Afghan conflict resolution tied to Pakistan-India rapprochement : William Dalrymple

Map of Pakistan

Map of Pakistan (Photo credit: Omer Wazir)

By Ali Imran 

WASHINGTON, July 14 : Arguing that hostility between India and Pakistan lies at the heart of the current war in Afghanistan, a British historian has stressed that realization of peace could be possible if the two South Asian nuclear powers see Afghan instability as a common challenge to deal with.

William Dalrymple, who has authored nine books on historical subjects including India and the Muslim world, analyzes reasons and implications of the ‘deadly India-Pakistan-Afghanistan triangle’ in an essay posted by Washington’s Brookings Institution.

In the light of the three-way tension and the many incidents that have sparked this continuing conflict between New Delhi, Islamabad and Kabul, the historian looks to the future of Afghanistan after the 2014 U.S. withdrawal from its longest war in its history.

“The efforts Nawaz Sharif has made to reach out to India may strengthen the hand of the moderates in New Delhi. But whether he has the clarity of vision, the fortitude, the political will and the room to maneuver in that direction is an open question,” he writes.

“What is certain, though, is that the future will be brighter for all three countries caught in a deadly triangle of mutual mistrust and competition if Pakistan and India can come to see the instability of Afghanistan as a common challenge to be jointly managed rather than as a battlefield on which to continue or, worse, escalate their long and bitter feud,” writes Dalrymple, whose works include White MughalsThe Last Mughal, The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857 and Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India.

Dalrymple’s look into the Afghan imbroglio appears as the debate intensifies in the region about the future of Afghanistan amidst a deadlock over reconciliation efforts between the Taliban, who belong to the majority Pashtun population (estimably 50 to 60%) and the Kabul government, which is currently dominated by the Northern Afghan communities including the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. As pointed out by several experts the Afghan government make-up appears superficial and contrary to ground realities.  Although led by Pashtun Hamid Karzai, Kabul has 70 percent of security forces drawn from the Tajiks, who are just 27 percent of the total population of their landlocked country.

Meanwhile, with his unending anti-US and anti-Pakistan rhetoric, Karzai continues to thwart any U.S. plans to materialize political reconciliation between the Taliban, who were allowed to open their political office in Doha and the Kabul government. He continues to insist, according to a New York Times account, that Washington play according to his wishes, in contravention of U.S. national interests in the region and against imperatives of regional peace. Topping the heap of uncertainties for Washington, Pakistan and the NATO is the concern how Afghanistan proceeds and holds its election next year. 

In India, which does not share a border with Afghanistan, some hawks suggest an overt military role in Afghanistan post-2014 – something that, experts say, would confirm Islamabad’s worst fears of encirclement form the Western border and lead to a perennial tension and climate of conflict in the region.

Over the past few years, China has also emerged as an important player in Afghanistan with investments in the country’s promising mining sector, something which will further cement Pakistan-China cooperation as Beijing would want stability there.

For its part, the United States is expected to maintain vital stakes in the regional peace but, as corroborated by a latest Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. interest in the region are “inextricably” linked with a stable Pakistan and that Pakistan would remain among the most strategically important countries for the United States in the foreseeable future. In this context, the anti-Pakistan alliance that Karzai wants with the U.S. in post-2014 future, files in the face of American interests in the region as well.

White Mughals by William Dalrymple Photo: Wikipedia

White Mughals by William Dalrymple
Photo: Wikipedia

Dalrymple also touches on Pakistan-India indirect confrontation in Afghanistan, where Pakistan gained tremendous influence due to its key role between 1979 to 1990 in the ouster of Soviet Union from its occupied neighbor with the active backing of Washington, its Western allies and the Arab world in  arming, training and financing the Afghan Mujahideen.

“In an attempt to limit Pakistan’s influence after the fall of the pro-Soviet Afghan regime in 1989, India began its support of the Northern Alliance under the command of Ahmad Shah Massoud, a Tajik leader who also had assistance from Iran and Russia. India continued to supply Massoud with high-altitude warfare equipment, defense advisors, and helicopter parts and technicians after the rise of the Pakistan-sponsored Taliban.”

Seen through the prism of post-9/11 war, Dalrymple’s emphasis on Pakistan-India-Afghanistan deadly triangle may appear a bit odd to detached observers because the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan has wobbled from one controversy to another and suggestions are galore that the post-9/11 conflict has exacerbated many existing tensions and also given rise to new unrest among Afghans.

But in the historical context, Dalrymple’s assessment holds true to some degree of reality. After all, India openly sided with the Northern Alliance in the 1990s confrontation between Afghan ethnic groups, and also, after all the Afghan war-inspired militants used New Delhi’s repression in Kashmir as a lightning rod to fight Indian forces in the occupied territory. 

Kashmir map Green Orange

In his argument, Dalrymple, cites a string of post-9/11 incidents in Afghanistan that represent Pakistan’s alleged actions against Indian presence on Afghan soil and activities of the Indian intelligence and security that fuel Pakistani opposition.

He also refers to the history of full-fledged wars and limited conflicts between Pakistan and India since their independence from Britain in 1947.

“It is easy to understand why Pakistan might feel insecure. India’s population (1.2 billion) and its economy (GDP of $1.4 trillion) are about eight times the size of Pakistan’s (180 million Pakistanis generating an annual GDP of only $210 billion). During the period of India’s greatest growth, which lasted from 2006 to 2010, there were four years during which the annual increase in the Indian economy was almost equal to the entire Pakistani economy.

The origins of the Indian-Pakistani rivalry in Afghanistan date back to 1947 independence, the historian contends.

“As the British walked away from their Indian Empire in the aftermath of the Second World War, they divided up their former colony between Hindu-majority India and overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan. It was in that context that Kashmir became a thorn in the side of both countries. The fate of what had been, under the Raj, the princely state of Kashmir, became an anomaly of Partition. With its large Muslim majority, Kashmir was an obvious candidate to join Pakistan. But the pro-Indian sympathies of both its Hindu maharajah and its pre-eminent Muslim politician, Sheikh Abdullah, as well as the Kashmiri origins of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, led to the state’s remaining part of India, which Pakistan has always regarded as unacceptable.”

And Kashmir, is where both Pakistan and India need to work patiently, defy extreme views on both sides and demonstrate statesmanship to resolve the dispute and put an end to the nightmare of the people of Jammu and Kashmir once and for all.

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