Post 2014 Afghanistan: Emerging Regional Alignment
by Abu Ezaan
Pakistan has undeniably suffered the most with the ongoing Afghan instability, and as mainly prophesied, the trend is not expected to change in the foreseeable future. Notwithstanding the countless sacrifices, Pakistan continues to be projected as the part of problem and pointed finger at for every ill in Afghanistan in particular and region in general. Without getting in to the debate of whether Pakistan has involvement in ongoing fiasco, or it is just victimization, there is greater need to deliberate upon the emerging environments and their potential impact, especially with regards to post 2014 Afghanistan. It is imperative for Pakistan to realistically ponder where the country is at divergence with the broader interests of this region vis-à-vis the capacity to withstand fall out of any potential isolation in the given circumstances.
The post 2014 environments in Afghanistan have far-reaching impact on the entire region and consequently, there is ever expanding diplomatic hustle and bustle from all stakeholders to establish alignments with like-minded countries. There are diverging interests of the regional as well international players in Afghanistan, nevertheless; the convergence on minimum agreeable objectives is shaping the future alignments regardless of continual peripheral issues among these actors. Broadly, external concerns in Afghanistan can be categorized in two groups; firstly the aspects related with security issues and secondly, economic interests.
Regional and international actors concerned with Afghan security issues has mainly one interest in common i.e. reasonable stability in Afghanistan and a desire to prevent resurgence of Taliban. Though, this objective remains high priority for the decision makers at Washington, nevertheless, all regional countries including Pakistan, China, Iran, Central Asian States and Russia are weary of the continues instability and violence in Afghanistan. India also claims to be concerned with the security aspects in Afghanistan due to the potential linkage of Afghan Jihadists with Kashmir movement. Whereas Pakistan is accused of supporting as well as patronizing Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan by certain quarters, even countries with friendly notion also carry some kind of suspicions and seem recipient of the negative propaganda. Thus, Pakistan despite being deeply impacted with Afghan instability and willing to support peace overtures, remains rather alien in the league of countries who are identified as having genuine security concerns in Afghanistan.
The second category revolves around those actors who have economic interests in Afghanistan or the ones having major investments on various projects in the country. The countries such as China, India and Japan are categorized in this category, while Pakistan, with comparatively lesser investment, but deeper economic interests in Afghanistan, can be grouped among the affected players. US is also considered among those nations who have greater stakes in the realization of economic related initiatives such as ‘new silk route’ through Afghanistan. Here also, Pakistan is being viewed as a country, who is perceived to be supporting Taliban insurgency; thus in a way undermining the economic potential of the region. Unfortunately while putting Pakistan on the sword for continued instability in Afghanistan, it is largely ignored how much stakes the country itself has with the revival of economic activities in the region.
It is thus evident that Pakistan is being isolated despite having commonality of views with all other actors on the essence of Afghan peace and stability. Emerging regional alignments hint towards a broader understanding on post 2014 Afghanistan among Russia, India and Iran with Kabul regime on board as was the case during the civil war of 1990s. Such an alliance is likely to have the natural allies in the shape of Central Asian states as these countries, owing to their internal dynamics, are concerned with the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan. In a relatively new development compared to 1990s, Russia-India-Iran alliance may have convergence of opinion with US led NATO / West, while economic interests as well security concerns of China with Islamic militancy in Afghanistan, puts Pakistan in a catch 22 situation. The emergence of such a scenario in Afghanistan isolates Pakistan with the only possibility of covert Saudi support who is hedging its interests against emerging US-Iran rapprochement.
The emerging dynamics with regards to post 2014 Afghanistan seem precarious to Pakistani interests if not handled prudently. There is, at the moment, requirement of greater urgency for taking stock of the developing situation and devising a policy which is inline with Pakistan’s best interests. The question now seems more of damage control rather than aspiring for a significant or dominant role in the Afghan end game. To sum up, for Pakistan, a dispassionate cost-benefit analysis of the policies pursued on Afghanistan during last three decades is imperative while formulating a rational policy for the future.