Dialogue April-June, 2015, Volume 16 No. 4
India and the AF-Pak Phenomenon
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to India, coming long after his outreach to Pakistan and China, leaves no doubt that this country is losing its clout in Afghanistan. Unlike his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, President Ghani has been lukewarm to India. Ghani visited Pakistan twice; Afghan army chief also visited Pakistan Military Academy. Ghani visited China also in October 2014, to attend China hosted conference to discuss peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan. About China, Ghani said that his country viewed China “as a strategic partner, in the short term, medium tern, long term and very long term.” The Chinese President, Xi Jinping reciprocated warmly; he hailed Ghani as an old friend of the Chinese people, and said that China was prepared to work with him towards “a new era of co-operation” and to take “development to a new depth.”
China, on its part, has done two things towards Afghanistan: (i) It agreed to act as a mediator between Afghanistan and Pakistan; this evidently may be to the liking of President Ghani in view of the perceived nearness of Taliban and Pakistan. Here, it needs mention that Afghanistan has requested assistance from Shanghai Cooperation Organization in its fight against Taliban. (ii) It agreed to give Afghanistan $327 million in the next three years. At the same time, the Chinese plan of establishing a 6437 km Silk Road Economic Belt is also going to help Afghanistan in one way or the other.
The prospect of the withdrawal of American forces has worried not only India, but even China and the new Afghanistan Government. China needs to contain Islamic terrorist activities in its own western province of Xinjiang, for which it hopes to receive help from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Ghani, of course, pledged to help China fight its own Islamic militants.
In case of India, this country has always tried to maintain friendly relationship with Afghanistan, which Pakistan does not want. India, however, continues to play a positive role in the humanitarian, infra-structure building and various other fields, including its support for that country’s security forces. Its relationship with that country during ten-year Karzai Government was cordial and warm. The Afghan people also have warm feelings for India. In case of Indo-Afghanistan relationship, however, two things need mention: (i) the relationship between India and Afghanistan remained fluid; it was never steady and uniform; its graph always changed depending on who ruled there; and, (ii) India’s understanding of Afghanistan affair has always been blurred and full of confusion. This is partly because of its weak understanding of the dominant Islamic ideology, occasionally controlling that nation, and more so, the self-imposed taboo of its intellectuals to discuss the same. As is natural, Afghanistan under the sway of the ideology, as in the case of Taliban rule, shall naturally not have smooth relationship with India.
Islam took only eighty years to bring the vast region from Sindh in India to Iberian Peninsula in south-western Europe, and from the Nile to Oxus under its sway. The centuries of fight between Persia and Greece, made them internally so weak that a single Islamic thrust made them to collapse. But the same was not the case with India. It needed six century for Islam to enter India, except for a narrow fringe in Sindh. The centuries of bitterest struggle which Islam had to undertake was only against the Hindu-Brahmin Shahis of Afghanistan and the adjacent areas of today’s Pakistan. Today, that region is the centre of Islamic advocacy and strongest centre of Wahabi Islam. This is the strongest factor of Islam that its bitterest enemies become the strongest supporters and partners after accepting its ideology. But its weakest aspect is the internal divide from which Islam always suffered. Even when Prophet Muhammad died, the three groups of his followers were –Ali and Abbas, Abu Bakr and Umer, and the Ansars—were working on cross purposes.
The difficulty with Pakistan is, that it cannot free itself from India-fixation. Its geography, its history, ethnicity, languages—in short, everything—is Indian; but, its denials and attempt of continental shift have failed. The dominance of the Mullas, and that of even fundamentalists among the army, bureaucracy and Pakistani politics is so strong in Pakistan that the urge of Islamic imperialism shall hardly weaken and die out. Thus, it is a myth that Kashmir is the only problem between India and Pakistan. In reality, India shall have to face fundamentalist Pakistan till a strong wind of Ijtehad started blowing there. Of course, the possibility of the same is negligible, as the children of Pakistan, even in Government-run schools are taught the textbooks prepared during General Zia’s regime, with heavy doses of anti-India, anti-Hindu material. Mulims usually write on Islam with due carefulness and circumspection. Pakistanis even do not take that into consideration, while writing about India.
Another problem with Afghanistan and Pakistan is the militarism. These regions were not like that before the advent of Islam. Afghanistan and Pakistan had highly developed agriculture; mining and manufacturing sectors; they had great centres of learning, such as Nava Vihar and Takshshilla universities. But the situation gradually changed. The area, especially in Afghanistan, became poor, and to a large extent, dependent on resources brought from outside. King Shuja of Afghanistan, some 175 years ago, stressed the need of financial help to Sir William Hay Macnaghten, the chief adviser to the Governor General, Lord Auckland. William Dalrymple (Return of a King, p. 231) writes: “As ever in Afghanistan, it was a struggle to find the money to pay to the army; for the King Shuja described the situation to enormous army needed to secure so poor, fractured and uncontrollable a country. The army of the old Durrani Empire had been raised on taxes from the rich tributary regions such as Sindh and Kashmir. Since those areas had been lost all Afghan rulers had struggled to pay their troops without imposing unacceptable tax burdens on the relatively barren and unproductive regions that remained to them: ‘In the time of the Sadozais there was in every family and tribe one man of dignity, and the expenditure of the cavalry under them was provided from the revenues of the dependent countries of Punjab, Sindh, Cashmir and Multan and part of Khoorasan,’ Suja explained to Auckland. ‘Now from every family and house ten or twenty individuals have sprung up, and each begs the honour of chiefship to be bestowed upon them. I can not think of any remedy but to apply to your lordship for friendly assistance.’ He added.”
President Ghani of Afghanistan is a well-meaning scholar President. He knows his country and its problems; a country with Taliban and its Islamic agenda, different tribes and the ethnic divide, the mercenaries and the war lords. Pakistan, its neighbour, and its intelligence agency, ISI, had their own overt and covert agenda in Afghanistan; they want India out of Afghanistan, as that only may give that country the desired strategic depth. The China, and now Russia also, has joined Pakistan in the game. Thus, the situation is complex and difficult for President Ghani, and also for India. The stay of Western Armed forces, even in limited numbers under the situation, is certainly desirable.
President Ghani knows his country and its problems. While in Delhi, he said that the “shadow of terror haunts our children, women and youth, terror must be confronted and must be overcome. Terror cannot be classified into good or bad. … We are determined to change the regional nature of cooperation.” When asked in a press conference about Pakistan becoming the country of choice for defence assistance, President Ghani pointed out only eight Afghan defence personnel are being trained in Pakistan, whereas there are six hundred of them under training in India. Indian Government handed over three Cheetah helicopters to him during his visit; The President on the occasion said that while he has not withdrawn his predecessor’s wishlist of defence equipment, he is not acting on it either. A significant statement made by him during his Delhi visit, needs mention that he will not allow Afghanistan to be site for proxy war. Equally significant was the statement made by the Prime Minister Modi on the occasion that “India stands shoulder to shoulder with Afghan people, supports an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.”
The possibility of a setback in Indo-Afghan relations is always there, but it
will always be temporary. This is because, Afghanistan shall never accept to
remain under the shadow of Pakistan; and the sense of invincibility of the
Jihadies, which is a myth, shall be undoubtedly shattered in the near future.
India, on its part, should not be fickle in dealings with its neighbours, and
follow the policy steadily. It should develop sound scholarship, and avoid its
reliance on the opinions of 2-trackers.
Track 2 should not be discouraged as it keeps the busy-bodies engaged in discussions, and bonhomie and back-scratching. If the govt’s of the two countries mean business, both will know how to communicate to each other. In Indo-Pak relations Track 2 is a distraction, which has nothing to show for it in all these decades of meetings, seminars, round tables etc., sponsored even by some foreign entities. Most of the protagonists do not seem to have influence in their countries. The most charitable view is, that it atleast has had no negative fallouts and kept the social circuit of retired diplomats, defence, and security chiefs and even journalist, in both the countries, buzzing. After all they are all good fellas with a large heart and even larger sense of self-importance. Good luck to their tribe as they keep hopes alive and glasses tinkling. —B.B. Kumar