Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Afghanistan’s triangular regional dilemma

We can rewrite history but cannot escape geography. Afghanistan has always been sandwiched between conflicting interests of its neighbors and as Afghanistan is taking a new roadmap to recuperate its fragile security and stability, the neighbors particularly Pakistan , Iran and India are sharpening their teeth to claim their part in all the political processes in Afghanistan . Better to say, a potential crisis emerging from the triangular dilemma confronting Afghanistan . Stranded with the British legacy of disputed Durand Line, Pakistan created the Taliban insurgency as means of continued security and political havoc taking the advantage of poor governance system in Afghanistan, at the same time Iran has been building up its contacts and linkages in Afghanistan through support to the most conservative faction leaders of the country unlike Pakistan, Iran supports socio-cultural fundamentalism in Afghanistan through private universities and television channels. It is worth mentioning that India that once used to be a member of the Non-Alignment Movement too changed its status and has been directly creating venues for interventions in Afghanistan .

In a world where interventions in any poor and conflict nation are happily justified as humanitarian assistance, there can hardly be any strong measure to manage neighbor’s and external interferences, especially when the state itself anchors such interferences at times. One fundamental objectives of the Pakistani intelligence (IS) was to destroy Afghanistan ’s intelligence services during the last reigns of Najibullah government and they succeeded. As famous for its fast-paced outreach and cutting-edge espionage, Afghanistan ‘KHAD’ was literally paralyzed as the Islamic Republic state of Afghanistan took oaths amidst of the civil war in early 90s. And now besides a bleak government, we have a vulnerable and dependent intelligence services.

Afghanistan is stuck between a rock and hard place as the landmark Peace Jirga is awaiting to be held around end of May this year. Pakistani Prime minister declared its official (non ISI) position that they do not support talks with the Taliban. As obvious, Pakistan continues to water its ‘national interest’ with Washington ’s millions of aid for standing by its side on the ‘war on terror’. On one hand, the Pakistani intelligence and army would continue bolstering the insurgency in Afghanistan and on the other, would enjoy billions of dollars from Washington in the cosmic struggles against Taliban and militants. As a former ISI head said on Aljazeera, ‘who can believe that a country’s intelligence would support another country in a struggle against its own national interest and the US knows it well’. It is equally important for Washington to finally understand that Pakistan is not supportive of arrangements for bringing the ongoing insurgency to an end in Afghanistan, a long awaited outcome of the ‘war on terror’ that has been losing popularity not only in the public opinion surveys in the US and NATO countries, but also in Afghanistan.

Iran too isnt less ardent on its own national interests and this comes amidst of growing tensions in Afghanistan over government’s silence on increased instances of Iran ’s direct interference in Afghanistan , especially after the latest trip of President Ahmadinejad to Afghanistan during March this year. Iran sent an official petition to United Nations for probing into the Afghan war and declare the objectives of this ongoing counterinsurgency and just a week after Washington’s Nuclear Summit convened an international conference of over 60 countries and sought the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan saying this time ‘ its not a request but an order’. Ironically, Iran has never been so kind to Afghanistan or Afghans in spite of religious, linguistic, cultural and geographic commonalities. Just this month, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the parliament raised concerns and plead for the plight of 3000 or more Afghans under the Iranian custody awaiting to be executed for various charges of illegal immigration and drugs smuggling. Representatives of Nimroz Provincial Council and Nimroz governor reported to the media that Iran has moved almost two kilometers within the Afghanistan territory and installed its water pumps on the Helmand riverbank and complained that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan hasn’t even investigated the matter. Some MPs from the Afghan parliament even expressed their suspicion that Afghanistan ’s deliberate silence on Iran indicates towards some hidden deals that might have taken place between Afghan government and Iran . Afghanistan might be trying to leverage on the Iran relationship as a ‘bargaining chip’ to secure Western attention in Afghanistan but it can go against the motivation as well and Iran could be also manipulating Afghan government and monopolize Afghanistan as an escape-goat to deal with the US and the West.

In conjuncture with the recent developments on the Iranian side, India calls on Afghanistan for being cautious on talks with the Taliban, expressing India ’s concerns. Paradoxically, the Indian Prime Minister asks for ‘redlines’ from the Afghan President ahead of the peace processes with the Taliban and militants indicating towards security for Indian citizens in Afghanistan. Particularly when Pakistani groups are alleged of attempts to jeopardize the lives of Indian citizens in Afghanistan . However, more seems to come from the Indian side as India unfolds its potential interests in a post-NATO Afghanistan .

While Afghanistan’s relationship with its neighbors are pivotal for the upcoming Peace Jirga and any other peace processes in Afghanistan , the tensions of India and Pakistan on the talks with the Taliban remind us Afghans about the similar trajectories in our contemporary history of civil war. This is not to say that the central asian and far neighbors of Afghanistan are neutral but the current triangular dilemma of the Afghan neighbors present a potential political crisis for the country as the NATO is planning transition to national forces and eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan. The situation becomes more problematic when the legacy of Cold War and the 90s civil war has left a lot of Iranian and Pakistan government idealogues and loyalities within the Afghan political stream, or the famous warlords who would bring another insurrection if their interests are not accommodated within the upcoming political structures in Afghanistan. This fear is palpable in the daily life of Afghanistan now and in the months and years to come.

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