Many wondered what Donald Trump’s New Afghan policy would have in store for Pakistan and the region. As expected, and just like his predecessors, he was not only tough on Islamabad but also demanded Pakistan to ‘do-more’ towards eliminating militant safe-havens; a chorus far too familiar for policy makers in Pakistan. Very few, though, expected that Trump would also bring India in the Afghan equation. By asking India to participate actively in progress of Afghanistan, Trump has entered a dangerous territory of fiddling with the already fragile Indo-Pak ties.
Pakistan-India Relations are much more than a mere bilateral conflict that blows hot and cold over Kashmir and border skirmishes. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to argue that the peace and prosperity of South Asia, especially the situation in Afghanistan, is hostage to this rivalry. Many observers in South Asia are of the view that the theatre of war between India and Pakistan has shifted to the western borders. The continuous escalation of violence on the Line of Control in the last few months, where the 2003 accord has been violated a number of times and is now obsolete, is indicative of extension and not a shift. Pakistan has to defend itself against India on three physical fronts.
The Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan is the second most volatile border in the world, which was never this problematic in the past. Sporadic exchange of fire is now turning into something far more dangerous, resulting in both civilian and military casualties. Moreover, the Indian intrusions now also include marine and airspace violations.
The second front is the misuse of strategic space by India in Afghanistan resulting in strategic vulnerability for Pakistan where India uses its clout and influence in the country to promote anti-Pakistan propaganda and brew trouble for Pakistan through its Western border. This involvement, as discussed above, will get a spike with Trump’s open invitation to India, to work closely with the US and its allies in Afghanistan. It is now an open secret as to why India is deeply interested in creating and capturing this strategic space in Afghanistan; a country that offers little economic incentive to New Delhi, but offers great strategic depth to it against its Arch Rival Pakistan.
The final and last front is the now irrefutable evidence of Indian intelligence agency’s (RAW) involvement in destabilizing major cities of Pakistan – especially in the Balochistan province – cultivating and facilitating anti-state elements both religious and political, and attempts to sabotage the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The war on terror has forced Pakistan lose almost 17 years of potential progress at the cost of engaging in a never ending war, which was initiated by the United States in Afghanistan, and dealing with both its operational dimensions and possible aftermaths. Luckily, after hard toil and sacrifices, the year 2016 was termed as the year of annihilation of terrorist by General Raheel Sharif. Yet, even with such results, this war – and its consequences – is far from over.
The reluctance shown by Pakistan in spite of a very successful Zarb-e-Azb operation, to go head on against certain militant factions, which is constantly pointed out by both the West and India, is largely an issue of capacity and the ability to handle more fronts. They are, however, very closely watched and they successfully contained.
It is also worth noting that the mindset of the 1990s has ceased to exist. The so-called strategic assets of the past are now viewed as a liability and a hindrance to achieving larger economic growth and connectivity. Also, the doctrine of strategic depth in Afghanistan lies buried forever. However, Pakistan for good reason is still very sensitive to strategic vulnerability ensuing out of Afghanistan because of rising Indian influence used negatively against Pakistan.
Finally, the Pakistan-China alliance and its joint vision of economic connectivity is hinged upon good relations with all its neighbors and beyond. Therefore, Pakistan needs to tread carefully while engaging with its hostile neighbor in New Delhi, and take concrete steps that would help in maintaining peace and order in the region.
The author, Dr. Huma Baqai, is an Associate Professor, Director Public Affairs and Communication and former Chairperson, Department of Social Sciences, IBA, Karachi. She has remained associated with the media for the past several years both as an analyst and anchorperson. She has also remained a part of CRSS’s Pakistan-Afghanistan Track 1.5/ II initiative titled Beyond Boundaries.
© Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) and Afghan Studies Center (ASC), Islamabad.