13.09.2021 Author: Vladimir Terehov

India and Pakistan in the Afghan Problem


The Afghan problem keeps on bleeding. And it seems that this is not a figure of speech, bearing in mind the conflicting reports of events in the Panjshir Gorge, which could provoke a resurgence of civil strife across the country. This, along with the lack of an effective management mechanism, makes the prospect of a humanitarian disaster in a country of 40 million people quite probable (and imminent). Compared to which the world media’s replicated picture of the Kabul airport will seem like an innocent child’s prank.

It is becoming more or less obvious that the Afghan problem will not just go away on its own, that is, without the closest and most urgent involvement of all the significant players in the problem. Despite their understandable reluctance to sink back into this “graveyard of empires”.

Significant players in this case include China, the Russian Federation, India, Pakistan, and Iran. The Central Asian neighbors of Afghanistan may also be involved ad hoc. The author maintains his position that it is beneficial for everyone involved if the US were to withdraw completely from the issue in question. But if Washington believes otherwise, then of course the world’s leading power should also be involved in the process of solving this (relatively local, yet tortuous) problem.

The countries listed above seem to have no intention of encouraging the current Turkish leadership to be part of the solution to the Afghan problem in some way. It is rather remarkable that the airport in Kabul was reopened by Qatari specialists, despite the services offered by Turkey. The “pan-Turkism” factor is the last thing anyone needed within the field of perturbation that the collaboration (of rather extreme importance, let us repeat) participants themselves will inevitably create. Istanbul has yet to explain itself to Beijing over its attempts to “tame” the Uighurs.

Briefly about the preferred format for collaborative work. Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi suggested using the G7 platform with the inclusion of China and Russia. An eminently dubious proposal that hides yet another attempt to revive this rather dead (recent) actor in world politics. It is unclear how exactly, in the first (“urgent”) stage of solving the Afghan problem, all the current G7 members can be of use. With the exclusion of the US, let us repeat. Although the economic potential of the G7 members may come in handy when and if this problem reaches an appropriate stage in the solution process.

For now, the format of the so-called extended “Troika” with the participation of the US, the PRC, and the Russian Federation as its base seems optimal.  It was “extended” by Pakistan, representatives of the (then still functioning) Kabul regime, and the Taliban (banned in Russia) at the first meeting on August 10 in the Qatari capital of Doha. The second meeting is to be held in Kabul, but at the time of writing the new Afghan government has not yet been formed.

Seemingly, even in the “extended” configuration, the much needed India and Iran are still missing. And it is rather clear why: each of these countries has a very difficult (to put it mildly) relationship with some of its members, namely Pakistan for the former and the US for the latter. However, the opinions of both on the various issues of solving the Afghan problem could be brought to the attention of the Troika by its members, such as the Russian Federation and China. The former can offer its services to India, the latter to Iran.

Of these two, the most difficult and uncertain situation in building relations with Afghanistan’s new leadership is India. Recall that the previous regime in Kabul had a clear preference among other foreign partners for the “gentiles” of New Delhi (along, of course, with Washington) rather than the fellow believers of Islamabad. The NEO has previously discussed the reasons for this “strangeness”.

One of the first acts the Taliban took over Kabul was to send Delhi a stern warning against “meddling” in intra-Afghan turmoil. One of the first acts the Taliban carried out in Kabul was to send a stern warning to New Delhi against trying to “interfere” in the domestic turmoil in Afghanistan. The country’s Foreign Ministry has assumed the “wait and watch” attitude toward its recent partner.

And there was something to be wary of. Former J&K chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti, the daughter of the party’s founder, has made a controversial statement at a public event that the Central Government, she asked centre not not to test the patience of J&K people. In doing so, she referred to the example of events in Afghanistan. We are talking about a sharp aggravation of the situation, both in this administrative unit of India and in Pakistani-Indian relations, after the well-known events to change the status of the (now former) state of Jammu and Kashmir, held in mid-2019.

But this is only the beginning, as in late August, the virtually legalized in Afghanistan al-Qaeda (banned in Russia) called for the “liberation” of Kashmir aand other so-called Islamic lands from the “clutches of the enemies of Islam.”

But there are signs that the Taliban (banned in Russia) are gradually coming to understand the truth of the matter, both in the country they have taken charge of, and in the territories around it. At the end of August, one of the leaders of the Taliban’s political wing, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, who has been increasingly active on the negotiating table in Qatar, declared that “India is very important” concerning the continent affairs. “Like in the past” Stanekzai continued, the new Afghan leadership will resume full cooperation with it.

That’s quite a remarkable statement. It shows that the Taliban leadership, again, is beginning to understand the radical changes in the world order that have taken place in the thousand and a half years since the sacred texts were written. The women can of course be locked up at home, but they already play a pivotal role in the functioning of various state institutions. The banks may be of the Shaitan, but without them working properly, things get kind of bad.

Speaking of the consequences of the occupiers’ presence in Afghanistan, the traces of their work will not be lost and will certainly be claimed by the same Taliban. As, for example, today’s India inherited much from the former metropolis.

There is hardly any practical advice in the above-mentioned texts about what to do with the Durand Line, drawn a century ago, which divided 40 million Pashtuns and serves today as an ersatz border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And it has been one of the main causes of the difficulties in bilateral relations under all previous governments in Kabul.

So there is no guarantee at all that relations between Islamabad and the future new one will free of issues. Moreover, it is highly likely that the old problems will be transferred to Pakistan’s system of relations with the new Afghan authorities.

So it was only natural that the current head of Pakistan’s all-powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (lSI), Faiz Hameed, would visit Afghanistan on September 4 and respond to questions from reporters who met him with a brief “everything will be okay” response. Note that the question of what is “okay” (and what is not) is not in itself a simple one. For it raises related questions, such as for whom it is “okay” and why that someone would necessarily be “okay”.

It is highly probable that such an important guest meant the “appropriate” composition of the new Afghan government, the draft of which, in terms of specific personalities, apparently did not completely satisfy Islamabad. In particular, it states the opposition to the top post in the government occupied by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who caused a lot of trouble for the government of Pakistan and for three years (from 2010 to 2013) was under arrest in this country.

Meanwhile, Mullah Baradar led Taliban delegations during visits to the Russian Federation and China. That is, certain “nuances” are already emerging in the preferences of the main external actors in solving the Afghan problem on one important issue, which is, undoubtedly, the composition of the new government of the country.

In any case, an hour after Faiz Hameed arrived in Kabul, it was announced that the date of the announcement of the formation of the government of Afghanistan had been postponed. Which, we repeat, was the reason for postponing the meeting of the extended “Troika”.

Again, despite Pakistan’s continued favorable position in the Afghan problem (if only because the same ISI was at the origins of the Taliban), it seems quite likely that the former “misunderstandings” in bilateral relations will be reproduced. In fact, they are already taking shape, judging by the situation on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as its assessments by another equally important person in the Pakistani leadership, namely Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

We should also note the increased activity of Europeans in the Afghan issue. At both, both EU and “individual” levels.

Finally, we note once again that this problem represents both a challenge to the relations among a number of significant external actors in resolving it and a potential opportunity for positive transformation of these relations.

But the latter will not turn out to be a figment of fantasy only if they all really do strive to resolve it, rather than seeing it as a suitable tool for settling scores with each other.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.