Can Afghanistan choose between India and Pakistan?

Umair Jamal December 6, 2016 6:30 AM (UTC+8)
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An overwhelming focus on South Asia’s terrorism problem has been a key highlight during the 6th session of the Heart of Asia ministerial conference which is taking place in Amritsar, India.

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and the Indian Prime minister, Narendra Modi’s joint inauguration of the conference was, by and large, meant to send a message to Islamabad that both countries are united against the latter’s alleged policy of using non-state actors as means of foreign policy. In an apparent reference to Pakistan, Modi said that voices of support for Afghanistan’s peace should be “backed by resolute action not just against forces of terrorism but also against those who support shelter, train and finance them.”

Moreover, it was another attempt on New Dehli’s part to enlist maximum diplomatic cooperation to carry on the newly adopted policy of isolating Pakistan regionally and globally. Modi’s new drive to expose Pakistan’s alleged policy of supporting terrorist groups in the region began with the cancellation of the SAARC summit last month in Islamabad where New Dehli’s assertive diplomacy made sure that the key regional states having similar grievances against Pakistan were not participating in the summit.

Afghanistan’s President, Ashraf Ghani has been quick to jump on the Modi’s bandwagon aimed at lambasting Pakistan wherever opportunity arises. President Ghani, at the beginning of his presidency attempted to enroll Islamabad’s support in order to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. The attempt, however, has proven a nonstarter with Kabul, which blames Pakistan for not following up on its commitments in this regard. While the Heart of Asia forum saw Afghanistan’s president showering appreciation on New Dehli’s recent financial and military assistance, he scoffed at Islamabad’s pledged assistance for similar purposes by stressing that Pakistan should use the money to contain terrorism inside its territories which poses an immediate threat his country. “There’s need for a fund to combat extremism. Pakistan has generously pledged US$500 million for reconstruction of AFG. This fund could very well be used for containing extremism because without peace any amount of assistance will not meet the needs of our people,” said President Ghani in a social media message.

The participation of the Pakistani Prime Minister’s advisor on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, in the conference can be characterized as an effort aimed at countering New Dehli and Kabul’s recent diplomatic hostility. The presence of Pakistan’s delegation in India sends a message to international community that the country, unlike Afghanistan and India, welcomes dialogue and diplomacy rather than confrontation and hostility. While it’s unlikely that the visit of Pakistan’s delegation can prove an icebreaker as far the recent enmity between Pakistan and India is concerned, the symbolic nature of the visit offers Islamabad diplomatic high ground which would certainly become a talking point in the coming days and months.

In this protracted conflict triangle, Afghanistan’s recent policy of overt hostility towards Pakistan puts the country in a difficult situation. One can argue that while Pakistan and India can afford to engage in an unconcealed diplomatic row, Kabul’s prevailing compromising security, economic and political situation doesn’t allow enough diplomatic space where it can openly pick and choose between India and Pakistan.

Afghanistan cannot simply write-off Pakistan when the latter’s questionable policy of sheltering some militant groups have remained tied with India’s presence in Afghanistan. While Afghanistan blames Pakistan for the failure of the recent dialogue process with Afghan Taliban, the current afghan government has not focused on the country’s internal weak and compromising security and political structures that have clearly failed in containing militancy in the country.

While an open hostility towards Pakistan will not resolve Kabul’s security problems, the policy will further maximize already entrenched air of distrust between the both countries. Kabul should make sure that it continues to engage Pakistan rather than firing cylinders of hostility – to some extent appease India – which will certainly compromise the country’s security interests in the long run.

Umair Jamal
Umair Jamal is a freelance journalist. His research focuses primarily on the analysis of South Asian security and politics. His work has been featured in number of renowned media outlets including Foreign Policy, Al-Jazeera, The National Interest, The Huffington Post, The Diplomat, The News on Sunday, Pakistan Today, among others. He can be reached at umair.jamal@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter at @UmairJamal15
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