Kashmir: Pakistan's key objective in Afghanistan

The departure of US troops from Afghanistan is worrying for India because Pakistan will now be free to indulge in mischief

ISI chief Gen Faiz Hameed with Taliban leadership in Kabul
ISI chief Gen Faiz Hameed with Taliban leadership in Kabul

Sonali Ranade

Reams are being written on Afghanistan by experts of all kinds. But I did not find an answer to a simple question that I had in mind, ‘Why did Pakistan struggle so hard to install a Taliban regime in Afghanistan at such a horrendous cost to itself, the US and Afghanistan?’

What was the one objective that Pakistan could not have achieved, if the US had continued with its token presence of 2000 odd troops to support a national Government in Afghanistan?

Pakistan’s objectives in Afghanistan could be one or more of the following:

  • Securing a pipeline to Iran for oil & gas for domestic use and export;

  • Economic corridor from Stans (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkeminstan etc.) to Gwadar for trade

  • Exploitation of copper and other minerals

  • Elimination of India as a rival influence

  • Denial of space in Afghanistan for India to support insurgencies in Pakistan

  • To retain its capacity for mischief in Kashmir

Pakistan’s Army Chief has declared many times that Pakistan strategy now is driven by trade, commerce, and Geo-Economics, implying thereby that Pakistan would give primacy to economic interest in its strategy and policy.

But why and how would the US presence under a national government of all stakeholders have prevented Pakistan from achieving any of its stated economic objectives?

It could have had its pipelines to Central Asia, barring Iran [which is under sanctions, and will continue to be so]. It could have negotiated for its tycoons to participate in mining or any other business in Afghanistan.

The US and Afghans would be happy to oblige, subject only to normal commercial consideration. Indian influence in Afghanistan is much hyped about in India. India’s track record in the neighborhood shows how little India counts for when push comes to shove.

On the other hand, with the USAID program in full swing, both Pakistan and Afghanistan could have transformed their economies. In fact, Afghanistan’s $20 billion economy grew from virtually $2 billion to $20 billion, with the help of US reconstruction.

Half of Afghanistan was electrified, metal roads connect all cities, and 70 out of every 100 Afghans now have a cell phone, a ratio we still lack in India. So, there was nothing in the sphere of “geo-economics,” that Pakistan Army Chief swears by, which Pakistan could not have achieved by collaborating with the US, instead of fighting them through Taliban proxies.

There have been many allegations in the Pakistani media that India used its presence in Afghanistan to foment trouble among the Pashtuns across the Durand Line.

Elimination of such a capacity against Pakistan would be a legitimate objective for Pakistan, and had it not been at war with the US through its proxies, Pakistan could have asked for cessation of all such activity, and there was no reason why any Afghan government or the US, would not have obliged Pakistan. Both had nothing to gain from such Indian activity, if at all it was allowed to take place.

Given all this, why would Pakistan wage a 20-year struggle to install its proxies in Afghanistan?

The one and only reason could be to preserve Pakistan’s capacity for intervention in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. Any escalation of intervention in Kashmir would certainly have India looking at its options for intervention via the Pashtuns across the Durand line. This tit-for-tat would produce a stalemate for both parties, blunting Pakistan’s offensive capabilities that it has been long used to with India.

Of all the objectives this is the only one that could not be achieved, without having a Govt. in Afghanistan that Pakistan controls, and also one that is implacably opposed to India on both doctrinaire and ideological grounds.

Pakistan has now the advantage of housing offensive capacities across its border with Afghanistan, adding an additional layer of plausible deniability. It must worry India deeply.

(The writer is an independent analyst. Views are personal)

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