As India and Afghanistan move closer, what does it mean for Pakistan? India and Afghanistan confirmed last week that they’re planning an air link to bypass Pakistan. The move is aimed at boosting trade between them.
Amid growing tensions between Pakistan and India over the disputed Kashmir region, the two nuclear-powered neighbors maintain a tightly-guarded border. Islamabad makes it difficult for India to export its goods to Afghanistan through Pakistan.
Afghanistan, for its part, is allowed to send some exports to India through Pakistan’s territory. An air cargo service would solve this conundrum and enable the nation to significantly boost bilateral trade with India. Afghanistan currently imports only about $100 million worth of goods annually from India. By contrast, imports from Pakistan are measured at about $1.3 billion annually.
Why India and Afghanistan want to bypass Pakistan
Indian and Afghan officials confirmed earlier this month that their nations are planning the air link to bypass Pakistan. The move is planned along with the establishment of the Iran-based Chabahar Port. The move was announced after a meeting between India PM Narendra Modi and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani on the sidelines of the recent Heart of Asia conference.
The economy of Afghanistan, a landlocked country, relies heavily on access to Karachi’s Arabian Sea port to be able to trade with overseas markets. The Chabahar Port, for its part, will allow Kabul to further break free from its trade dependence on Pakistan. The deal was signed between Iran, Afghanistan and India in May and will allow India and Afghanistan to significantly ramp up trade with each other via Iran.
Iran is currently Afghanistan’s top export partner, with the two nations trading at volumes of $1.49 billion annually.
Why Afghanistan is hostile to Pakistan
Afghanistan’s move to side with India and try to shut out Pakistan puts the landlocked South Asia nations in a difficult situation. While India and Pakistan can afford to wage an all-out diplomatic war, Kabul’s unstable economic and political situation, as well as its compromised security, just doesn’t make it reasonable for the country to openly choose between one of its equally-important neighbors – Islamabad and New Delhi.
Since being elected in 2014, the Afghan president has attempted to amend ties with Pakistan, but it hasn’t worked out. Afghanistan’s weaknesses in security have made it the victim of a series of horrific and brutal attacks in recent years. While Afghanistan blames Pakistan for pretty much all of the terror horrors in its territory, one can argue that Afghan officials have made little to no effort to ensure the country’s own security and stability.
Does the Afghan-India friendship make Afghanistan even weaker?
While some argue that Pakistan is sheltering militant groups, others say that Pakistan’s militancy has a direct link to India’s presence in Afghanistan.
Ever since Kabul took India’s side and showed open hostility towards Pakistan, it hasn’t improved its security issues; it has only worsened them. While it doesn’t take a genius to say that curbing the spread of terrorism and radicalism in the region must be discussed at a negotiating table between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, Kabul’s hostile policy towards Islamabad only further deepens the level of distrust between the two neighbors.
While Afghanistan’s hostile position towards Pakistan definitely makes Indian officials squeal with excitement, it will most likely only further weaken Kabul’s security, economic and political situation.
Pakistan ISI chief calling for “aggressive measures” against India
With Pakistan recently appointing Lt. Gen. Naveed Mukhtar as Inter-Services Intelligence head, relations between the hostile triangle of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan could further deteriorate. The new ISI chief is apparently a fan of “aggressive measures,” with an aim of undermining India’s growing friendship with Kabul. Mukhtar came to power as part of a major shake-up of the Pakistan Army’s top leadership, and the lieutenant general is apparently ready to take extreme measures against India.
In a thesis he wrote five years ago while studying at the U.S. Army War College, Mukhtar wrote that Islamabad should adopt “aggressive measures” to undermine New Delhi’s role in Afghanistan to prevent Kabul from becoming India’s “proxy.” In the thesis titled “Afghanistan – alternative futures and their implications,” Mukhtar also added that “moderate” Taliban factions should be put to power in Kabul’s government before U.S. troops withdraw from the war-torn country.
“Pakistan’s past, present and future is closely linked with Afghanistan. A peaceful, united and stable Afghanistan is critical for Pakistan’s security and is a top policy objective,” Mukhtar wrote, adding that Islamabad must adopt measures to shrink India’s influence in Afghanistan.
India and Pakistan on the brink of war over Afghanistan
“At the same time, Pakistan needs to prevent the opening of another hostile front should Afghanistan emerge as a proxy for India,” the new ISI chief wrote, adding that Islamabad would “closely” follow New Delhi’s influencial tendencies in Kabul.
Mukhtar’s views seem to be in line with the agenda of the current leadership of the Pakistan Army. The Pakistanis haven’t directly reacted to India’s growing influence in Kabul yet. But with the appointment of Mukhtar, who seems to be hellbent on moving against India, relations between Islamabad and New Delhi could take an even darker turn.
Pakistani generals have long expressed their interest in incorporating Taliban elements into the Afghan government, which they view as the best move to diminish India’s influence in the war-torn nation. It’s yet unclear what the recent shake-up in the Pakistan Army will change in the triangle relations between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but if New Delhi and Kabul continue ramping up their bilateral relations with the main aim of isolating Pakistan, there’s a chance Pakistani’s top army chiefs will start a war with India.