With Pakistani intelligence maintaining ties to Afghanistan’s Taliban militants, India has threatened to draw Iran, Russia and other nations into the competition if an anti-Indian government comes to power in Kabul.
“This is a delicate game going on here,” said Daoud Muradian, a senior adviser to the Afghan Foreign Ministry. He spoke wearily about how Afghanistan, a mountainous crossroads linking South Asia, the Middle East and Central Asia, has for centuries often been little more than a stage for other countries’ power struggles. “We don’t want to be forced to choose between India and Pakistan.”
For both India and Pakistan, Afghanistan is an exceedingly valuable prize.
To India, ties with Kabul mean new trade routes, access to Central Asia’s vast energy reserves and a way to stave off the rise of Islamic militancy. It means the chance for New Delhi to undermine Islamabad as it nurtures its superpower aspirations by expanding its regional influence.
While Pakistan is also desperate for new energy supplies, its Afghan policy has been largely shaped by the view that Afghanistan is its natural ally. The two countries share a long border, overwhelmingly Muslim populations and deep ethnic links.
Then there is fear. Pakistan and India have already fought three wars over the past seven decades, and Pakistani military leaders are terrified of someday being trapped militarily between India on one border and a pro-India Afghanistan on the other…
…Karzai has made little secret of his preference for India. The president, who was educated in India, has loudly welcomed New Delhi’s assistance while rarely mentioning Pakistan’s aid.
Other Afghan officials barely disguise their distrust of Pakistan.
Pakistan wants “a puppet state in Kabul, a subservient state,” said Muradian, the foreign ministry adviser. “India wants a stable, pluralistic Afghanistan.”
…According to Islamabad, many of those agents are providing support to separatist militants in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province â€” an accusation New Delhi denies.
The reality remains murky. Pakistan keeps Baluchistan largely sealed off to outsiders. Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, say Indian intelligence is believed to be in contact with the Baluchi separatists, though it’s unclear if they provide any support.
India also is keeping in reserve its longtime links to Afghan warlords, in case Afghanistan is again divided by violence.
For years, New Delhi supplied the leaders of the Northern Alliance, the collection of ethnic militias that battled the Taliban (and often one another), with food, intelligence and medical care. Later, after the Alliance helped the U.S. oust the Taliban in 2001, the warlords scattered into government and business â€” and sometimes into crime or exile.
…While a full American pullout appears unlikely anytime soon, U.S. military officials have angered New Delhi by talking about the possibility of allowing some Taliban to join the Afghan government.
India warns it could form a coalition with Iran â€” an alliance that would infuriate Washington â€” if the Taliban appear poised to return to power. The “self-interested coalition” could include Russia and several Central Asian states that would also fear a Taliban return, according to an Indian with knowledge of the diplomatic maneuvering…"
2010-04-26 19:40:20 UTC