May 24, 2015 by Darius
The US tends to look at Afghanistan through a security lens, but Afghanistan is part of a neighborhood, a neighborhood that includes Pakistan, China, India, and Central Asia. Afghanistan’s neighborhood will influence the country’s future long after the US leaves the region. Last week, I attended a panel discussion entitled “Afghan-Pakistani Reconciliation: A Brief Thaw or Something More?” Today and tomorrow, I’ll be providing a brief summary of the discussion.
According to Thomas Lynch of the National Defense University, Afghanistan and Pakistan are currently undergoing the third “reconsideration” of their relations in recent years. The first was from 1989-1991, as the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan and Afghanistan’s future was up for grabs. The second was in 2005-2006 as the United States passed military responsibility to NATO, which Pakistan saw as the United States abandoning Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan holding the bag. In both of these cases, though, Pakistan’s old fear that India would move into Afghanistan prevented the Pakistani side from working towards any fundamental change to relations with Afghanistan. During the latter period, it also did not help that Afghanistan’s then-president, Hamid Karzai, was considered to have a visceral dislike of Pakistan, perhaps in part because he considered Pakistan at least partially responsible for the assassination of his father by Taliban gunmen in Quetta, Pakistan, in 1999. With the presidency of Ashraf Ghani there is now a door open for better relations with Pakistan, but it’s not a door that will remain open forever.
Lynch said that since 2013, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India have been preparing for the next phase of US departure from Afghanistan. Lynch felt that Pakistani fear of Indian hegemony remains unchanged. However, he felt that China’s growing role in the region has the potential to be a game-changer. China is particularly worried about radicalization in its own southwestern provinces and wants to ensure that Afghanistan and Pakistan have secure borders and will not harbor Islamist militants from China. Therefore, although China is prepared to invest substantially in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, Chinese investment is predicated on a genuine effort on the part of both countries to combat insurgent groups and radicalism on both sides of the Durand Line. According to Lynch, without results in combating instability, major Chinese investment will fail to materialize in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Lynch felt that the future of the region still relies very much on the US. He said that there are two functions the US must continue to serve. The first is diplomacy. The United States is the only country in the world that can walk into offices in Kabul, Islamabad, and New Delhi and get results. Certainly no other country in the region has diplomatic clout with all the players. The second indispensable function for the US is security. Neither China nor India can or would become the primary guarantors of basic security in Afghanistan. In fact, both China and India are very jittery about the prospect of the US pulling out completely, leaving the security situation in Afghanistan to disintegrate.
[To be continued tomorrow.]