By K.N. Pandita
Prime Minister is back home after a short visit to Afghanistan. Earlier, the visit had to be postponed on the behest of the US owing to impending military action against Osama. PM’s visit has come after a gap of more than five years.
Apart from Kashmir, Afghanistan has been one more regional irritant in relations between India and Pakistan ever since the rise of Taliban. Pakistan has been seeking strategic depth westward in Afghanistan because it is the gateway to Central Asia.
After performing crucial role in the mujahideen war against the Soviets, Pakistan has been toying with the idea of Punjabi hegemony over Afghanistan. But as history moved on, other stakeholders also surfaced some of them more formidable than Pakistan in regional strategy.
India’s relations with Afghanistan hinge on one very significant historical event. India can never forget that during her struggle against colonialism, Afghanistan gave her full moral support, and even provided safe haven to some of her national leaders who were wanted by the British. Additionally, the great Pushtun leader, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan had forged warmest relations between the Indians and the Afghans, Pushtuns and other ethnic groups.
India always supported the contention of the Pushtuns that Durand Line had divided them between Afghanistan and Pakistan (NWFP). The Pushtuns never recognized the Duran Line. But after Pakistan came into existence, it stuck to the Durand Line formula and promoted division of the Pushtuns. This has remained the point of divergence in the policies of India and Pakistan ion regard to Afghanistan.
In 1979, Indira Gandhi had expressed to President Brezhnev of the Soviet Union her fears of grave consequences of Soviet incursion into Afghanistan. History has vindicated her.
In the aftermath of mujahideen victory and execution of Dr. Najibullah, Afghanistan ran into s spectrum of chaos and confusion. Law and order broke down and lawlessness became the order of the day. The Americans left Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew in ignominy. The vacuum was welcomed by Pakistan for interference deep and wide in that country. ISI did find strategic space.
But when lawlessness could not be controlled and Pakistan felt its space would shrink in the face of Afghan tribal warlords carving out their respective satrapies, her then foreign minister Lt. Gen. Nasirullah Babar in collusion with ISI hit upon the Taliban Plan and it worked till Taliban seized Kabul. Washington did not feel uncomfortable with this arrangement in the hope that at least some semblance of law would prevail under Taliban.
But brought up as they were in most fanatical and rabid culture of Wahhabi religious seminaries by Pakistani mullas, they soon shifted to extremist Islamic theocracy which is oppressive on women and intolerant of other faiths. The thousands year old Buddha statue at Bamiyan met their wrath. Americans gradually became the targets of anti-Islamic front. When Osama and his Al-Qaeda came into being, a tie up with Taliban was natural corollary of this development.
India’s interest lies in a moderate Afghanistan with good and friendly relations with her neighbours. India has nothing against Pakistan as long as Islamabad has the agenda of contributing to the economic development of Afghanistan. But India does not want and will not allow Pakistan to use Afghanistan as Pakistan’s handmaid to encourage terrorism and anti-India diatribes. India would certainly want Pakistan to cooperate with her in opening the overland route to Central Asia via Afghanistan which would bring back to memory the ancient Silk Road with its humming trade and commerce. Incidentally, India has good relations with Central Asian Republics.
India has invested billions of dollars in developmental projects in Afghanistan particularly in building her infrastructure, roads, hotels, hospitals, schools, technological institutes, business administration, judiciary and other fields. Thousands of Afghan students are enrolled in Indian professional colleges and institutions of higher study. This is a great and unbreakable link between India and Afghanistan. India would like to extend and deepen these relations further. India has never eyed any political or strategic aggrandizement from Afghanistan. Thousands of people of Indian origin have settled long back in Afghanistan and are prosperous in their business pursuits.
Pakistan has been trying hard that the US excludes India from all talks on the future of Afghanistan. The US has been playing a see-saw game and acting only in line with her national interests. But Hamid Karzai government is convinced that India would make a healthy and constructive contribution in the future of Afghanistan.
The proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline has gone through rough weather for one reason or the other. Turbulence in Afghanistan has been one of the causes and the US’ willingness to let this gas pipeline carry gas has also been a factor. After overcoming many hurdles, it appears that the ground is cleared of all obstacles and the laying of the gas pipeline from Daulatabad gas field in Turkmenistan to Afghanistan – Pakistan and then to Ferozepore in India will be taken in hand soon. Once the flow of gas starts, it will give a new shape to relations between these four countries. Pakistan has to realize that under the pressure of history, she can no more insulate Afghanistan against commercial, technological and political inroads either from east or from west. A developing Central Asia will have its impact on Afghanistan in any way. Let us hope this is understood by Islamabad in its own interests and in the interests of the region as well. Presence of China in Gilgit-Baltistan region close to Central Asia on this flank does make a big difference to strategies in the region. India has to be in Afghanistan as a friend and well-wisher of Afghans, and to unite them not divide them