Pakistan appears terrified of an unfriendly government (or at least a pro-India one) assuming power in Afghanistan in 2014, when the United States and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are expected to hand over most security responsibilities to Afghan forces.
In an effort to establish a pro-Pakistani regime in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, is believed by many to be facilitating attacks on U.S. military outposts in Afghanistan, including assisting in the coordinated attack on the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul in September. Some believe the ISI also played a pivotal role in the assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
None of these actions suggest a friendly disposition toward Afghanistan or the United States. Instead, the Pakistani government’s actions appear to be a play for influence, based around a misguided security policy.
Many U.S. commentators argue that Pakistan is engaging in such counter-productive actions (while also receiving large amounts of U.S. economic and military aid) because it wants to prevent India from gaining a foothold in Afghanistan. But it’s unclear how undermining the Kabul government and the nascent Afghan military really helps it secure strategic depth against India.
Pakistan appears to hope that ISAF and the United States will fail in Afghanistan, and that the current democratic Afghan government (electoral irregularities notwithstanding) collapses. Failure of the current or a post-Karzai government would eventually enable Pakistan to bring the Taliban back to power in the hope that this new government would abandon Karzai’s policy of building friendly relations with its immediate neighbors such as India, and instead rely on Pakistan.
But if India were to be removed from the equation, would Pakistan morph into a cooperative player? Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is reported to have personally delivered a threat to then-President Pervez Musharraf that the United States would bomb Pakistan “back to the Stone Age” if it didn’t cooperate on the global war on terror. Even then, though, Musharraf apparently deliberated over whether he could survive a potential U.S attack. This moment has set the tone ever since – Islamabad having to be coerced into co-operating.
Yet the irony in all this is that India’s much-hyped presence in Afghanistan amounts mostly to moderate economic assistance, construction projects, educational training and providing vital medical aid in remote areas.
Kabul and New Delhi have, admittedly, inked an agreement under which India will provide some training to the Afghan military. However, the broader agreement was focused far more on developing economic ties rather than military ones.
India and the United States share the common objective of a stable, democratic, and functional government to prevent a return of the Taliban. To help guarantee this, India doesn’t want Afghanistan to collapse into the instability that cast such a shadow over the region in the 1990s.
Unfortunately, India remains a bogeyman for Pakistan’s political-military-intelligence complex. Until policy makers in Pakistan radically alter their mindset and reject terror as a foreign policy tool, their country can never be truly secure – with or without Indian influence in Afghanistan.
Srini Sitaraman is Associate Professor of Political Science Department of Political Science at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts.