 9/11 incident Pakistan acted as front line state in US led international campaign against terrorism and hunting for Al-Qaida Network in Afghanistan. Though, the coalition essentially benefited USA in terms of gaining domestic and international political mileage and up keeping the super power status, Pakistan preferred to remain engaged despite substantial losses of manpower and national exchequer. On the other hand, India has attempted to play major in the situation in Afghanistan. As for as the Indian efforts of strategic engagement with President Karzai government are concerned, there could be witnessed lot of progress to the extent that at one stage Pakistan has been apprehending Karzai’s complete tilt towards India at the cost of interests of Pakistan. India invested unprecedented scale of diplomatic, political and monetary funds under envisioned “Strategic Partnership Plan with Afghanistan” in 2011. Though, it is in the interests of both the countries that there should be peace and stability in Afghanistan, efforts of strategic engagement by Pakistan and India continues to remain competitive and not complimentary, which is certainly going to affect the fate of ongoing peace deal in Afghanistan.


Pakistan has historical ties established with its immediate neighbor, Afghanistan. Simultaneously, Pakistan has remained affected due to history of internal strife and infighting within Afghan warlords over a period of time. Due to Pakistan’s geo-strategic location considered as corridor of trade and commercial outreach to potentially rich Central Asian States (CARs) through landlocked Afghanistan has always attracted the regional and extra regional powers. In the past the power play of infamous great game by the colonial powers like Great Britain and Russia could only reach to logical end through axis of Pakistan. Relatively, Pakistan may not even be categorized among list of the major powers in the classical realists’ criteria, yet continued to act as major derivative of the strategic power play in Afghanistan. As matter of fact, Pakistan has been mostly affected by the relentless disorder/ troubled western border and almost anarchy like situation in Afghanistan. So, it has been in Pakistan’s interests to keep the trouble at bay through buffer of tribal areas / FATA created since the times of British Empire. Another strategic interest of Pakistan form previous engagement with USA during Cold War era was to contain the former USSR’s expansion and its ultimate goal to reach out its warm waters of Pakistan’s coastal belt located at mouth of the resourceful Gulf States. This time the power game played mainly through clandestine   operations in collaboration of CIA and ISI exploiting the Islamist “Jihad” theme and Mujahideen “Taliban” as the guerrilla fighters, certainly for Pakistan the stakes were very high. After the 9/11 it common place assessment among the scholars and the strategists that without Pakistan’s support and allow of NATO/ISAF/US military supply  through transit route of Karachi up till Chaman and Torkham borders of Afghanistan, cost of the US led campaign in Afghanistan could have been much more than incurred the time span. Subsequently, once another phase of US strategy in Afghanistan is set in play, role of Pakistan is still considered significant as for as the necessary condition of peace is to be reached with Taliban.
Other quarters also visualize that Pakistan’s enhanced strategic interests in Afghanistan could be gauged from visualized out of proportion initiated Indian engagement in Afghanistan on pretext of “Gujral Doctrine” to play major power role in the region. Pakistan felt that actually India exploited the opportunity to infiltrate into affairs Balochistan as revenge of similar intervention by Pakistan in Indian held Kashmir by means of nurturing secessionist sub/nationalist in Afghanistan i.e. Baloch Liberation Army led Mir Balaach Khan Marri son of Nawab Khair Bux Marri and Baloch Liberation Front led by Mir Barhamdagh grandson of Nawab Akbar Bugti. As a matter of fact, the arch rivals wedged proxy war of respective vested interest in Afghanistan. Enhanced political closeness of Indian government with Karzai’s government, billions of rupees of Indian sponsored project of infrastructure, police and military training of capacity building of Afghan security forces and so forth have been visualized by Pakistan anti thesis to its strategic interests. When President Karzai occasionally spit venom of leveling blame at Pakistan allegedly allowing cross border terrorism from North Waziristan, he is felt actually speaking language of the Indians. Recent study by RAND cooperation maintain that “Karzai or his successor, have a considerable incentive to solicit additional assistance from India. The Karzai government has realized that its needs to improve the economy to gain legitimacy, which it severely lacks, and outreach to India seems very attractive for this purpose”. Further, “The reinvigorated Indian economic aid and reconstruction programme could help the Kabul government continue to build popular support”
Simultaneously, Karzai has been asking for Pakistan’s help to contact Taliban leaders and negotiate a peace deals, as his personal interest has been in consolidating and retaining power in Kabul with tacit (or not) Indian assistance. This delineates divergence of intention and interests, which may be suitable to the interests of Pakistan. However, Pakistan could not effort two heavily armed borders. Karzai wants Pakistani support to help in convincing Taliban to take part in dialogue directly with “Afghan high Peace Council” under five step plan titled, “Peace Process Road map to 2015”. The document begins with the need to secure collaboration of Pakistan”. The setp-2 involves “Confidence Building Measures” followed by the details of the exit strategy that “Afghanistan, Pakistan and USA, trilaterally agree on terms & conditions for delisting, safe passage and other requirements of Taliban leaders willing to engage in peace talks”. Other state holders like UK, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia also intended Pakistan to lead the course with Kabul government. Pakistan has certainly a strategic leverage and as a matter of fact, it cannot keep up the two heavily borders on Eastern side with India and on Western side with Afghanistan.

To many quarters, earlier Indian efforts of strategic engagement with Afghanistan were possibly aimed at undermining the role of Pakistan, as India was frustrated on taking unexpected U turn and pronouncing all out support to US led international campaign against Al Qaida-Taliban extremists in Afghanistan. Gradually, taking advantage of the situation in Afghanistan, India started establishing ingress through political and diplomatic support to the Karzai government and initiative of various projects 1 – 2 billion US dollars. Actually, with better economic progress and holding diplomatic position at international level, India has been posing herself as the ultimate regional power and major stake holder in the affairs of Afghanistan. As per C. Raja Mohan “initial widespread concern in Delhi has now been replaced by a stoic resignation and determination to pursue its enduring interests in Afghanistan on its own steam” . The Indian perception about future scenario remained that “Pakistan will not be able to support the Taliban as it did in the 1990s” . Last year India hosted “Heart of Asia Conference-2012” at Kabul, in which India urged to lead in reaching confidence building measures and to support Afghanistan integrated into regional economy. The author claims “Within India there is confidence that it can lead in facilitating trade and commercial opportunities for Afghanistan and the region”. Further, US sponsored initiative of “New Silk Road” for Afghanistan to regain its historical role as a land bridge between South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East and Eurasia” is considered vital by India to be exploited for own strategic advantages. In the recent past, in 2011 President Karzai signed a strategic partnership Agreement with Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh during his visit to New Delhi, India, which formalized framework of cooperation in areas of political, security, trade, economics, capacity building, education, social and people to people relations. Statistical detail of the projects is enclosed as Appendix-I.
Aforementioned, it is well established that the success of the Indian initiatives have remained conditioned to pre-requisite peace and stability to be attained in Afghanistan. In absence, there envisioned Indian strategic goals to become major power player in the region would continue to remain dream.  

Despite much divergence of strategic interests of India and Pakistan, there exists convergence of interests that both countries desire peace process to be continued in Afghanistan. The unstable and uncertain Afghanistan would not suit interests of especially the regional power players including China, India and Pakistan. There is need that both the countries should desist from playing role of intransigent, quasi imperialist and just leaving Afghanistan as a strategic backyard, as previously done by USA after demise of USSR. Instead of blaming act and plying proxy war, the two important countries should play constructive role in Afghan peace process. It is fact that being land locked country “Afghanistan has been historically dependent on Pakistan for access to maritime trade from Arabian sea. Therefore, Pakistan has natural monopoly so far regarding Afghan Transit Trade”.

Peter Hopkirk, “The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia”, John Murray, 338 Euston Road, London, 1990-2006

 Neha Ansari, Senior Sub editor, The Express International Herald Tribune, “Afghan and game : Intentions vs interest” dated 21 Aug 2013

C.Raja Mohan, “Beyond US withdrawal: India’s Afghan options”, Observer Research Foundation, 24 May 2012

Gareth Price, “India’s policy towards Afghanistan”, Chatham House, London,, Asia ASP 2013/04

Neil Padukone, “World Affairs” issue of November / December 2012