India in Afghanistan — Azz iz ulah Khaan
In Afghanistan, India has tactfully intertwined her interests with the interests of Afghans, thereby making it costlier for other states to strike at it. India is expanding her influence in Afghanistan through taking part in its reconstruction and rehabilitation, which is at present the prime need of Afghans. Doing so, she not only won their hearts and minds but also made them feel obliged to show deep concern with her reconstruction projects. Any state that might attempt to stop India from expanding her influence through reconstruction can do so only at the risk of antagonising Afghans and pushing them more strongly in her camp.India’s policy towards Afghanistan is the embodiment of the ‘soft power approach’. Soft power, in the crude sense, is the capacity of a state to influence others without twisting arms, threatening or compelling; in other words, it is the capacity to attract the target people and make them do your bidding. India is quite successful in this regard. She has carved a niche for herself in the minds of Afghans, which is allowing her influence in the war-torn country. She is perhaps the most-favoured state among Afghans, who view her as a state that is truly positive regarding them. Due to their destructive interference in Afghanistan, other regional states have a bad name with Afghans. India’s good reputation is also justified by the history of Indo-Afghan relations. With the exception of the Taliban era, both the states have had cordial relations, partly because of their hostility towards Pakistan. (The Taliban were hostile towards India due to her tacit support to the Northern Alliance, which was fighting against them.) As the Taliban are considered pariahs of Afghan society, therefore the exception has added trust to the relationship.What would happen to the Indian achievements if the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan? This question would be certainly looming large in India’s calculations but she has good reason to remain confident. First, observers of Afghanistan believe that the Taliban are now transformed. Having been dealing with the issues of war and peace for a decade, they have now developed diplomatic and strategic sense. They have relieved themselves of tribal simplicity like believing that a guest is a guest — be it Osama bin Laden, Gul Khan or Allah Ditta. Secondly, if this belief is right, then the recent US-Afghan Strategic Partnership (SPA) must have made the Taliban realize that they cannot come to power militarily. Were they to come to power, they could only do so through an all-inclusive political arrangement. Leaders from all strata of Afghan society will be given equitable representation, in which case the Taliban will not be Taliban but bearded politicians of Afghanistan. In both cases, there is a greater possibility that India will maintain and build on her achievements in Afghanistan.
Owing to the negativities associated with Pakistan, it has been continuously ignoring its (Pakistan’s) genuine interests at stake in Afghanistan. If she keeps up with this policy, there is a possibility that Pakistan will veto the whole process of rehabilitation and reconstruction of Afghanistan. Lest it happen, the US should satisfactorily address all genuine interests of Pakistan.What can be the best strategy or policy for Pakistan to counter India in Afghanistan? To do what India is doing in Afghanistan. To take a leaf from the Indian policy book for Afghanistan. All other options are outdated, counterproductive and undesirable.