As suggested in my first piece
on President Trump’s strategy, this one deals with the inclusion of India and Pakistan in the scheme.
Naturally, these two nations will be interested in what transpires in Afghanistan. Pakistan has a 1,500-mile border with Afghanistan. India, the major economic power in the neighborhood, will be concerned with the progress in Afghanistan’s insurgency.
However, there are two existential problems between these three South Asian nations which, in the context of President Trump’s strategy, must be taken into account.
Otherwise, the U.S.’s effort in Afghanistan will face complications that could lead to failure of the war against the Afghan insurgency. The two difficulties are:
First, Afghanistan does not recognize the Duran Line, the 1,500-mile border between it and Pakistan. The border was agreed to after the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-1880.
Having suffered a devastating defeat during the First Anglo-Afghan War of 1839-1842, the British colonial government in India started the Second Anglo-Afghan War, mainly as an exercise in punishment.
It wanted to avenge the complete annihilation of its expeditionary force of 16,000, only one person, Dr. Brydon, left Afghanistan alive. Another reason for this second invasion was to redraw colonial India’s border with Afghanistan, making it more secure and defensible against Afghan incursions into the subcontinent.
The Second Anglo-Afghan War ended in a resounding victory for Britain. The demarcation of the 1,500-mile-long border, called The Duran Line, was signed by both the British and Afghans on November 12, 1893. After the Third Anglo-Afghan War⸻yes, there was a third one, too⸻the Duran Line was, with minor modifications, reaffirmed in the Treaty of Rawalpindi in 1919.
The Duran Line obligated Afghanistan to give up a large chunk of territory, including the Khyber region, its possessions in Baluchistan and the city of Quetta. Since Pakistan’s creation as a new independent state in 1947, Afghanistan calls the Duran Line illegal and refuses to recognize it.
Pakistan, citing an international law (uti possidetis juris) according to which an emerging state can legally inherit the border of the state it cedes from, insists it has rightly acceded to the border after separating from India and rejects Afghan attempts at renegotiating it.
Second, Pakistan insists that Kashmir leave India and become part of Pakistan. Having separated from India on religious grounds for having been a Muslim-majority part of India, Pakistan justifies its claim on the fact that Kashmir is also a Muslim-majority part of India and, so Pakistan, must be allowed to leave India and become a part of Pakistan.
It’s because of these serious disagreements between India and Pakistan on one hand and Pakistan and Afghanistan on the other that directly involving India and Pakistan in America’s Afghanistan strategy could complicate Washington’s search for peace in Afghanistan.
The deliberate presence of the two hostile nations in America’s strategy would convert the Afghan insurrection into a war by proxy between them, transforming the Afghan countryside into a battlefield for their hostility. Under that condition, Afghanistan’s destruction would assume a much larger scale. It would also lengthen the insurgency’s life to an extent that a democracy, such as the U.S., could not stomach it. The American people would tire of it. Their objection would force Washington to withdraw regardless of the condition within Afghanistan.
As long as the Indians and Pakistanis hate each other because of the 12.5 million Kashmiris⸻who, by the way, have never been asked what they themselves want⸻Pakistan will also worry about Afghanistan. Since the present and former Afghan governments have refused to accept the Durand Line as the official border between the two countries, Pakistan fears that Afghanistan could attack it should there be another war between it and India, forcing it to fight a two-front war.
The only time, Pakistan felt safe from its long border with Afghanistan, was when it successfully established the Taliban in Kabul. With the Taliban in control of the Afghan government, the Pakistanis had reached their ultimate goal in Afghanistan. They had installed people in the Afghan government who completely depended on them to run it.
Equally important, Saudi religious teachers, who knew many Taliban fighters from their time at the Saudi-run madrassas, had convinced them that what was happening in Afghanistan was God’s will to strengthen Islam in the region and to prevent Iran’s Shia regime from exporting its religious views into Afghanistan.
The Pakistani leaders sense of security was thus that they withdrew a large number of their troops stationed in their North-West Frontier Province⸻now renamed Khyber Pakhtunkha⸻and added them to their forces stationed along its eastern border with India.
Islamabad considers Kabul’s refusal to accept their common border as an existential threat and will do anything⸻no matter whether the U.S. applies pressure on it or not⸻to prevent the birth of a strong and stable Afghan government. If the U.S., indeed, applied pressures on Islamabad⸻what might not even be in the cards despite the Trump strategy⸻it would be recompensed by the Saudis and probably China. Extreme pressure on Pakistan could drive it deeper into China’s arms, and bring it closer to Russia.
India’s direct and largescale military and economic involvement in Afghanistan is neither possible nor preferable. It’s not preferable for the reasons explained above. It’s not possible because New Delhi’s financial and administrative ability is not sufficiently developed to successfully manage such an engagement away from its territory.
The case of Hajigak could perhaps explain my hesitancy about India’s ability to finance and carry out large projects in Afghanistan. The Indian government asked its three large state-owned mining and steel companies plus four private-sector corporations to jointly bid for the rights of Afghanistan’s Hajigak iron ore mine. The Karzai government was eager to give the project to India. Acting against the official bid rules, the Karzai regime granted the Indians about three years to come up with the necessary funds. New Delhi failed and withdrew its proposal.
In fact, the Indian bid was invalid right from the beginning. The Karzai regime was aware of it. An important part of the tender called upon bidders to include in their bids proof of a source of funds sufficient to finance this large project. The Indian bid lacked this requirement.
At present, New Delhi claims that since 2002 it has invested in Afghanistan $ 2 billion. This might be an exaggeration. When adding the announced costs of the projects it has financed and built, including supplies of vehicles and educational support for Afghan students in India, my calculation doesn’t exceed $ 600 million. However, I would be happy to correct myself, if India’s claim were found to be accurate.
Be that as it may, the current level of India’s presence in Afghanistan seems to be just right, allowing both countries to be friends and benefit from one another.
It’s probably useless to pressure Pakistan to cease or, at least, to minimize its support for Afghan insurgents. Pakistan surely would do itself a favor, if it stopped employing terrorists for political gain. It may already have prepared its own demise by having worked with terror organizations for its political goals. Many such organizations are based in Pakistan and may turn against their host and destroy it if it decided to move against them.
Whether Washington likes it or not, the war in Afghanistan is America’s war. Therefore, when it comes to the political and economic elements of President Trump’s strategy, it can only succeed with the right people holding power in Kabul.
Washington must take the arguably difficult, but necessary, step to break with today’s Afghan powerholders.
The U.S. could declare Afghanistan ungovernable and, together with its allies, form an interim government, giving it about three years to democratize and rebuilt the present imperial governing structure, to plan and launch the economic reconstruction of Afghanistan, to clean up the security forces from illiterate officers and generals, to streamline the bloated government, and to write new laws that reflect today’s legal and ethical norms. Last but not least, it should also be charged to prepare the ground and the people for elections, this time for honest elections.
Should this be too daring, Washington, at the very least, should separate economic planning and its implementation from the government, giving the task to an independent group of experts, responsible only to the donor nations and international lending organizations.
Without a functioning and private-sector-based economy, Afghanistan will continue to remain a ward of the international community, with all the dangers, destitutions, and humiliations that emanate from such a state of affairs.
Nasir Shansab has maintained homes, business interests and dual citizenship in both the United States and Afghanistan for the past three decades.
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