Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are getting strained. In the wake of the assassination of the head of the Afghan High Peace Council and former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, last September 20, Afghani officials stated that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had used some militant groups as proxies, in particular the Haqqani network, to perpetrate political assassinations in the neighboring Afghanistan. "In Afghanistan, they are sure it was the Taliban, with Pakistan a close second. More cautious Afghan punters put their money on a joint ISI-Taliban plot," stated the Pakistani paper, The News.
In a televised address, Afghani President Hamid Karzai condemned Pakistan's "double game" on terrorism in Afghanistan. Many Afghans are suspicious of Pakistan's connections to the Taliban-led insurgency in their country. "After all the destruction and misery, the double game towards Afghanistan and the use of terrorism as a tool continued," Karzai said. Pakistani officials vehemently denied any involvement in Rabbani's killing, and Pakistani Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani warned Afghanistan against anti-ISI allegations.
On the backdrop of these events, President Karzai made a state trip to India, Pakistan's arch-enemy, where he signed a wide-ranging strategic partnership. Over the past 10 years, India has spent nearly $2 billion in aid to Afghanistan, mainly on reconstruction, road building, health clinics and an array of small development projects and scholarships.This new strategic agreement, however, depends on India and Afghanistan cooperating on the counter-terror field efforts; New Delhi will also help Afghanistan train its police and military.
This agreement raised many suspicions and concerns: the Pakistani government perceives that India and Afghanistan want to form an alliance to counter Islamabad's influence in the region. "Is it the encirclement of Pakistan?" rhetorically wrote the newspaper Pakistan Observer referring to the new Indian-Afghani agreement. Answering Islamabad's worries, Karzai stated that "this strategic partnership [with India] ... is not directed against any country ... this strategic partnership is to support Afghanistan." However, these words did not reassure Pakistan.
Pakistan most likely does not want India to strengthen further relations with Afghanistan: Islamabad probably wants to become the only influential player in the region. Afghanistan is not only situated at a very strategic geographical point for the future transport of oil and natural gas to and from Central Asia, but the country also possesses immense riches of its own. In 2010, the New York Times noted that the United States had discovered in Afghanistan over $1 trillion of mineral reserves that include copper, iron and lithium.
Sri Lanka's online newspaper, the Sunday Leader, speculates on whether India can replace Pakistan in Afghanistan, arguing that the Taliban will oppose any attempt by New Delhi to strengthen its influence in Kabul, as it did in the past. In 2008, the Taliban bombed the Indian Embassy in Kabul, in an attack that killed over 40 people, including the Indian defense attaché. A year later, in 2009, the Indian Embassy was bombed again, in an attack that killed 17 people and wounded 63. "[Hence] it is quite unlikely that despite the strategic partnership agreements during Karzai visit signed between the two countries and which included [the] training of Afghan security personnel by Indian forces, India would risk the wrath of the fanatical fundamentalist Taliban groups or Pakistan's intelligence forces; Afghanistan being considered by Pakistan as its sphere of influence vis-à-vis India. It is no secret that Pakistan's intelligence forces set up the Taliban in Afghanistan to create a 'strategic depth' for their country against India," the Sunday Leader maintained.
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has demanded that the U.S. should intervene to check on India's influence in Afghanistan. "In Afghanistan there is some kind of a proxy conflict going on between Pakistan and India. India is trying to create an anti-Pakistan Afghanistan," he stated, adding that he believes that to India the recent strategic agreement is part of "India's vision of dominating the region" and its "ambition is to create a weak Pakistan."
The U.S. has stated that it would like to pull out all troops from Afghanistan by 2014. However, the region seems to be more in danger than 10 years ago. Besides the from the Taliban, a new conflict is appearing on the horizon; it involves Indian, Pakistan and China (supporting Pakistan), and sees Afghanistan as the battlefield. The winner will get Afghanistan's resources and regional hegemony. The Indian newspaper Deccan Chronicle writes that the significance of the agreement between India and Afghanistan should be seen "in the light of the signal failure of the US and NATO troops in Afghanistan after 10 years and $400 billion spent (for the US)." Despite the U.S. and NATO's aim, according to the Deccan Chronicle, to put "Al Qaeda to flight and to eject the Taliban," the Taliban instead seems to be "doing well in Pakistan on account of their cozy terms with Islamabad."
The Indian paper argues that the failure's of the West in Afghanistan is where the significance of Karzai's pact with New Delhi lies. "It is premature to conclude that India's decision to 'stand by Afghanistan' amounts to a security guarantee to Kabul against Pakistan and the Taliban and similar groups. […] The difference between India and the Western powers, however, is this: the latter showed no stomach for extending their stay in Afghanistan to battle the Taliban, which in effect meant reading the riot act to their long-term ally, Pakistan. India is declaring, in contrast, that its vital interests are indeed linked with the fate of Kabul (This is apparently not the case with the US after the killing of Bin Laden.), which suggests that short of troop induction, India is prepared to assist Afghanistan in every way to resist Pakistan's proxy moves through the Taliban and others," the Deccan Chronicles states.
If Afghanistan is going to be left alone again, it is in India's interest to build an anti-extremist front. Both countries are victims of terror, allegedly supported by Pakistan. If India will not act, then, as underlined by the Deccan Chronicles, "Pakistan might find it tempting to seek to return to Kabul with inordinate influence, using the Taliban as the cat's paw. For India, such a development would exert tremendous negative pressure on Kashmir, as was evident some years ago, especially when the Chinese are now militarily active along the Karakoram highway [that connects Pakistan and China] all the way to PoK [Pakistan's administered Kashmir]."
What Henry Kissinger foresaw a few years ago is becoming more and more true: that in Afghanistan a positive outcome is achievable only if its neighbors agree on a policy of opposition to terrorism. "Their recent conduct argues against such prospects," Kissinger argued, maintaining that Afghanistan is becoming an international question, when its neighbors seek to dominate the country. However, no one seems to have a real strategy to solve the Afghani crisis; but if Afghanistan fails, terrorism will hardly be defeated.