Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Pakistan getting ahead of itself on the Afghan chessboard?

March 15, 2010
(An Afghan woman outside  a shop in Herat. Picture by Morteza Nikoubazl )

(An Afghan woman outside a shop in Herat. Picture by Morteza Nikoubazl )

If you have been reading news reports and blogs in recent weeks on Pakistan’s Afghanistan strategy, you would think Islamabad has emerged at the top of the heap, holding all the cards to a possible endgame. Its close ties to the Afghan Taliban put Islamabad in a unique position for a negotiated settlement to the eight-year-war, with little place for arch rival India which has been trying to muscle into its sphere of influence.

But Pakistan must not be taken in by all the hype; it has neither delivered a strategic coup nor has it fully secured its interests, argue two experts in separate pieces that seem to cut through all the noise.

The ultimate measure of success in the current conflict is the security of the Pakistani people and that is showing no signs of improvement, says Pakistani commentator Ahsan Butt in an article carried by Foreign Policy’s AFPAK channel. Last week’s bombings in Lahore and in Swat the following day underlined the power of the militants to strike deep in the heartland despite a successful ground offensive in South Waziristan last year and stepped-up missile strikes by unmanned drone aircraft. What use is seeking strategic depth when you are being attacked at home?

Doubtless such peaks in violence are often followed by valleys, but  it will be hard to argue that the threat of indiscriminate violence against Pakistani citizens has dissipated in a meaningful way, says Butt. “Ultimately, this is what matters most. The job of the political and military leadership is not to secure ‘Pakistan’s interests’ — whatever they may be — in Afghanistan. Such language bears an uncanny resemblance to the neoimperialism that both our right and left so vociferously denounce when it originates from the West. No, the job of our political and military leadership is to ensure a robust, but by no means perfect, level of safety for its citizens, so that they can go about their daily lives. It’s pretty simple.”

Actually for all the talk about winning back leverage in Afghanistan, the chessboard there is changing so fast that Pakistan may not be such a critical player in the months ahead, says Sameer Lalwani, a doctoral student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in an article in The Dawn. He argues that economic shifts are taking place in northern and western Afghanistan which will break its isolation and reduce dependence on Pakistan.

First off is China’s growing reach in Afghanistan – its $3 billion investment in the Aynak copper mine will require the construction of a new railroad between Afghanistan and China’s Xinjiang province and an electricity station. Once the two countries are directly connected, investments in other critical resources like coal, iron, aluminium will rise and induce even more trade linkages. China’s rising long-term investments in Afghanistan and expanding influence will only  make it increasingly less tolerant of Pakistani-supported Taliban elements, especially those that prove disruptive to its economic interests or foment and support Uighur militancy in Xinjiang, as the Taliban did in the 1990s, Lalwani says.

Two, northern Afghanistan is deepening its links with Central Asia. Thanks to an Indian-constructed bridge in 2007 linking Afghanistan and Tajikistan (and this is probably one of the reasons New Delhi’s activities are so strongly opposed by Pakistan) trade through that route increased sevenfold within a year and Afghan land values along that route shot up dramatically. Not to be outdone, the Russians are now offering a rail transit corridor linking Europe to Afghanistan via Uzbekistan.

Third, Afghanistan is developing an alternative southern route to the Arabian Sea. While in the past, landlocked Afghanistan depended on Pakistan to transport its goods through the port of Karachi, Indian completion in 2008 of the 135-mile road from Nimroz province to Iran’s Chahbahar port provides an efficient transport corridor for goods between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.

“The most disturbing consequence for Pakistan is that these economic trends are creating conditions for a de facto partitioned Afghan state. The more stable north and west — with international linkages, economic growth and acceptance of the Afghan central government and western troop presence — can emerge self-sufficient and defensible while pockets of insurgency engulf the south and east,” Lalwani says.


Sadly, in Afghan context, sidelining Pakistan has become more important to some than anything else. At the same time, I haven’t found a single “commentator” or a “doctoral student” who could lay out a peace strategy for Afghanistan without Pakistan. How justifiable it would be to remove Pakistan completely from the scene once it clears the mess with paying heaviest price?

“The most disturbing consequence for Pakistan is that these economic trends are creating conditions for a de facto partitioned Afghan state. The more stable north and west — with international linkages, economic growth and acceptance of the Afghan central government and western troop presence — can emerge self-sufficient and defensible while pockets of insurgency engulf the south and east,” Lalwani says.

It simply does not make sense as to how a “partitioned Afghan state” could be a “disturbing consequence” for Pakistan? Pakistan has dealt with far more stable, devided and restive Afghanistan (governments and groups) in history. Best of luck Mr. Lalwani for your doctorate ambitions!


If this is so, then why are the Indians running away from Afghanistan, and asking to close down their embassy and consulates? Shouldn’t India be sending more people there now?

Posted by S.A.R.A | Report as abusive

Once Chinese move in, Indians will be crying. India like Pakistan is after strategic gain, wheras China is there for money. Afghans just like the Nepalis, Sri Lankans will see China as the positive nation.

India should concentrate on helping themselves. Country is not gonna win any awards for reducing poverty. Just look at food inflation there.

Posted by Yasar | Report as abusive

Typical of the Indian writers putting their prejudiced piece in their articles.

How can Geography of Afghanistan can be changed? Its a landlocked country and the distance from the Pakistani port of Karachi or Gawadar will be the most economical and accessible no matter where Afghanistan seeks an alternate access.

Pakistan has sacrificed everything that made Afghanistan get rid of USSR, while India was the greatest supporter of USSR!! Now they are helping Afghanistan while Pakistan has been flooded by 3.5 million Afghan refugees. They have destroyed Pakistan since 1979 when they came in and even their children have made their home. Where was the world since 1979 Pakistan’s social fabric has been completely destroyed since then.

The whole world and western world just sit and lecture and do never analyze what Pakistan has contributed. May I ask what has NATO with 40 odd countries achieved on the other side of the border since 2001?

Posted by ratee | Report as abusive

Pakistan contribution is terrorism at the world stage.Every terrorist in the world has links to pakistan and that is what pakistan today is a Terrorist state


Typical Indian Wet Dream

Posted by Bob | Report as abusive

Pakistan’s relevance in afghanistan is being questioned,where as China and India are portrayed as ‘developers’ in Afghanistan. There are two reasons why both these countries are investing in afghanistan. Chine has the Xinjiang issue and India has Kashmir.(both areas are under reppressive rule from both countries)

China does not want spread of instability from afghanistan to reach its western province while India is trying to squeeze Pakistan from its western border to open its links to central asia and dissuade pakistan from supporting kashmiri aspirations.

India sat it out conveniently when afghans were invaded by the communist regime (USSR) and again waited till they figured it was safe to ‘invest’..the purpose as per the above article is to take afghanistan out of pakistans dependance.
But afghans have a common border with family ,ethnic ties to pakistan. Unless you want to break that country into north western and southern afghanistan,you cannot expect one part to progress while punishing the part that form the majority(pushtuns) of that country(south and east)live.
This article has a bias towards both pushtuns and Pakistans interests.
One thing however I do agree with is a goverments primiarily objective is to provide security and services to its people.This is not happening in Pakistan at the moment.Pakistanis have a right to demand that from it or to demand an alterantive party that will provide them with it.

Posted by abrar | Report as abusive

I agree with the statement by Ratee. Afghanistan is a landlocked country, and the United States’ huge influence in Afghanistan (army, government, and economy) will obviously prefer sending all Afghan goods through Pakistan rather than through the anti-American and hostile Iran. And the fact of the matter is, the part of China close to Afghanistan (Xinjiang) is energy-starved, rural, and a much smaller population; even China itself is investing in Gwadar City, Pakistan, to meet the energy needs of much of China (including Xinjiang), and if Gwadar Port becomes successful as is anticipated, then much of western China (and as a result, Afghanistan) will need to rely on Pakistan for economic and energy purposes. I wish Pakistan would stop supporting the atrocious Taliban, but the fact of the matter (whether anyone wants to admit it or not) is that Afghanistan needs Pakistan, and Pakistan needs a stable Afghanistan. Nothing can change that. Even when the part of China that connects with Afghanistan is looking for greater access to Pakistani waters and when a hostile Iran is being isolated by the world, how can any logical writer say Afghanistan won’t rely on Pakistan for too much longer? Even the Central Asian nations desire a place to send their goods since they’re land-locked too and under the grip of Russia…

Posted by S.A.R | Report as abusive

It is very unfortunate for Pakistan to have a indecent neighbor is India.
Regarding Afghanistan India can not be in position to play role to resolve the Afghan issue. India can not be change the world through Bollywood. It very successful inside India.
Common man of the country is simple and pure but sick mind set traveling common man to the darkness.

It is very unfortunate for India that they lost pure Indian instead of they bring fake Indian for the coming generation. It is because India keep one sick mind set in society that group
always be working against for healthy Indian and for Pakistan and number of healthy Indian be lost so far.
India should be understand that Pakistan is the major player of the region Pakistan always trying to initiate friendship to the India but always be conspiracy against Pakistan
If I ill be start writing what conspiracy by Indian side, it become a book only say latest invention is in Balouchistan. When Pakistan PM raising the Balouchistan issue than Indian PM can not face the Pakistan PM. We have evidence that Indian and world can not deny .

We are busy to get red of the terrorism from Pakistan and support effectively war against terrorism
Which is under Unite Nation. Pakistan always participate positive role in international community and United Nation commitment to the world so far. But India not.

Posted by miskeen kamran | Report as abusive

Why is Pakistan potrayed as the evil-minded arch nemesis of peace and stability in Afghanistan while India continues to do good?
Our whole country has been destroyed by The whole Afghanistan situation.
Biased articles wont show the harsh realities. Afghanistan can never be more than a jungle, it can never achieve a country which some analyst point towards.
Everyone will sink in this ship.

Posted by Hamed | Report as abusive

“Pakistan has sacrificed everything that made Afghanistan get rid of USSR”

Pakistan never sacrifice anything for its own people much less Afghans.It actively cons its own provinces like Sindh and Balochistan and steal water from them for Punjab.
This country is the worst example of kleptocracy and oligarchy. The Afghan Jihad was not by any measure “a sacrifice”.It got millions of dollars in aid and siphoned funds from international agencies like UN meant for Afghan refugees.They are living in the worst conditions possible.

Posted by Jaydev,India | Report as abusive

I sympathise with RSS. BUT Pakistan has to accept the blame for always chosing the wrong option. One has to ask why should outsiders are being blamed for bad Pakistani politics. If they had gone about the business of state building since 1947, the country might have surpassed India. The root cause is the lethal mix of Islam and politics, which not only afflicts Pakistan, the rest of the Islamic world. Afghanistan is trying to avoid this scenario, India is there to help it along the way.

Posted by Major | Report as abusive

I love the progress Pakistan is making. You go girlfriend. The US should see that and back out of Afghanistan. Let other countries fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban


The article is nothing, just a typical mindset of RSS set on to ruin Pakistan through their propaganda.

Posted by Khan | Report as abusive

Pakistan is a failed state.It has perfected the art of criminal blackmail.It was founded on Ideology of hatred and concept that other religions cannt coexist with Islam.Quid A Azam wanted a secular seprate state so that he could a force to recon with but he ushered out a Gennie of Hatred against diversity.
The present pakistani society has been indoctrinated in that poison.In trying to kill its percieved enemy it has lost touch with humanity.
Pakistan supported Americans during afgan war to get the dollars.They created taliban to proxy rule Afganistan.Now ideologically driven Fantics who ruled Aganistan want to rule Pakistan.Pakistani army in trying to control Afganistan with least cost may barter Pakistan to these yahoos in the process.
Bangladesh was not created by India but by the wrong policies against bengalis by the Military leadership in pakistan.Disenfranchising and exploiting millions of Muslims who were different to Punjabi leadership created the divison.
The basic premise that Diversity cannt coexist which created Pakistan will ultimately unravel it.After religion ,sect,cultur,language and ethinicity will create many more pakistans within pakistan.

Posted by khan Baba | Report as abusive

Get over the hatred for other people and blaming them for everything.
Stop the criminal balckmail,” give us money or we shall fail and nukes will fall in wrong hands”.
People who keep asking for charity for charity or AID are beggars.
Afghans have suffered due to pakistan trying to play the great power game.The doorkeeper of the Powerful cannt claim to be strong.He can be a bully which pakistan has been till date.But unfortunately the doorkeeper unhappy with its master (US) and want to change the master(CHINA and SAUDIA Arabia).Now the Doorkeeper has a gariat.
Where was the Gariat for last 30 years?
Ultimately the master has realised that its pet has gone mad and is barking a lot.Its trying to mollify it so that it behaves but if the pet tries to bike it will be neutralised.

Posted by khan Baba | Report as abusive

Mr. Lakwani needs a lesson in geography.

Wakhan corridor which borders china contains highest peaks of the world it is so remote and inhospitable and mountainous–it would be a great engineering feat if there ever will be a road constructed there. It is cheaper for the Chinese to make a rail through pakistan than to Afghanistan. This is exactly what has been planned

Reuters should be ashamed of this sort of shoddy reporting. Let us examine the points that Lakwani raises–regurgitated here by Reuters:

1) China’s $3 billion investment in Afghanistan’s Anyak copper mine will require the construction of a new railroad between Afghanistan and China’s Xinjiang province and an electricity station. il-integrates-afghanistan-tajikistan-pak istan/

Mr. Lakwani cannot see Pakistan on the map. That is his personal problem. Minor detail Mr. Lakwani–Afghanistan does not have a long border with China. There is a touch point, bur reality dictates the rail goes through Pakistan and Tajikistan.

The lifeline of wWkhi people depends on Pakistan’s Chapursan valley. Every year in summer Wakhis cross the Ershads pass to come for trade clothing and foods etc. For 5 months snow prevents the movement. It is a lot easier for Wakhi to come to Pakistani to buy food than to Afghanistan. Wakhan is Pakistani territory.

Mr. Lakwani fails to mention that the rail line goes through Pakistan and Islamabad is part and parcel of this venture. China is building it for the copper. What will Afghanistan get by going into Xinjiang? Afghanistan needs goods from Karachi. Kabul to Brussels is slightly longer (about seven times longer) than Kabul to Karachi. This is the ECO integration being discussed. The same rail links Pakistan Railways to Europe–also linked from Islamabad to Istanbul via Tehran. Turkey, Iran and Pakistan are spending $20 billion on the islamabad to Istanbul link. llion-dollar-pakistan-china-rail-link-mo ving-forward/ railway-upgrade-with-chinese-help/

Another minor detail. The road link goes through Gilgit and Baltistan, Pakistan’s 5th province. On the one hand Bharat is chagrined at the rail link–on the other hand Mr. Lakwani seems to hold it up as the saviour of Afghanistan. aranoia-about-pakistan-china-rail-links/

2) Second, northern Afghanistan’s links to Central Asia will continue to deepen. Thanks to an Indian-constructed bridge in 2007 linking Afghanistan and Tajikistan

Mr. Lakwani must live in a fools paradise to think that Tajikistan–another land locked country can provide Afghanistan with what it needs from Europe and America Y90wGs9c/China+India+Rail+wars

3) Afghanistan is developing an alternative southern route to the Arabian Sea. While in the past, landlocked Afghanistan depended on Pakistan to transport its goods through the port of Karachi, Indian completion in 2008 of the 135-mile road from Nimroz province to Iran’s Chahbahar

The world has never seen so much hyperbole over any 135 mile road anywhere on the planet. Mr. Lakwani fails to mention that Bharat does not have access to Chahbahar anymore. Because Bharat stabbed iran in the back at the IAEA, launched satellites for Israel, and supported Rigi–there is no longer an Indo-Iranian relationship. Sanctioned iran cannot import and send products to Afghanistan. The infrastructure just isn’t there


Majority of Afghans just hate Pakistan. Mistake India did last time was not to recognize Taliban government. This time India will recognize any government in Afghanistan and will work closely with her. Let Pakistan do whatever she wants. Afghanistan will be a India friendly nation like it always has been. This time even Saudis don;t have full faith in Pakistani designs. Just wait what happens in Afghanistan. Pakistan will be in more troubles this time. People like editor of rupee news ( we know who is) are nothing but paid Pakistani agents, spreading propaganda.

Posted by Raj Kumar | Report as abusive

Editor of Rupee news has raised several very important and logical points which are based on reality. These points maybe hard for those who do not want pakistan role in the region,not just in Afghanistan.

The reality of landlocked countries is they have to rely on those who have access to the sea and to their ports.Thse countires cannot be hostile to the countires that basiclly help them to sustain it.The so called leaders of these countires cannot be sincere to their own popel who depend on the import of goods from their neighbours.

This is where the role of india comes which has always used afghanistan ‘leaders’ to take a hostile stand against Pakistan to keep the ‘pot boiling’ and keep pakistan engaged in a useless fued while it continues to deny Kashmiri people their UN mandated right to plebicite.

Another point raised about the Wakhan people and their close ties to the people in Pakistan’s Chapursan valley.
the corridor was only created during the Britis imperial rule to have a neutral territory from the Russian influence in central asia.

The final stabilty in the region really depends on an greement of two vital issues.Kashmir and the Durand Line.

These two are topices better left for another article.

Posted by abrar | Report as abusive

In my view all the evils of today’s world has either roots in Israil or in Pakistan. For intsance, any terrorist attack at any part of the work links directly or indirectly to Pakistan. The goverment of Pakistan exports terror as it is part of its foregn policy. I think the time has come to settle the accounts with the rulers of this country. In particular the military should be taught a lesson. Despite of the global complaints about the existence of terror networks, and their sacturie and evidence, the goverment of pakistan continues to turn a blind eye on them.

But the good thing is that Pakistan itself has become the victem of its own evils. The TTP and other extremist groups have turned against its own goverment now.

Pakistan is a state sponsored terrorist country

Posted by Sohail | Report as abusive

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