If we see Afghanistan and its surrounding areas, the war confined to the country has extended throughout the region. A more systematic wave of terrorism has emerged and not only Afghanistan but other regional states are also battling this menace. In Afghanistan, Taliban are still strong and their influence is not limited to Pashtun dominated areas of the country, rather their control extends to Tajik and Uzbek populated areas as well. Locals view US / coalition as an occupational force and Taliban are seen as a balancing force against them. Afghan public and the government well aware of the ground reality support the idea of giving Taliban their due share in state affairs.
WoT’s spillover effects on the region and Pakistan, in particular are enormous. Pakistan – front-line state ally in the war and also being the neighbouring Afghan country is the worst sufferer. 50,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives in the terrorist attacks. Drone strikes (breach of UN Charter), carried out in tribal areas have provoked anti-US sentiments in the country. TTP (Tehreek-Taliban-Pakistan), a by-product of the war has been carrying out terrorist attacks throughout the country. Besides, Indian ingress in Afghan affairs is also a cause of instability in Pakistan. US supports Indian enhanced role in Afghanistan and the region. President Obama said “India is a leader in Asia and around the world. It’s a rising power and a responsible global power. That’s why I firmly believe that the relationship between the US and India will be a defining partnership in the 21st century”. On the contrary, Pakistan has been accused by the US of “not doing enough”. In view of President Obama “the sources of Afghan instability are linked to Islamabad’s conflict with New Delhi, at the heart of which is Jammu and Kashmir”. In this backlashing, India and Afghanistan have also joined the bandwagon. Both blame Pakistan for playing a dubious role and sponsoring radicalism.
Regional states have also distanced themselves from Pakistan. Iran and Afghanistan are more inclined towards India. India has heavily invested in these countries and has also extended military cooperation. Many roads leading from Chabahar port to Central Afghanistan have been built by India. Similarly, India has invested more than US $ 2 billion in Afghanistan. In the aftermath of US / coalition withdrawal, the “Indo-US strategic partnership” and the emerging “India-Afghanistan-Iran trio” is likely to have long term bearing on the political and security landscape of the region. The materialization of regional pipelines – TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) and IPI (India-Pakistan-Iran), will also largely depend on the political orientation of these alliances.
US is about to exit from Afghanistan. 50,000 coalition troops have left Afghanistan, while the remaining 100,000 are likely to exit in later half of 2014. Unlike the Soviets withdrawal (1988), a small number of US troops will remain in the country. American next theatre is East Asia / Asia Pacific, “Pivot to Asia Policy”. From the South Asian region, US has identified India as a strategic partner. US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta said “Defence cooperation with India is a linchpin in US new Asia Pacific strategy”. Both the strategic partners view China as a competitor, US at global level and India at the regional front. As regards China’s role in post-2014 Afghanistan. The East Asian power did not station troops on Afghan soil during the war, but the country’s economic investment (Aynak copper mine) in Afghanistan makes it a significant external player. China has also offered training to Afghan troops in post withdrawal phase. This in turn would further strengthen Chinese foothold in Afghanistan.
In the wake of US withdrawal from Afghanistan, whether the US prefers a peaceful Afghanistan or leaves the country in chaos so that the energy resources from Central Asia do not head towards South Asia is yet to be seen. Pakistan played a pivotal role in sustenance of the US / coalition in Afghanistan and would also play a similar role in their exit. But the West throughout the war has been trying to discredit Pakistan. It appears, the aim is to portray Pakistan as an unstable state and thwart establishment of a secure economic corridor with China. At the time of withdrawal, a similar simmering campaign could again target Pakistan. To counter such moves, Pakistan has to be pro-active in its approach, it should try to have cordial ties with the West, prior to US departure from the region; try to re-build trust with Afghanistan and also forge partnership with China and Russia.
Pakistan Observer-May 26, 2014
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the author and do not reflect the policy of IPRI.