Afghan Endgame: Indo-US Imperatives

By Imran Malik

India is an extremely difficult country to fathom. It has conflicting national interests and seems caught   between two diametrically opposite worlds - one that belongs to the elitist major league players on the global checkerboard and the other which is more realistically personified by its sheer poverty and misery. India belongs to one and yearns fanatically for the other. It appears unsure of its calling.

It craves for global glory and greatness yet remains pegged to sub-regional imperatives and issues. It is a nation of a billion plus but is limited to an existence that ill behooves its size, might and potential. It appears desperate to play meaningful roles at the regional and global levels. However, its own pettiness and shallowness of policy and approach keep it wallowing at the sub-regional level.

The Afghan endgame is affording India a chance to gain some regional recognition and clout as for the moment its national interests seem to be in congruence with the US'. The US could incorporate it into its future plans for the region.

The US would like to create a harmonious and risk free strategic environment in the region so that it could egress in peace and lay down the framework to secure its national interests in the future.  

In an ideal world the US would like to see India, its strategic (?) ally, emerge as the unchallenged hegemon in South Asia and Pakistan willfully submitting to its ascendancy. It would also like to see the Indo-Pak issues  put on the back burner and India freed of all sub-continental pulls and tugs that could hinder it in serving US' current regional interests; in particular in Afghanistan and the economic exploitation of the region. It would like to totally dominate the Af-Pak Region (APR), albeit by proxy. And India is one willing ally keen to play the key role of a dutiful plenipotentiary!  

The real world is however stark and reality rather sobering. Indo-Pak issues are deep rooted, intractable and sensitive. They cannot be wished away. And Pakistan will not allow its national interests to be impinged upon by anyone; regardless of the cost and this bizarre geopolitical game notwithstanding!

The US has many options to deal with the pre and post 2014 Afghanistan and the strategic environment it so fervently seeks to create there.

In a bilateral manner it could deal with Afghanistan alone and try to evolve a practical mechanism to keep the country pacified, afloat and on the road to peace and progress. It is unlikely to achieve much due to the weak Afghan economy, its inherent social contradictions and its volatile body politic.

In a trilateral arrangement it could work with Afghanistan and India totally sidelining Pakistan. However, such an arrangement would be unrealistic, impractical and would unnecessarily antagonize Pakistan.

A variant to the trilateral arrangement could be one between the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan. This has the best chances of success but would leave India out in the cold and the US without a reliable and servile ally in charge of Afghanistan.

The US could opt for a quadrilateral arrangement with Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. However, the inherent animosities and conflicting interests of India and Pakistan will render it impracticable.  

A broader multilateral regional arrangement to include Iran and even China and Russia is perhaps unrealistic and against US interests.  

Realistically speaking, India has no role whatsoever to play in the post 2014 Afghanistan. It has no direct land link with Afghanistan and if Pakistan closes its airspace to it as well, it would be hard pressed to maintain any sort of presence in Afghanistan. Its political and military will and credentials to independently and meaningfully project power are questionable, at best.

In ordinary circumstances Indo-US relations ought not to worry Pakistan. However, events are gathering pace in the APR in anticipation of the changes that this region is going to witness in the coming months. The manner in which India and the US are collaborating is clearly to Pakistan's detriment. The US has its interests and India appears willing to serve and secure them in the post 2014 Afghanistan.

While all this was happening there was a regime change in Pakistan. Enter Mian Nawaz Sharif. After the blatant disasters of the Musharraf and Zardari Governments people expected a lot from him. However, his inexplicable obsession with India and his compulsive appeasement towards it is baffling one and all.  Does he really mean it or is it just for the benefit of his principals? Nevertheless, his persistent courting of India sits in right with the US grand design for the subcontinent and the APR. Mian Nawaz Sharif will probably be encouraged to accept Indian hegemony; put all issues on the back burner momentarily, open up trade with it, give it the MFN status, and most crucially grant it land access to Afghanistan and beyond -  (an unmitigated disaster if agreed to). Such concessions could give India the ascendancy it seeks, a vital land link to Afghanistan and the US the strategic environment it seeks in the region.

Mian Nawaz Sharif ought to know better!

The US is known to be a ruthless international operator when it comes to its national interests. It has always been utterly unreliable, exploitative and selfish in its approach. It has always sought and got more than its proverbial pound of flesh from friends and foes alike. India will learn some bitter lessons if it jumps into the fray just to spite Pakistan. 

Pakistan must recognize the dangers that this Indo-US collaboration might mean for it and its interests in the region. It must attempt to forestall them and put in place necessary counter measures. It must continuously engage the US and convey to it that any Indian presence in post 2014 Afghanistan would be detrimental to Pakistan's interests; an inviolable threshold. Pakistan   must seek quid pro quos for all the favors it might do to the US and India.

Pakistan is not without its leverages and strengths; the US/NATO/ISAF egress from the region is just simply one of them...........................!

Imran Malik

The author is a retired Brigadier, a former Defense Attache' in Australia and New Zealand and is currently on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).

Author`s name Imran Malik