Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Can India, Pakistan possibly back off in Afghanistan?
Now that India and Pakistan have agreed to hold further talks following a meeting between the prime ministers of the two countries, are they going to step back from a bruising confrontation in Afghanistan?
It’s a war fought in the shadows with spies and proxies, and lots of money. Once in a while it gets really nasty as in deadly attacks on Indian interests for which New Delhi has pointed the finger at Pakistan.
It’s not clear what subjects Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani touched on during their meeting on the sidelines of a regional summit in Bhutan, but Afghanistan clearly is an important subtext, arguably the most pressing one at this time.
Both countries are positioning themselves for an eventual U.S. withdrawal from the country, with Pakistan clearly holding the better cards at the moment, both as a result of its geography and long-standing links with a resurgent Taliban.
Like much else in their tormented relationship each fears the other’s involvement in Afghanistan. Pakistan worries that Kabul will end up with close links to New Delhi, allowing India to essentially “surround” Pakistan; India fears that if the Taliban return to power, it will face more attacks at home.
Can Singh and Gilani bridge the trust deficit that Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke of? Influential Indian foreign policy analyst C. Raja Mohan suggested a couple of months back that New Delhi should take the initiative and call for a trilateral summit involving India, Pakistan and Afghanistan to look for ways for lasting peace in the region.
Such a meeting looks unlikely, even though Afghan President Hamid Karzai is also in Bhutan attending the summit as the South Asia grouping’s newest member. The ground has been shifting in the past few months with Pakistan believing more than ever before that it holds the balance of power in the region as the United States eyes a retreat.
So why would it accept any trilateral dialogue with a sidelined India much less countenance any involvement in a country that it considers its natural ally because of a shared border, overwhelmingly Muslim populations and deep ethnic links.
Stratfor, a U.S.-based-intelligence consulting site, says that for the first time in years the United States and Pakistan are reading off the same page in Afghanistan.
“U.S. and Pakistani interests not only appear aligned again, the two countries appear to be laying groundwork for the incorporation of elements of the Taliban into the Afghan state,” it said in a report.
The Americans want to leave — and if the price of departure is leaving behind an emboldened Pakistan supporting a militant structure that can target India, the Americans seem fine with making India pay that price,” Stratfor said.
The question then is will India sit back and watch the ground slip further from under its feet.