Since their inception as nation states in 1947, India and Pakistan has been fighting over multiple fronts most of the times, which most importantly includes Kashmir from the beginning. The conflict of Kashmir remains there, but the focus has shifted now to Afghanistan.
Both the nations want to be the dearest to the Afghanis for fulfilling their own national interests. Power politics is being played in such a way that it becomes difficult to decide what is right and what is wrong.
The shifting focus of rivalry from Kashmir to Afghanistan undermines the former issue in such a way that the people of Kashmir have become hopeless.
As Kashmiris have lost everything already because of the India-Pakistan rivalry, the need of the hour is that both should realise that Kashmiris can’t suffer anymore, and we should not be the casualty between India-Pakistan rivalry. This is the time that both the countries come together and solve their issues amicably, including the long-standing Kashmir issue.
Shifting focus from Kashmir to Afghanistan
Ever since the birth of India and Pakistan as two separate States in August 1947, the regional security environment in South Asia has consistently remained hostage to the intractable rivalry that has characterized their bilateral relationship in the subsequent years.
At present one of the key developments in the regional politics is under way in Afghanistan. Both India and Pakistan are making efforts to influence Afghanistan’s future in their respective favour mainly to address their perceived security concerns.
To Pakistan, India has been making a palpable strategic investment in Afghanistan since 9/11, with a view to encircle Pakistan and reduce its strategic depth. From India’s perspective, besides helping Afghanistan in its rebuilding process, India’s current engagement in that country is also aimed at preventing a pro-Pakistan, anti-India Taliban assuming Power.
Traditionally, India and Afghanistan have been very close to each other, as both have enjoyed strong and friendly relations most of the times. The same suffered a huge blow with the coming of the Taliban on the scene, as India didn’t recognise the Taliban regime in Afghanistan officially. India did not maintain any relations with the Taliban regime. The same continued till the ouster of the Taliban government by the US/NATO forces after the 9/11 attack.
The US intervention in Afghanistan to avenge the 9/11 attack, not only caused a swift regime change in Afghanistan but also required both India and Pakistan to revisit their respective priorities in Afghanistan. While the US intervention broadened the chances of the Indian involvement in Afghanistan, it came as a disaster for Pakistan. India exploited this opportunity vehemently and started its involvement generously, starting with the high-level visits from both sides.
One of the most important reasons of the Indian involvement in Afghanistan is to extend its engagement beyond the south Asia. The US intervention provided India an opportunity to go beyond its borders, and the same cornered the Pakistani establishment. This became the primary reason for Pakistan for shifting its focus from Kashmir to Afghanistan. As Pakistan was now cornered from the Western side also by its arch rivals, they had to revisit their priorities.
As Afghanistan is important for Pakistan for easy access to the Central Asian States, it is important for India too for the same reasons, because Pakistan has/had always denied India the access to the Central Asia. Afghanistan and Iran are the two viable options for India after Pakistan. Afghanistan, which is considered as a gateway to the Central Asian States, can play an important role in the Indian access to these states. As all the major powers of the world have taken keen interest for expanding their sphere of influence to the CAS, India and Pakistan are no exceptions.
India’s Afghan policy, to a large extent aims at containing and countering Pakistan. India’s fundamental objective is to minimise Pakistan’s influence and involvement in Afghanistan and vice-versa. India does not want Afghanistan to be dependent on Pakistan and the Pakistani establishment had the same intensions. Both want to root out one another in Afghanistan for their deeper national interests. For Pakistan, Afghanistan is an important neighbour as it can’t afford another hostile neighbour, to face its worst “Strategic Dilemma” of being caught between two hostile neighbours. For India, Afghanistan is important for checking the expansion of Pakistan to their Western side.
The dual transition, political and security, that Afghanistan faced in 2014-2015, was a great challenge to the future of Afghanistan. Both took place successfully as Ashraf Ghani succeeded Hamid Karzai and US withdrew its majority of the forces from Afghanistan. Now the whole responsibility is on the elected President and the Afghan National Army. Some of the foreign forces are still there in Afghanistan to aid and assist the Afghan National Army, as they are not considered competent enough to handle insurgency on their own.
India and Pakistan, both are making enough efforts to increase their involvement to influence the new government. Both want their national interests to be protected. The Indian success is seen in the reconstruction and development and the Pakistani success is visible in the peace process.
Both are fighting against each other in Afghanistan silently. If both had taken a lead with unity for the reconstruction, development and peace there, the result would have been an everlasting peace.
But India and Pakistan continued their decades old rivalry in the Afghan matter too. A new kind of battle is being fought between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan, which is very unfortunate, and it will lead to nowhere.
The need of the hour is that both India and Pakistan care more for the establishment of an everlasting peace in Afghanistan, than competing for expanding their influence in that country and use it against each other. The exploitation of Afghanistan will not lead to anywhere except deepening the rivalry, so it will be better to come forward and solve all the impending issues amicably for the better future of the South Asian region.
Author is a research scholar, Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.