Situation in Afghanistan

While the regional countries are grappling hard to stabilize Afghanistan, President Abdul Ghani chooses to obediently toe the Pakistani line and even walks  all out to soothe Pakistani concerns unmindful of the realities in his own country .

Ghani’s approach virtually entails  the rolling back of the entire Indian influence  in Afghanistan. First, by sending Afghan troops  for training in Pakistan military academy instead of India  as done previously.  Second, by suspending his own country’s request  for Indian weapons and third by starting sharing the intelligence cooperation entirely with Pakistan. This gives a clear impression of Afghanistan walking extra miles solely with Pakistan.

This shift in Afghanistan’s foreign policy is definitely flawed when the country is virtually slipping  into a civil war  as illustrated by renewed Taliban attacks in the vicinity of Kabul.

Pakistan’s spy agency ISI has further entered into an agreement with its Afghan counterpart over intelligence sharing and coordinated operations against Taliban militants.

Cooperation with Pakistan

This approach was adopted after Pakistan President Nawaz Sharif , Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif and ISI Chief Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar visited  Afghanistan recently to seek more cooperation to eradicate Taliban rebels operating along both sides of the border. Intelligence agencies of both the countries will take part in the interrogation of terror suspects and conduct joint operations.

The new approach mainly centers around both Pakistan and Afghan army dealing ruthlessly with Taliban along the borders without any consideration for their being called “Good Taliban” (who detest Kabul regime) and “ Bad “Taliban” ( who are in favour of full blown Sharia law in Pakistan).

Ghani’s stated aim is to bring back Taliban to the negotiating table and then to integrate  them into the government to end the stalemate.

The recently concluded talks  in Doha were participated by different Taliban groups in their individual capacity and the Afghan authorities, but proved inconclusive. The Taliban mainly insisted on a pre condition that “Firstly America and its allies should put an end to their occupation in their country  and that will only  facilitate further negotiations.”

Afghan Government’s new approach is evidently flawed in the sense that Pakistan has given no concrete concessions to Afghanistan. Ghani-Nawaz friendship caused uproar in Afghanistan, where politicians and the media accused the government of selling out the country to the mortal enemy.

The Taliban in the far flung areas of Farah, Kunduz and Badakhshan have already mounted a new spring offensive and are consolidating  their positions in the areas that are far from Kabul and will thus be able to escalate  their activities in the rest of the country.

The stability of Afghanistan is therefore not really ensured  with this approach. Former President Karzai has already dubbed  this approach as servile to Pakistani interests that places  Pakistan in a dominating position in Afghanistan whereby they will be tempted to execute their own designs against the interests of Afghanistan.

Ghani adopted this new approach after US failed to free Afghanistan from the clutches of Taliban and Al Qaeda even after second military intervention in the aftermath of 9/11 and eventually engaged Iran in a leadership role in this region.

Engaging Iran

Finding similarities in US goals with Iran’s interests in Afghanistan, both the countries have joined hands to resolve the old standoff over the nuclear deal. Iran and the United States, along with five other world powers, announced a surprisingly specific and comprehensive understanding on limiting Tehran’s nuclear program for the next 10 years, though they left several specific issues to a final agreement in June. US President Barack Obama has hailed the  deal restricting Iran’s nuclear program as a “historic understanding” which, if implemented, will make world safer. The framework agreement, struck after intensive talks, aims to prevent Tehran making a nuclear weapon in exchange for phased sanction relief.

The entire process of engaging Iran in Afghanistan was necessitated as international community was fearful of the fact that after the 2016 final drawdown of US troops, the Taliban and the Al Qaeda elements will gain greater control of the region where ISIS have also gained prominence.

There are reports that a secret pact has been brokered between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif  that binds Iran into ensuring against any flare ups happenings in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria  in return for successful finalization of Nuclear deal. Although Tehran will use its cultural, political, and economic sway in an attempt to shape a post-2016 Afghanistan, Iran and the United States share core interests there: to prevent the country from again becoming dominated by the Taliban and a safe haven for al Qaeda.

By virtue of its geographical and its cultural influence over the civilian  population in Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics, Iran  enjoys the opportunity of gaining  a key role  in this region  as well but this is being opposed  by Sunni Arab Monarchs.

Iran’s interests in Afghanistan had been historically deep and profound. Iran being a very developed and centralized country with Shia regime has been partaking in establishing soft power with Afghanistan. Afghanistan being a tribal society consists of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras in addition to Pushtun tribes. Even during Bonn agreement Iran supported US policy of installing  multiethnic Hamid Karzai government where various ethnic groups i.e. Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks were properly represented.

Currently, National Unity Government in Afghanistan by Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah has allowed Iran to further consolidate  its soft and hard power capabilities in Afghan’s domestic politics.

Iran has been facilitating its influence in Afghanistan by using substantial soft power. It supported pro-Iranian schools, mosques and media centres. Though this approach was not liked in the Pushtun areas but Iran was able to make inroads in the Afghan domestic politics and different ministries. It also invested heavily to the tune of $500 million and also increased exports  that exceeded $ 2 billion.

It  was also mainly instrumental in defeating Taliban through Northern Alliance in the year 2001 and  is now deploying hard power by using two pronged strategy of defeating the Taliban while working against NATO interests. As Iran also fears that US  may delay its drawdown it secretly uses its Revolutionary Guards for sabotaging NATO activities in this country.

The paramount objective  of Iran is to secure its national security interests, as Sunni-Salafist extremists in the form of ISIS etc  have encircled  Iran from Iraq and Afghanistan . ISIS offensive gets more deadlier when they describe Iranian Shias as even non Muslims. ISIS is currently gathering momentum in Afghanistan’s South and West have also  joined hands with militant Baluchi Salafists.

Iran is therefore using Quds force to establish a network of Shia fighters similar to Hizb-e- Wahadad to fight directly ISIS group in Afghanistan.

Iran also intends to establish its leadership in Afghanistan both strategically and economically because of the significant Shia Muslim population and available energy resources in Central Asian Republics which are required  to be  exported  to the energy starved countries like Pakistan, India, China and other ASEAN countries through Afghanistan areas.

Iran has been  traditionally a trading  country through the ancient silk route that pass through Afghanistan and extend upto European shores thus at times giving flourishing economic booms to Tehran.

A major trading hub is being established in the Chabahar port with Iran-India cooperation that will facilitate flow of trade to Central Asian region and already a number of new trade Silk routes are being constructed connecting trade facilities.

Growing interest

Basically India and Iran have legitimate strategic interests in Afghanistan’s stability but Pakistan is denying transit facilities to India  and also conducting proxy wars against India from the Afghanistan soil and is also engaged in anti-Iran and anti-India policies.

Pakistan’s role is also very significant for the stability of Afghanistan but for decades Afghan Taliban leadership is being provided sanctuary in Quetta while Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan are finding safe Havens in Waziristan. These twin Taliban are working hand in glove in executing subversive activities in Afghanistan while Pakistan Taliban  are also engaged in proxy wars against India even from Afghan territory.

It may therefore be appropriate if a mature approach is adopted by Ghani taking all aspects into consideration. Ghani mainly wants to focus on Afghan peace process, economic cooperation, regional security and geopolitics. He believes that he can ensure stability for Afghanistan by forming closer ties with regional countries like India, China, Pakistan and Iran while getting global support as well to fulfill his dreams of having an economically and politically stable Afghanistan.

Though few experts believe that Ghani has turned pro- Pakistan and is trying to sideline India, this may not hold much truth in it.  He is rather trying to maintain a degree of balance in his foreign policy in a way that it satisfies all the players that have interests in the country.

But Ghani should be watchful of his actions while dealing with Pakistan as Pakistan has always adopted a dual policy as far as Afghanistan is concerned. Pakistan in the past not only sheltered jihadist insurgents but also pressed Afghanistan to accept the Durand Line as the permanent border, make peace with the Taliban on its terms and tried to dictate Afghan foreign policy by telling it to curtail ties with India.

Pakistan has always maintained its agenda for Afghanistan. It does seek economic stability as well through Afghanistan but it also has strategic ambitions as far as Afghanistan’s political stability is concerned. Though other regional countries look forward to Afghanistan for providing economic corridor, Pakistan is looking forward to play a significant strategic role in the politics of Afghanistan and its dealing with the Taliban and global powers.

Therefore Ghani needs to be careful in his approach while dealing with Pakistan as one wrong move can jeopardize all the efforts and can bring disastrous consequences for the nation, which will be then vulnerable for manipulation by vested interests.