Indo-Pak Relations -1/5 (the Afghanistan Angle)

Biswanath Bhattacharya

November 9, 2020, 11:02:20   

To the eyes and ears of a common man in India, Indo-Pak relations are manifested by rhetoric's of events along the LOC, Terrorism, Mumbai attack, J&K, Composite dialogue, Hurriyat, Cricket etc. Rhetoric's that the people on both sides have become accustomed to enjoy. Rhetoric's that help powers on both sides to remain in power - National interests could go to hell. These rhetoric's are made to appear to be the end all and be all of our mutual foreign policy pastures. On the other hand the ground realities are very different. Happenings behind closed doors and their implications are rarely understood and even if understood, never projected by the media in their true perspective, but in a perspective that sells.

"Resolution is the acid test of bi-lateral diplomacy." Since independence, Indo-Pak relations have been stuck on the same notes, proving a total failure of diplomacy. Nothing new has ever been attempted. Today, Indo-Pak relations are governed not by the bi-lateral cross border events, but by the events the two have with their other regional partners namely Afghanistan, Iran and China. For Pakistan, which is sandwiched between India and these three, the situation becomes more demanding in terms of their foreign policy acumen and the lavage they can derive from each. For India it is a totally different ball game. In so doing India under Modi seems to be strumming the right cords. It has realizedthat "Its disputes with Pakistan are unsolvable, but they can certainly be made redundant" To this end, happenings in Afghanistan, good or bad, play a pivotal role in Indo-Pak relations  

It is said that "Problems of this region started with Afghanistan and will now end with Afghanistan." Nothing can be more true them this. Pakistan's relations with Afghanistan are governed by the famous Istanbul process or the Heart of Asia conference held this month in Islamabad. Having failed to do so itself, and Pushed by the middle east interests of United States and United Kingdom, the strategy rests on getting Pakistan to rein in the Taliban, in the hope of marginalizing al-Qaeda and ISIS. Pakistan-brokered talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban, which broke down six months ago, are expected to begin again. From Pakistan’s point of view, the issue is muddier, involving hard policy choices. Pushing the Taliban and their Pakistani allies too hard could lead them to join hands with the Tehreek-e-Taliban, the anti-Pakistan jihadists who retreated into Afghanistan in the face of a military offensive. Even worse, dissident Taliban commanders like Mullah Mohammad Rassoul Nowrozi and his military deputies, Mullah Baz Mohammad and Mullah Mansour Dadullah, could depose the Pakistan-backed leadership.

During the Islamabad conference this dilemma was acknowledged by all and it was finally accepted that a new channel of dialogue should be built between the Afghan National Unity Government and the Taliban leadership, and the regional countries have to support this process if not contribute to these talks. The importance of these negotiations to be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led was supported by all

Despite these problems, this conference has over the last four years, donned the nobler robe of economic development as a key driver, both for Pakistan and Afghanistan, instigating them to act. Pushed by Modi during his visit to Turkmenistan in July this year, TAPI pipeline carrying Caspian Sea Gas from Turkmenistan to India through Afghanistan and Pakistan, whose ground breaking ceremony was done on 13 Dec, is a case in point. Funded by ADB (mainly China), this 10 billion dollar fast track project besides providing an assured revenue to Afghanistan, will give Pakistan desperately-needed energy, and transit revenues from gas headed to India. The Central Asia-Iran highway to Chabahar running through Afghanistan is the other ambitious project. Work on developing the port at Chabahar by India is in full swing with ambitious time lines
Today, gas finally coming out of this pipe line in India, or vehicles moving from central Asia to Chabahar, is not that important as restoration of security atmosphere of the region, spoiled by world powers decades back. With this in mind, both Pakistan and Afghanistan are now more and more of the view that, containment of Taliban and the like, needs to be kept regional and not made over ambitious or overburdened as per the ambitious desires and wishes of the West. To this end, Pakistan Army has for the first time guaranteed long term security for these ambitious joint projects and other CBM's in Afghanistan
With the next conference to be held in New Delhi shortly, India needs to play this "Heart of Asia" card, very maturely along with the other two major stake holders, Iran and China. Without this "Composite Involvement" nothing in this region can ever be achieved. India has to come forward with more concrete, co-operative and meaningful proposals. Atmosphere for doing so has never been better. India opening its hard stance with Pakistan prior to the Islamabad conference was a step in the right direction. It enabled its participation in the same, besides opening the doors of the SARC meet for Modi

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