D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS E-mail: email@example.com
An earlier commentary on this issue asked the following: can there be a region-led and region-owned solution for stability in Afghanistan? Can the stakeholders be brought together?
For any regional initiative to achieve success in stabilising and securing Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, India and countries of Central Asia remain crucial stakeholders. In particular, Pakistan, Iran and India are three countries that have the potential to both stabilise and destabilise Afghanistan. All three hold larger strategic interests in Afghanistan; unfortunately, these interests have the potential to both build and break Afghanistan.
Of the three countries, Pakistan is extremely apprehensive of the future of Afghan stability, in terms of external influences and investments in Kabul. Undoubtedly, Rawalpindi (and to an extent Islamabad) would like to have a stable, if not too strong Afghanistan. The military and the ISI in Pakistan would like to ensure that the future leadership in Kabul is not strong enough, either politically or militarily, to build Afghan resistance against Pakistan’s influence. More than Indian presence in Afghanistan, a strong Afghanistan antagonistic towards Islamabad, is not in Pakistan’s interests. While Pakistan is well aware of Karzai’s position, it cannot take the Taliban’s support for granted; given that if the Taliban come to power, they may have their own perspectives.
The first and foremost strategic interest of Pakistan in Afghanistan is, to ensure that the regime in Kabul is under substantial influence of Islamabad. This has been the primary reason for the military and ISI getting upset when the US and some European countries, especially Germany, attempted to open a direct line with the Taliban, bypassing Pakistan. The fact that the Taliban also accepted to negotiate with the West, without the ISI’s knowledge, made Pakistan even more apprehensive.
The second strategic objective of Pakistan in Afghanistan, aims to ensure that there remains no space for India in any future Afghan settlement. While the traditional belief on “strategic depth” is being repudiated by many within Pakistan, the contemporary Pakistani fear is over Indian presence in Kabul and in multiple towns in Afghanistan, closer to the Durand Line. Pakistan loathes Indian investments in economic and infrastructural projects in Afghanistan, for the following reasons – it provides much needed space for India to create a positive image in Afghanistan, especially in Kabul; allows the international community to entertain New Delhi to proceed further and expand Indian investments; it brings Kabul closer to New Delhi; and most importantly, Indian presence along the Durand Line will exacerbate the insurgency movements within Pakistan, especially in Balochistan.