If conflict will not end inside Afghanistan, what does a post-American Afghanistan mean for the region? The short answer is a lot. For a longer answer, let’s start with India and Pakistan.
The India-Pakistan contest over Afghanistan, already well advanced, will intensify with the American drawdown. India is among Afghanistan’s biggest sources of aid and has poured more than $1 billion into building transportation infrastructure and training security forces. It has a phalanx of diplomats and intelligence operatives and technical specialists in place in Kabul and in its four regional consulates. In October, India signed an “Agreement of Strategic Partnership” with the Karzai government, which of course did not go unnoticed in Islamabad. A month later, a coalition of public and private Indian companies sponsored by the government-owned Steel Authority of India (SAIL) won a contract to develop the giant iron ore mine (its reserves are estimated at 1.8 billion metric tons) at Hajigak in Bamyan province, west of Kabul, a venture in which it is expected to invest nearly $11 billion over thirty years.3 And in Tajikistan, whose territory it once used to support the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in the 1990s and now uses to airlift supplies that are then sent by road into Afghanistan, India has established a presence by refurbishing the Ayni airbase, training Tajik security personnel and modernizing the Varzob-1 hydroelectric station.
A project that illustrates the conjoining of economic and security goals in India’s calculations in Afghanistan, and the convergence of its interest with Iran’s, is the 217-kilometer road it completed in 2009 in Nimroz and Farah provinces to connect Zaranj, in southwest Afghanistan near the Iranian border, with Delaram, which lies athwart the 2,700-kilometer “Ring Road” linking Kandahar, Kabul, Kunduz, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif.4 Because Zaranj is tied by road to the Iranian port of Chahbahar, the Indian project reduces landlocked Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistan’s harbors while enabling India to move its exports and aid into Afghanistan—no small matter given that Pakistan separates India from Afghanistan. That Chahbahar is less than a hundred kilometers from the Pakistani port of Gwadar, which has been modernized and expanded by China, provides New Delhi a bonus.
Another big Indian undertaking, though one that does not complement Iran’s interests, is the refurbishing of the Salma Dam on the Harirud River in the Chishti Sharif district west of Herat city. Begun in 1978, but mothballed after Afghanistan’s descent into war, the project resumed in 2004 and will generate 42 megawatts of electricity and irrigate nearly 300 square miles of farmland. But it has been slowed by insurgent violence in the district—which India has sought to counter by paying the Afghan Ministry of the Interior some $700,000 annually to train and deploy guards—and cost overruns that have raised the price tag to $180 million, more than a threefold increase over the original projection. While Salma will benefit Afghanistan, it will reduce the water Iran receives from the Harirud, and local Afghan police officials have charged that Tehran, which has called on India to halt its work, has been backing Taliban insurgents to disrupt work on the dam.5
India’s strenuous efforts in Afghanistan stem from a determination to reestablish the pattern that prevailed from 1947 to 1992, when Afghanistan was ruled by a series of regimes that, while different in makeup, were all friendly toward India and wary of Pakistan: Zahir Shah’s monarchy; the “republic” of Mohammed Daoud Khan, the king’s cousin and brother-in law, who ousted and exiled him in 1973; and the Soviet-backed People’s Democratic Party, which took power after a 1978 coup, in which Daoud was killed, and ruled until 1992. The configuration changed to India’s detriment once assorted anti-Soviet mujaheddin groups began a vicious battle for power that year. That melee enabled the Taliban’s rise in 1994 and, with support from Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, its victory two years later.
Pakistan’s military-intelligence complex is equally resolved to counter India’s flanking maneuver and to establish a dependent government in Kabul. Its efforts began early. Pakistan exploited its position as prime purveyor of American and Saudi aid to the anti-Soviet resistance in order to help its favored Islamists gain power. Pakistan first backed Hekmatyar, but once it realized he was a liability it switched to the Taliban. Pakistan was one of only three states to establish full diplomatic relations with the Taliban (the others being Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates). It abandoned the Taliban, albeit never completely, only after Washington delivered an “us or them” ultimatum after 9/11, and then too only after rancorous debate within President Pervez Musharraff’s top military circle. Thus it is not surprising that Pakistan’s generals and ISI operatives now consider the Haqqanis, Hekmatyar and the Taliban as agents for thwarting India’s encirclement plan. They have a long history with these groups; by contrast, Karzai, who regularly chides Pakistan for abetting the insurgency, is seen as New Delhi’s man.
Neither India nor Pakistan will be able to resist the temptation to exploit each other’s weaknesses in other locations once their contest in post-American Afghanistan accelerates. For Pakistan, the most likely venue is Indian Kashmir; for India, it is Balochistan, Pakistan’s poorest province, home to a third of its natural gas as well as other resources, and the site of an armed rebellion that has persisted with varying intensity since 1948, prompting major military offensives by the government.
Notwithstanding the anxieties of nonproliferation doomsayers, the real danger in South Asia is not that such lateral moves will beget crises that then spiral toward nuclear war; South Asia is not immune from the iron logic of deterrence. Rather, it is that the competition between India and Pakistan in post-American Afghanistan will increase violence in Kashmir, making cooperative solutions to Afghanistan’s problems even harder and relegating to tactical irrelevance such mutually beneficial projects as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.6
to be continued…………………..