Afghanistan is developing into a political proxy war between India and Pakistan.

With 30,000 more United States troops on their way to Afghanistan, it is getting clearer now that they will not suffice and that larger challenges loom. Afghanistan is also increasingly developing into a political proxy war between India and Pakistan.
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HOW FAR A DESTABLISED PAKISTAN SUITS INDIA!

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by Francesco Sisci

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Pakistan, which backed the mujahideen against the Soviets in the 1980’s and offered a safe haven, a breeding ground to the Taliban in the 1990’s, is now looking askance at the government of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, which it sees as pro-India. Conversely, India has fond memories of the time when Kabul was firmly under Moscow’s hands and out of Islamabad’s fist – and worries that the present American strategy will hand Kabul back to Pakistan.

India is also worried about US’s diplomatic warming with China, the latter being Pakistan’s long-time ally. US President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Beijing was a major success – despite some criticism – and set in motion a higher phase in bilateral ties.

Moreover, China is pressing in around India. It backed the peace process between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Colombo government this year, thus gaining new leverage in Sri Lanka. Nepal’s neo-Maoists are fashionably pro-Chinese, and sympathy for the Chinese government can be found in the neo-Maoist rebels active in about a third of India’s territory.

Further, on the eastern front, there is Myanmar, where New Delhi may gain ground but Beijing’s interests are firmly entrenched. If the new American policies in Afghanistan let Islamabad increase its clout in Kabul, New Delhi could rightly feel it is caught in a vice in which China – with American help – is pressing the levers.

However, this perception might be wrong. Afghanistan and Pakistan are not unstable domino tiles that can be moved at will in a careful balance of weights and counterweights, as in old political power games. Pakistan and Afghanistan are part of a more complex balancing act that is both domestic and international and in which we also find China and India. It is no mystery that the Afghanistan wound has festered to the point of poisoning Pakistan’s body.

Parts of Pakistan are subject to tribal rule, That is, tribes straddling the border have brought their rule to Pakistan, and Islamabad, vying for its own state legitimacy, has to cope with them. In other words, Afghanistan’s falling apart puts Pakistan in jeopardy, as the latter could also crumble, split between tribal and national interests: Pashtuns versus Punjabis or Sindhi or Balochi. The problem has become so big that the real issue now is no longer to simply stabilize Afghanistan, but to also stabilize Pakistan and prevent its fall into anarchy, as many pundits see it as an almost failing state. Thinking of Pakistan as a failing state does not help its recovery, and it further fuels the flames of chaos.

From the simple view of looking for a power play, India should rejoice in the weakening or even the disappearance of its major regional rival, Pakistan. If Pakistan fails, its large territory could fall under New Delhi’s brotherly embrace, as happened with Bangladesh. Thus, modern India could recover de facto the borders of the former British Indian Empire. It would be a major geopolitical victory for New Delhi – or would it?

The “new India” with Pakistan would add some 180 millions Muslims. Adding the some 145 million Muslims in Bangladesh and about 160 millions Muslims in India proper, the subcontinent has about half a billion Muslims out of a total population of 1.5 billion. That is, one-third of the total population of a united subcontinent would be Muslim and planted with the seeds of radicalism born out of the long Afghan war and the despair at the loss of a “pure” Pakistani state.

The objective weight of Islam and extremist Islam would be bound to increase in New Delhi, even if it managed to keep Pakistan and Bangladesh separate from the rest of the body of the potential Indian union. This could easily incense already inflammable radical Hindu nationalist parties, presently backing or defending frequent, violent anti-Muslim or anti-Christian protests in India.

In other words, more radical Muslims would create space for more radical Hindu nationalists, which could then start a vicious circle of tension. These would not be the only elements of the dangerous powder keg. Neo-Maoist guerrillas threaten a third of the territory and would also be rallied by growing religious confrontations; differences from north (Indo-European) and south (Dravidian) India could flare, spiced by caste and pro-independence struggles.

In other words, the fall of Pakistan – even if we were naive enough to believe that it could be managed in an orderly way – would inevitably bring about massive destabilization in India, home to about one-fourth of the world’s population. The world – scared enough of the destabilization of Afghanistan, home of 44 million Muslims – would be confronting the nightmare of the destabilization of some 500 million Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. Is New Delhi ready for it? Hardly. China may have reasons for supporting Pakistan to contain India, but India could be totally destabilized by the destabilization of Pakistan. India has more to lose than China out of the loss of Pakistan – it could jeopardize its own country.

Thus, New Delhi has an objective interest in stabilizing Pakistan. In other words, to forestall its own destabilization, India should help stabilize Pakistan. This could be something new in Indian politics – it could propel India out of 60 years of zero-sum politics with Pakistan and help India and Pakistan find common political ground for the subcontinent.

Within this general logic, India and Pakistan have a common interest in envisaging a political solution for Afghanistan. Will they do it? Will they understand the long – and medium term dangers of a narrow geopolitical vision?

Certainly, America, with troops on the ground and eager to withdraw them, and neighboring China, with a restive Islamic minority of its own and concerned about ensuring peace and development at its borders to guarantee its own, have a keen interest in finding a political solution in Afghanistan.

This solution is bound to consider the broad, long-term interests of India, Pakistan and the subcontinent. All of them need economic development, thus market stability and freedom as well as political and social peace as preconditions to cure their own domestic grievances.

If one experience can be drawn from the past 30 years of Chinese development, it is that for three decades Beijing has decided to shelve – partly or totally – its geopolitical gripes and ambitions in order to achieve the higher goal of economic development. That approach by itself cast all geopolitics in a different light. This ought to be also the recipe for Afghanistan, Pakistan and the whole Indian subcontinent.

The writer Francesco Sisci is a columnist for Il Sole 24 Ore, and the Asia Editor of La Stampa.
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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] This cup of tea was served by: Wonders of Pakistan […]

  2. Afghanistan can be devided into many parts and handed over to local govt. Workind under the central govt. at Kabul appointed by the UN .

  3. Its a nice and well balanced article, can’t agree more that India has a lot to gain with a stable and friendly neighbour in Pakistan.

    However, am not a supporter of division of land, unless absolutely necessary. We already have so many borders, if at all we should work towards breaking the existing ones for the new world order rather than making them. i was reading a book on Afghinistan’s shared history with India and Pakistan and it pains me so much to see its sad demise now.

  4. @ Siddharth .When we are experimenting furcation for the last more than 60 years in KASHMIR then why not in Afghanistan and Pakistan Let them reap what they have sown .

  5. @Tiwari: I do not subscribe to an eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth. Kashmir is a separate issue and has its own sensibilities. I would rather not link the two. Also, I would like to believe that Pakistan isn’t inherently our enemy.

    What’s happened and is happening in Kashmir is extremely sad and needs serious rethinking from all of us, both in India and Pakistan.

    • First a song for and from Aman ki Asha

      Pakistan India, India Pakistan
      Where You read Gita I, Qur’aan

      Peace Between Us
      Is Here to Stay
      Becoz Our Children Need to See
      Far More Than Just This Day

      Let’s Join Hands in Prayer,
      For a New and Beautiful Dawn

      Get ready for a New Tomorrow
      For India and Pakistan

      Unfortunately AKT sees everything from the angle of all, what oozes out of Indian propaganda mill. This mindset matches the pseudo patriots and right wingers here in Pakistan who likewise find fault for every thing bad happening in Pakistan, with India.
      Tewari wishes Pakistan to be further truncated [as he wishes Afghanistan as well] but he fails to understand that invading or truncating countries never does solve any problem, it rather creates complexities which in the long run engulf the invaders as well.
      Its a revengeful mindset i.e. to curse Pakistan for division of India and to wish this country divided further, a feeling that satiates the ‘eye for an eye’ attitudes.
      I would recommend Dr. AKT read an article by DEEPAK TRIPATHI that I put up at my bloggers website. Its titled ‘The Cost of Humiliation’ (http://wondersofpakistan.blogspot.com/2010/11/cost-of-humiliation.html)

      If he can find time to read this essay, he might then understand truncations create more truncations. Division of the demised British Raj into India and Pakistan cannot be compared to what AKT thinks. India was divided then because of All India Congress’s intransigence to allow proper representation to Muslims, but that is just only one and a political aspect of the reason for partitioning of British crown colony called India. There were other cultural, historical and geographical reasons too, for the north of India to have a separate identity which as per happenings of history was a Muslim dominated region, however, even if it were not so, the northerners had always been struggling for their separate identity. A manifest of this identity was the raj of Maharaja Ranjit Singh which spread from Beas to Afghanistan. Ranjit Singh was not a Muslim yet he carved out a kingdom against the rulers of Delhi. Whereas I personally do have the conviction that the Northern part of former colonial and pre-colonial India always had its own inspirations for an independent identity, which it sometimes succeeded but mostly did not. Why? Because on one hand it had to bear the brunt [all attacks came from the North, whether it was Persians, Greeks under Alexander the great, the Mongols, Afghans or finally the Mughals, on the other it had to fight the central rule exercised by who ever occupied the throne in Delhi. The rule by Maha Raja Ranjit Singh was one example of demonstrating this part of the subcontinent as an independent entity different from the one by the Mughals or their successors the British. I would further recommend him read my note to an essay by Michael Hughes that he has written on fragmentation of Pakistan by an international force. [Am shortly going to put up this on my Bloggers spot at http://wondersofpakistan.blogspot.com/
      But that’s beyond my point now. Presently, this perpetual rivalry between us by no means is going to benefit either Pakistan or India. The British took advantage of the Hindu Muslim divide to strengthen their colonial rule and they very well succeeded in this endevour. After independence, the US replaced the British but this divide and rule maxim is still being employed by neo imperialists. This time its more of a strategic nature than a hold on the countries in the subcontinent.

      • I think we think too much and go back too much to Partition. Its a very unfortunate event in the history of the continent, not because Pakistan was created but rather due to the unnecessary loss of life and loss of historical land to so many people.

        All regions have different set of identities at different points of time and so did the Indian Subcontinent. Even if we just look at Kashmir, it was Hindu, then Buddhist, Hindu again and finally majorly Muslim. And at every stage people had different aspirations and different set of faithfulness to the land.

        Its quite immaterial if North of Indian Subcontinent had aspirations for a separate nationhood, nationhood itself being such a new term back then. I am a supporter of ‘People without Borders’ and I think that’s the need of the day, even if most of us do not accept or understand it.

        Anyway life goes on, and its interesting to see such varied points of view.

  6. @Siddhartha ,Now it hardly matters what we stand for, The history of the subcontinent is also deceptive and has different meanings on the two sides of the border .Right wingers of the two sides have always been pole apart and will remain in future as well but they can not be comparered on same footing .Now again the third force has entered in the scene. They are there due to wise invitation of the circumstances created by radicals and silent majority of the peace. Anti Indian force is now in the trap and they have to be suppressed before hope for Aman can take a real shape.We are not in hurry this point of time.

    • I am not sure what you mean Dr. Tiwari. The right wingers on both sides are radical, and from what we hear in India, more so in Pakistan.

      The history that we looking at is fairly short and we share so much with each other that I do not even want to forget it or move on from that. I only wish for a stable region for people to survive and live in peace.

      • I fully agree.

        In your earlier comments you said, you believe in countries without borders. Joshi Ji, what you say is a great ideal and we all espouse that ideal. All of us do wish that ultimately a world should emerge out without borders but this ideal cannot be achieved under the circumstances. But to move in that direction, what we need is a better understanding between the two peoples of India and Pakistan. Once these two neighbours learn to live in peace, others in the region will follow suit. That would be and should be the time when a joint south Asian approach to world affairs could be adopted.

  7. If one experience can
    be drawn from the past
    30 years of Chinese
    development, it is that
    for three decades
    Beijing has decided to
    shelve – partly or totally
    – its geopolitical gripes
    and ambitions in order
    to achieve the higher
    goal of economic
    development. That
    approach by itself cast
    all geopolitics in a
    different light. This
    ought to be also the
    recipe for Afghanistan,
    Pakistan and the whole
    Indian subcontinent…?
    THE UNCOOKED RECIPE IS BEFORE US…… The shef from the west are there to cook it and we are adament to let the half fried to full fried .

  8. If one experience can
    be drawn from the past
    30 years of Chinese
    development, it is that
    for three decades
    Beijing has decided to
    shelve – partly or totally
    ,……,…..the higher
    goal of economic
    development. That
    approach by itself cast
    all geopolitics in a
    different light. This
    ought to be also the
    recipe for Afghanistan,
    Pakistan and the whole
    Indian subcontinent…?
    THE UNCOOKED RECIPE IS BEFORE US…… The master chef of non-veg. from the west are there to cook it and we are adament to let the half fried to full fried .

  9. Really, We don’t know how much emmesely it hurts us . But tell me the options . …..,.,..AMAN KI RAAH….Required to be repaired .The comming generation is not rady to follow the same Raah on which we are for the last sixty years .

  10. See ,what Brig. Haroon Raja and Raja Mujtaba is now expecting from USA and West on Kashmir issue . Such thinking now has to collapse in Pakistan to pave the Aman ki Rah .


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