Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

India-Afghan strategic pact:the beginnings of regional integration

November 11, 2011

A strategic partnership agreement between India and Afghanistan would ordinarily have evoked howls of protest from Pakistan which has long regarded its western neighbour as part of its sphere of influence.  Islamabad has, in the past, made no secret of its displeasure at India’s role in Afghanistan including  a$2 billion aid effort that has won it goodwill among the Afghan  people, but which Pakistan sees as New Delhi’s way to expand influence. 

Instead the reaction to the pact signed last month during President Hamid Karzai’s visit to New Delhi, the first Kabul had done with any country, was decidedly muted. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani  said India and Afghanistan were “both sovereign countries and they have the right to do whatever they want to.”  The Pakistani foreign office echoed Gilani’s comments, adding only that regional stability should be preserved. It cried off further comment, saying it was studying the pact.

It continued to hold discussions, meanwhile, on the grant of the Most Favoured Nation to India as part of moves to normalise ties. Late last month the cabinet cleared the MFN, 15 years after New Delhi accorded Pakistan the same status so that the two could conduct trade like nations do around the world, even those with differences.

And on Thursday, Gilani met Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh on the margins of a regional summit in the Maldives and the two promised a new chapter in ties, saying the next round of talks between officials as part of an engagement on a range of issues will produce results. Afghanistan or the pact, was scarcely mentioned in public, although it is quite conceivable that the two would have talked about it.

Is there a shift in the ground, in both India and Pakistan ?  Pakistan is battling multiple  crises, including ties with the United States that at the moment certainly look worse than those with India. It is also struggling to tackle a melange of militant groups that have metastasized into a mortal danger for the Pakistani state itself and a deep economic downturn that a nation of 180 million people can ill-afford at this time. While it continues to invest time and energy in Afghanistan, a large part of the war has come home too and it is struggling to enforce its writ on its side of the Pasthun-dominated lands that straddle the two countries. A lessening of tensions with India can only help at this point.

India, meanwhile, has shot out of the blocks building a trillion-dollar economy  that dwarfs everyone else’s in the region, not just in size but also growth rates even if  it is slowing down now. It still has a long way to go to meet the aspirations of a billion plus people and realise its own potential, though. It needs peace within and on the borders and it needs closer economic ties with  all its neighbours.  Its economic stakes are rising across the region including Afghanistan where Indian firms, along with the Chinese who preceded them, are the only ones prepared to risk blood and treasure to exploit its mineral resources. Conversely if a pomegranate farmer in southern Afghanistan- the Taliban heartland – wants to sell his produce to the booming Indian market,  New Delhi wants to do whatever it can to try and make that possible.

A hostile Pakistan until now has balked at trade and transit, but  if India and Pakistan begin to have normal trade ties following the breakthrough on MFN, then easier flow of goods from Afghanistan seems a natural possibility. The long-running project to pipe gas from Turkmenistan and through Afghanistan, Pakistan and then India may seem less of a dream as the economies of India and Pakistan begin to interlock and both sides develop stakes in the well being of the other to protect their investments and trade.

Indeed, Sajjad Ashraf, a former Pakistan ambassador to Singapore and now a professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, cautioned against a knee-jerk Pakistani reaction to the Indo-Afghan treaty. In a paper for the Institute of South Asian Studies, he said that  a careful reading of the pact suggests that the countries involved want to develop Afghanistan as a hub linking South and Central Asia since it sits in both regions.  Which isn’t such a bad thing  for the countries of south Asia but especially Pakistan which by its geography as landlocked Afghanistan’s neighbour with the longest  border has a key role to play.Ashraf said :

“If the three countries can reach an understanding and let India develop Afghan capacity leading to regional economic integration, Pakistan too becomes a winner. In the age of globalisation, following any other course will result in Pakistan lagging behind.

For India, peace in Afghanistan is important to be able to exploit the vast economic potential of the Central Asian states. It shares Afghanistan’s concerns about the security of the nation after the western withdrawal from a combat role in 2014. Ashraf wrote :

India is concerned, which everyone should be, at the return of a medieval Taliban like regime in Kabul that could become the staging ground for cross border extremism into India.

It makes little sense for India to keep the borders with Pakistan tense, least of all turning up the heat on its western flank with Afghanistan, Ashraf said. India doesn’t have a contiguous border with Afghanistan and the last thing it needs is a costly entanglement there.   Besides, it is obvious to everyone, including the stategic community in India, that there cannot be lasting peace in Afghanistan without the support of Pakistan.  

 Pakistan’s security establishment would worry about potential security cooperation between India and Afghanistan flowing from the strategic pact. ( A separate one is under negotiations with the United States) But so far New Delhi had been sensitive to Pakistani concerns, according to U.S. Under Secretary of Defence  for Policy Michele Flournoy.   She said New Delhi had avoided a playing  a major role in the training of Afghan security forces.

Ultimately, the key to Afghanistan’s future was unlocking its potential, tying it into the economies of its neighbours and hope that it will strengthen the state to stand firmly on its feet once its powerful backers retreat three years from now.  



Trade, trade and trade is the answer. At a time when Europe is in deep crisis, Greece on the verge of bankruptcy, giant Italy heading for meltdown, Spain in trouble and heavy weights France and Germany at loggerheads over how to salvage the euro and avoid a breakup of entire euro zone. Russia itself making a difficult entry into WTO due to Georgian objection, US economy not out of the woods yet. It is clear that great potential for trade and commerce lies in Asia, and emerging economies as India, China and Brazil are future stars. Pakistan can leverage its geopolitical position as a transit hub of energy supplies and trade routes developing a network of ports and strategic highways, as well as promoting regional trade. I think when there is money to be made and everyone is willing to come to the party many thorny issues will resolve themselves easily. And BTW, enough of fighting for last half century, both India and Pakistan can focus to become welfare states for their people and together pull Afghanistan out of a three decades cycle of civil war, unrest and poverty. Only then the region can emerge successful and India too can reach its full economic potential.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Explanations put by forward by Sajjad Ashraf in support of the Indo-Afghan strategic agreement have no relevance with the ground realities. From 1948 to 1978 and then after the US invasion till today, our provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkha and Bluchistan remained in the grip of long spells of insurgency, sponsored by India from the Afghan soil. The only period during which we had no trouble in these provinces was 1979 to 2002 when India had no role to play in Afghan affairs. Indo-Afghan strategic agreement will not only enormously increase the presence of Indian security forces but also considerably enhance its influence over the US installed Afghan Government. In order to cover up their designs, India, US and Afghanistan are down playing the significance and the real intent of this agreement. But we must keep in mind that this agreement is a perfect recipe for proxy war and resultant instability of the entire region. The dose of pep talk being administered by Hamid Karzai cannot be taken seriously because it does not address Pakistan’s very legitimate security concerns. Apparently all the stake holders want to have peace and stability in Afghanistan but each stake holder is rigidly fixed to its own plan and perception of peace and stability. To me this self serving approach of each party does seem to be making any headway. By now almost all the parties have openly admitted that peace and stability in Afghanistan is not possible without Pakistan’s support but are not prepared to address Pakistan’s legitimate security concerns. In spite of recent exaggerated expression of goodwill by India and Afghanistan, Islamabad should not blink over its security interests. Pakistan’s security establishment must keep in mind that it is the capability of the adversary which matters and not the intentions because the declared intentions can always change without declaration.

Posted by jeebuttjee | Report as abusive

Wars have been tried and never worked. They have made things only worse. It is time to try trade and economic growth. if Afghans and Pakistanis can become a part of the regional trading block and improve their economies, they will have the least interest in wars. There is tourism on top of all that. Enough of geo-politics. It is time people are given a chance to deal with each other as friends. All it takes is two decades of persistent growth using trade that will develop mutual dependency. There is a lot of money to be made and everyone will benefit from it. This is the only way to long lasting peace. Many unresolved issues will find their solution through peace more than wars.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

I agree with the author and with the previous comment by Umairpk. India plays a constructive role in Afghanistan’s development with commercial, rather than political and military, activities. However, India is restrained by a growing insurgency that affects 30% of the country and by dilapidated infrastructure. When President Obama visited India in 2010, Prime Minister Singh said that he needed one trillion dollars in infrastructure investment over the next five years to be an effective partner for the US, but the US can’t invest that amount in India. The article mentions China that gained the best investment contracts in Afghanistan for minerals and oil. Beijing added its standard infrastructure projects to its bid because the Chinese, unlike western countries, know that they trade with rich lands, so they improve the economic conditions within their trading partners to create new customers for their products. Also, this creates good impressions of China among local populations who will be those new customers as China, unlike the West, pursues a long vision of economic activities.

Posted by alanchristopher | Report as abusive


I understand your point of concern regarding Indian influence in Afghanistan and its implications for Pakistan. But this is a dilemma for Pakistan’s security establishment. We made nukes to counter Indian nukes, we will have to again eat grass to create a sustainable and strong economy to face the challenges India poses. India is a strong economy, thus projects power in Afghanistan. Pakistan too will have to offer something to its western neighbour, it could be transit trade, access to ports and shipping etc, import and export. Maybe its time to rethink the whole concept of strategic depth and redefine it as Pakistan’s quest for economic prosperity. Without suggesting that Pakistan should become economically dependent on India, rather effort should be made so that Pakistan’s high quality products make their way to Indian consumers and create jobs inside Paksitan. Make an economic power out of Pakistan and it will be country stronger than any other in its region and the world. Otherwise the whole talk of strategic depth, etc will become irrelevant when a complete economic meltdown occurs. In short its a race against time, unfortunately something we are already loosing. Do we have so much time to argue as to what should or should not be done? as time goes by, Pakistan;s chances of an economic turnaround are already decreasing.

And we are talking about regional integration, free trade, free movement of people and capital among member states, scrap border controls, visa free travel etc. Sounds all too familiar? European union? how about south asian union. EU history shows it did not happen overnight. It took time but eventually it itegrated and a remarkable single currency, schengen treaty integrates 27 member states. Just like France and Germany being EU heavyweights and Eu institutions in Brussels, Pakistan and India could be the heavyweights in SAU with its secretariat in neutral Bangladesh. Imagine the possibilities it will bring, and share the opinion if it benefits common people?

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Umairpk: “Just like France and Germany being EU heavyweights and Eu institutions in Brussels, Pakistan and India could be the heavyweights in SAU with its secretariat in neutral Bangladesh. Imagine the possibilities it will bring, and share the opinion if it benefits common people?”

Bravo! Please do not forget Sri Lanka and Nepal. Tourism industry alone can create wonders for the region. I dream of a day when I can visit the Silk Road through Pakistan and Afghanistan. Our countries were all linked once through empires. Though empires fought each other, people always moved across all borders. Trade happened from one end of the sub-continent to another. With the world economy in turmoil, our countries have no option but to shake hands with each other and move forward.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

Ref comments above from various Pakistanis – Unless Pakistan gives up its fallacious notion of determining controlling Afghanistan’s relations with others, especially India, there can be no peace in Af-Pak. If Pakistan is concerned about Afghan Military and Political relations with India, it has to convince Afghanistan through positive methods of that, rather than depending on the nuisance value it has gained inside Afghanistan in 1980s. When others say Pakistan’s role is vital for peace in Afghanistan, they are pointing at Pakistan’s negative role, not positive role.

Posted by IjazKhan | Report as abusive

Good to read Umair’s recent comments. This is a change from the usual “Men at their best – Pakistan Army” jingoism. This is what I have been saying for a long time – build a South Asian Union. The region is even bigger than China and can become more prosperous than any other region within two generations, if only our people today have the vision.

I think harsh economic reality is finally forcing the hawks in Pakistan to see sense. Peace with India is the only way out.

Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive

Oh boy! what a refreshing post from Umairpk, if this a change in strategic policy of Pakistan, good times are ahead of us. In my opinion, After building Nukes, Pakistan is in a position where it could rule out the possibility of external intervention in their country (war) and so there is no reason why it shouldn’t act in a more confident manner and take bold policy decisions.

If Umair’s thought is sinking slowly into the strategic establishment, it can be assumed that the hawks are slowly realizing their policy blunder of abetting proxy war through terrrorism. we have been saying that for a long time that Pakistan does not need to say before slowly strangling this terror infrastructure, it can do so without saying anything. India did this (it trained LTTE although to a fairly lesser degree), when it realized that abetting proxy war is a losing proposition, it started unwinding this idea and started improving relations with sri lanka. And now its Sri Lanka with which we have best relations now in south Asia.

But celebrating this changing trend must start with cautious optimism. I have always said that the real test for pakistan is, its behaviour when it improves its international image and its economy. If it can show the same enthusiasm for change and normalization of ties as priority even after improving its economy and its standing in the world, then it would be a game changer in world strategic calculus. As Ganesh put it, the region spreading from Afghanistan to bangladesh is the largest trade area comprising a common culture and has the potential to develop as the largest economic zone.
Something tells me that perhaps this time its different and I hope I am not wrong to bet on this changing relation dynamics as new phenomenon.

Posted by sensiblepatriot | Report as abusive

Umairpk:”Trade, trade and trade is the answer”.
To complement your words, Indians are waiting until a time when the trade relations between India and Chian breaches the 100 billion dollar barrier, which in my opinion acts as a psychological hedge against any Chinese belligerence in the region as they would know that they will lose more by war.

It is this reason why India, even though it has large trade deficit with China, continues to invest in the trade relationship.
A similiar possiblity exists between nations when Pakistanis and Indians see the interference in each other’s affairs as counterproductive to burgeoning trade relationship.
All the bilateral issues can be postponed and focused on trade and come back after we become rich due to internal trade relationship. The issues which looked intractable decades earlier would seem elementary.

Posted by sensiblepatriot | Report as abusive

Paksitan is economically very weak at the moment. India’s good times hype is also taking a beating right now. Indian markets are reportedly the worst performers internationally. However, the potential is still there and it is still a powerhouse but needs to change gears again and soon. Afghanistan has no economy to speak of. Finally it is sinking in…. violence and anger are the result of economic deprivation, and though all three are not in the same boat, the realisation seems to be finally dawning that economic progress and development will overcome what decades of violence and enmity could not.

There;s only one major hitch that I can see to the rosy scenario being painted here by most commentators. If the Taliban have a major say in the future of Afghanistan, will they see the writing on the wall? If they have not learnt anything yet then Afghanistan will continue its march backwards into time.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

We should rename South Asia as,”Himalistan”.First step towards a union.The countries share culture,languages,religions,and natural resources across borders.They have more in common then EU countries.There future will be better with Himalistan.

Posted by Himalistani. | Report as abusive

I’m amazed this blog Afghan Journal exists because of Reuters…and what an objective reporting skill.

Can you also imagine in what language Manmohan Singh and Gilani speak when they’re off the mike (Punjabi). After all Manmohan had to escape from his parental home – at Partion – and migrate to India.

The same linguistic affinities cannot be traced between
post-1947 Pakistan and ancient Afghan people. That, for me, is a real source of (historical and political)dislocation in the region. English is only read and understood by the elite, if at all. Illiteracy is the course of Afghan people….just like in parts of rest of subcontinent including India and Pakistan today – 21st century.

The Silk Road in Central Asia once connected Bhagdad with Xinjiang or central northen China today. The Hindu just a few days ago posted an obscure note that China’s Governor in Zinjiang requested an official visit to New Delhi to (re)open (ancient) trade route….!

Am I dreaming or what!

Bottom line: For Pakistan and India there is no alternative choice to peaceful co-existence given their mutual destructive nuclear weapons arsenal and capacity to obliterate each other – from face of the earth.

2013 is more or less deadline for Indian PM to exist politics and retire finally. May be he’ll enforce his judgement on history OPEN UP A NEW CHAPTER

Posted by hariknaidu | Report as abusive

Ijaz Khan….Its true…but we need to look at the reverse dimensions of ur statement…

Posted by SherKhan1 | Report as abusive

Imran Khan’s latest interview about India-Pakistan relations reflects the changing perspective about India amongst Pakistanis: -hating-india-imran-khan.html

There is a lot to be gained by being friendly neighbors. We are letting it all go waste because of a small group of power mongers. It is time people saw things for themselves.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

just as when we all think there comes a peace and trust in the region pakistan army will surely do some mischief by creating some sort of misunderstanding and make the peaceful atmosphere tense. why? because they want to be seen by the general pakistani public as the only protector. Since the creation of pakistan they try their best to prove their importance by doing some sort of misadventure, pathetic. Pakistani public thinks politicians are corrupt but army is not which means the image they create to the general public helps them for their survival.

Posted by bhutia | Report as abusive

What is needed for the entire region is peace which is absolutely essential to uplift it from the human chaos that it finds itself in. The countries must set aside for the time being all grand designs of strategy and focus on development and cooperation. The last fifty years of conflict and tension and defense preparedness has deteriorated us as poor region of the world,denying the people all comforts and happiness of life. People need bread and not bullet. I think only tradde and people to people contact can bring the much needed sensibility in the relationship . Otherwise we will further engage in the fratricidal war that has already cost us dearly

Posted by Josukutty | Report as abusive

It’s amazing what it takes to bring Pakistanis to the table. Their nation has to be on the edge of collapse for them to countenance mere common sense.

The true test in all this is what happens when the West leaves and they get their Jihad training ground (Afghanistan) back. Are they going to keep trading or start warring again?

Posted by True.North. | Report as abusive

Jeebuttjee: How are Afghanistan and India supposed to address Pakistan’s security issues when Pakistan won’t address it’s security issues? Pakistan has propped up the heathens and let them run rampant because they served the interests of the Pakistani government to the detriment of itself and Afhanistan. Are India and Afghanistan supposed to wait until Pakistan gets its act together to go on living?

Posted by ladygoodman | Report as abusive


Well said! Just do it, if not at the govt. level, then at citizen levels. Here is a suggestion, each village of a country should initiate to engage with a village of the other country, in partnership and friendship; cooperative joint civic projects and trade. People must develope themeselves to regain confidence and trust which has gone lost in history.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

People and nations will prosper only through trade and commerce and not through wars and conflict. When this is recognised there should not be any problem to move on a progressive path. Even now Pakisthan should realise that it is suffering more than India in development and growth and religion should not matter when language and customs are the same. I think both countries will gain with such a cooperation and both should not lose any more time in this regard.

Posted by binaganti | Report as abusive

The credit for such learned comments goes to Reuters!
Himalistan is the right concept to provide bread to poors of all these countries full of poors.Once peace and tranquility is there,the creativity comes automatically to benefit all.We have seen and we are seeing how wars are destructive.lLook at the result of wars,the recession in all EU countries including US.
These countries have population,consumers,there is no shortage of buyers.Who took best advantage of this so far?Think of it.Why not themselves?Politics!
Please come around and see the magic.

Posted by gentalman | Report as abusive

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