Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Indian roadmap of extended strategic neighbourhood by Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan

From Alexander the Great to Mahmud Ghaznavi and Zaheer ud Din Baber to Ahmed Shah Abdali, all conquerers and assailants from Europe and Central Asia had moved to India through Afghanistan.
Therefore, in the ensuing history, the nature of relationship between Afghanistan and Indian subcontinent emerged as an inevitable fastening. During the nineteenth century, Afghanistan experienced the prominent ‘Great Game’, a mêlée between the British India and the rapidly expanding Tsarist Russian Empire. Although direct Indian involvement in Afghanistan ceased momentarily since that time, however, due to common religious, ethnic, cultural and linguistic affiliations, the destinies of Afghanistan and North-West India remained bound together. After the partition of the subcontinent it was expected that Pakistan due to geographical contiguity, common religion, ethnic and linguistic ties would be nearer to Afghanistan as compared to India. But unfortunately, this did not happen. Rather, the issue of Durand Line and implicit role of India assisted by former Soviet Union (USSR) shoddily affected our relations to a considerable level. From then on, the diplomatic, trade, transit and bilateral relations remained at lowest ebb in most of the time during our common neighbourly history. With the connivance of India, then Afghanistan administration under late king Zahir Shah, created many complications for the newly born state of Pakistan. In the subsequent years, India, Afghanistan and USSR did not let pass any chance in destabilizing and weakening Pakistan by promoting nationalistic and anti Pakistan sentiments in Balochistan and some parts of NWFP through their infamous intelligence network within Pakistani territory. India adopted the policy of mysterious silence and covert support to USSR, once it invaded Afghanistan in 1979. This decision benefited her in the subsequent years, once it received a huge sum of military hardware from the former Communist superpower. However, on the other hand it deprived itself of maintaining meaningful relations with the mujahedin, as a fleeting hiatus, which kept it away from the Geneva negotiations, arranged under United Nations for the resolution of Afghan problem in late 1980s. Being a non party to these negotiations, India made an effort at the level of the Non-Aligned Movement to resolve the Afghan problem but remained abortive. It was assumed at that time that the future role of India in Afghanistan would be insignificant. But this did not happen, and immediately after the exit of Russia from Afghanistan, India resumed its lost role with the recommencement of colossal shoring up of the puppet Najibullah regime in a big way. However, this time India was more selective and finicky in determining its potential ally in the future Afghan politics, once it chosen the non-Pashtuns; Uzbeks, Tajiks and Ismailis in the north and the Shia faction in the central Afghanistan as its latent ally. Thus it would be very pertinent to say that India was the first country who implanted the seeds of ethnicity, sectarianism and factionalism in the traditional harmonious Afghan society. During this period, India provided all technical and financial support to some of the prominent heads of Afghan factions like Rabbani and Masoud in order to establish an anti-Pakistan government in Kabul. The collapse of Soviet Union once again sent alarming indicators into the corridors of Indian foreign office and policy makers, especially its intelligence setup (RAW). Indians were worried that now it would be difficult to extricate Pakistan from Afghanistan’s internal affairs and more so they were foreseeing an Islamic bloc emerging on the horizon in shape of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics (CARs). Since long India has been keen to maintain strong relations with Afghanistan, to sideline Pakistan, and subsequently to deny her a secure backyard having access to Central Asian Republics (CARs). The fall of Taliban and assumption of power by the Northern Alliance (NA) provided her a much awaited opportunity to re-establish its lost foothold in Afghanistan. Thus started helping Afghan government through assistance programmes and achieved significant doorway in its civil and military hierarchy. Indeed Afghanistan is not the limit of Indian ambitions; she is looking beyond Afghanistan towards CARs and its cold war ally, the resurgent Russian Federation. The worldly and unbiased nature of CARs supplemented with immense richness in natural resources compelled India to have strong ties with these nations and the shortest route available to her was through Afghanistan. Since their independence, Indian relations with the newly emerged states have come a long way. Indian officials have made conscious efforts to strengthen and diversify relations with CARs and refer Central Asia as their ‘extended strategic neighbourhood’. The vacuum left by soviets and US was filled by warring factions and power struggle continued till the birth of Taliban. Taliban being Pashtun dominated were considered as Pakistan friendly who could provide it the strategic depth against India with subsequent facilitation for influence in the energy rich CARs. This situation was not at all acceptable to India as she feared that Pakistan would use the Afghan soil and Jihadi groups in Kashmir, thus picked up the pace to support the non Pashtuns in Afghanistan in all spheres as a counter measures to Pakistan. A vast majority of the Northern Alliance leaders and youth were taken to India for their brainwashing and training on military aspects. Besides the families and kids of the majority of the Northern Alliance leadership were and are still being provided with free of cost living and education in the Indian universities and other related institutions. Despite generous support from Iran, India and Russia, Northern Alliance (NA) could not make any real headway against the Taliban, until the occurrence of the unfortunate incident of 9/11. The events brought a dramatic change in the region thus sealing the fate of Taliban rule and paved way for an interim administration to take over. This interim government had a Pashtun President but the cabinet was dominated by the NA, openly hostile towards Pakistan and gracious with India. Since the establishment of Interim Administration in November 2001, Indian active participation in all important international efforts aimed at political reconciliation and economic rebuilding of Afghanistan. The last visit to Kabul by an Indian prime minister was in 1976 when Indira Gandhi visited Afghanistan. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh became the first Indian head of government to visit Afghanistan in 29 years. Since then, the exchanges of high level visits including ministers and prime ministers from both sides are normal phenomena. Besides the economic dimensions of the situation, India has started a more coercive role and taking the advantage of the present environment is covertly fuelling the internal security situation in FATA and Balochistan. It has support of its previous and new ally in promoting the insurgency and anti state elements in Balochistan and FATA through its capillary type intelligence network. The main aim is to make Pakistan economically crippled, bled from inside and to prove it as a failed state so that US and West can highjack its strategic assets through a pre-planned strategy. The ongoing insurgency being fueled by India and its allies has stained the soft image of Pakistan and undermined our credibility as a peaceful nation. Militancy in the name of Islam is further denting the image of Islam and Pakistan. India is vigorously pursuing her economic objectives and developmental strategy in Afghanistan while hurting interests of Pakistan. Besides mellowing down its image as enemy, she is using our western border by supporting militants to create internal instability. India has provided technical, material and financial assistance to Iran in the construction of its Chabahar deep sea port, the shortest possible route now available to India for an access to CARs. Indian manoeuvres in the region have far-reaching implications for Pakistan whereby we could be confronted with a situation in which India would succeed in its bid to outflank us and undermine our newly constructed deep sea Gwadar port. Incorporated into Tsarist Russia later Communist USSR, in late 19th/ early 20th century, the iron curtain could not allow the access of neighbouring/regional countries including India to approach CARs. Instantaneously upon their independence in 1991, India realized the importance of CARs and established diplomatic relations with them. The Indian strategists were of the opinion that it was necessary to prevent Pakistan from developing an anti-India coalition with the CARs. In this regard, India strove to form a common front with Russia and Iran against Pakistan and used the bogey of so-called Pakistan sponsored Islamic militants to frighten the leadership of CARs to maintain distance from Pakistan and to keep ties with India. Indian adherence to democracy and so-called secularism were the other contributing factors in this regard. Social, diplomatic, security and trade relations are the major Indian goals in relations with the CARs. Through the idea of ‘extended strategic neighbourhood,’ New Delhi attached so much importance to the newly independent region that it immediately opened embassies in all capitals of CARs by early 1992. A number of pacts and Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) have been signed or are under consideration between both countries ranging from fields of energy, science/technologies and oil/gas sectors including bilateral mechanisms to exchange information on terrorism and counter terrorism training. Turkmenistan and India signed MoU for cooperation in the oil and gas sectors, creating an opening for Indian companies to enter the nation’s hydrocarbon market. It had a military base in Tajikistan and presence of its intelligence network all over the CARs. Afghanistan is a country where now Indians are feeling much comfortable as compared to the past. They have benefited a lot since the ouster of Taliban, achieved significant influence in the government and are in a position to secure vital foothold in Central Asia. While on the other hand Pakistan’s role is diminishing with every passing day. The distressing level of internal instability is getting worse and resultantly our secure western borders are becoming more and more vulnerable. However, geographic, socio-economic, religious and ethnic compulsions still favour us, provided we have the will to convert challenges into opportunities. Pakistan still remains closest route to Afghanistan and CARs through sea and enjoys an obvious advantage over any other country in the regional geo-politics.

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