.
.
.
.

Has Pakistan been left out of the South Asian ‘in’ club?

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been quite successful in bringing his allies, India and Iran, closer

Mansoor Jafar

Published: Updated:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been quite successful so far in bringing his allies, India and Iran, closer to bolster multilateral cooperation primarily needed to block the return of Taliban after the withdrawal of U.S. forces this year. The collaboration also includes wide ranging cooperation in the economy, trade and commerce, and other fields.

Karzai, who is up for re-election in a few months, has received a positive response from both the countries which are equally opposed to the Taliban coming to power again after a U.S. withdrawal. The only difference is that India supports U.S. plans to keep about 15,000 marines in Afghanistan after the proposed withdrawal while Iran has so far maintained its stance that it wants the complete withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan.

Karzai agreed, in principle, to maintain some U.S. troops after the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, but is opposed to the conditions theU.S. has been proposing for the stationing of its troops in ten bases in Afghanistan for a minimum period of twelve years which will be extended afterwards. One of his key demands is that Washington should guarantee that U.S. troops must never shoot Afghan citizens in their operations.

The dotted line

Due to his reservations over those conditions, Karzai has been resisting signing the proposed U.S.-Afghan security pact and insisting that it should be signed by the newly elected president of Afghanistan after this year’s presidential elections, scheduled in April 2014. Karzai has refused to budge from his position despite the Grand Assembly of Tribal elders (Loya Jirga), convened sometimes back to discuss the issue, recommended he should sign the proposed security pact with Washington.

Considering this, President Karzai’s recent three-day visit to India was quite significant. It was Karzai’s fifth visit to India in three years. He also undertook a one-day visit to Iran in early December, following a visit to India. He is believed to be courting support of neighboring countries in an attempt to successfully counter the mounting American pressure for signing the proposed security agreement.

During Karzai’s talks with Iranian President Hassan Rowhani, Tehran reiterated that all foreign troops should be withdrawn, not only from Afghanistan but also from entire south Asian region. Besides, Tehran agreed to hold talks with Kabul for evolving a regional pact for economic and defense cooperation. Iran already enjoys influence in Afghanistan in the economic, cultural and social sectors.

Seeking support

It is believed that President Karzai wanted Tehran’s support for his stance regarding the proposed U.S. security pact. Not only that, he wanted Iran’s cooperation in Afghanistan’s peace and security affairs after the U.S. withdrawal, and also in the professional affairs of the Afghan national army. Though Iran could not substitute U.S. troops, it is believed that Iran’s role in Afghanistan is bound to increase after the U.S. withdrawal. Both countries enjoy a centuries old historic, cultural, linguistic and defense relationship, and share over 650 km of borders. Iran is also hosting nearly two million Afghan refugees displaced after three decades of foreign invasions.

India has also joined Karzai’s efforts in forging a broad-based alliance between the three countries

Mansoor Jafar

India has also joined Karzai’s efforts in forging a broad-based alliance between the three countries. India has already provided a long list of wide-ranging support to Afghanistan in the economic and social sectors. Delhi constructed a 220 km long highway connecting northern Afghanistan to another highway leading to strategic Iranian port of Chah Bahar in the Gulf, which has been seen as a viable commercial alternative to other busy traditional ports in the Gulf like Dubai, and Pakistan’s Gwadar port. India is especially interested in expanding the Chah Bahar port to fully exploit the growing trade, commercial and defense relations with Afghanistan which have seen significant growth after the fall of Taliban in 2001. Both India and Afghanistan have decided to further develop the Chah Bahar port to increase its cargo handling capacity to 12.5 million tons, from the existing 2.5 million tons. On the defense side, large numbers of Afghans have been receiving training in Indian military and police academies.

President Karzai also desired to purchase arms and ammunition from India in the past, but Delhi kept its defense cooperation with Kabul limited in view of a likely response from Pakistan. However, it has kept its investments and economic cooperation with Kabul growing at a steady pace. In his recent visit to Delhi, President Karzai offered India an extraction contract from the Hajigak iron mines in Bamyan, estimated to be the largest iron reserves in Asia, where many countries besides China are already working on extraction projects. India decided to make an initial investment of 11 million dollars in the project. He also invited Indian entrepreneurs, industrialists and businessmen to invest in Afghanistan’s natural resources and various other sectors. These measures are bound to expand economic and defense cooperation between India and Afghanistan.

Tensions

Karzai did not confine his efforts to seek cooperation from neighboring countries for controlling affairs in his war-torn country. Last month’s visit of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Kabul and his talks with Karzai are dubbed as part of the same plan. In his attempt to seek cooperation from Islamabad, Karzai supported Islamabad’s efforts to hold peace negotiations with Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and also condemned the killing of TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud in a U.S. drone attack.

Yet other Afghan quarters are hostile towards Pakistan for not allowing their access to top Taliban official in Islamabad’s custody - Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar - and refraining from taking action against Haqqani network based in tribal areas of Pakistan.

The difference between Iran and India over the stationing of U.S. troops in post-withdrawal Afghanistan does not pose any big hurdle in the three countries as they are on the same page regarding overall strategic, defense and economic cooperation and their alliance in south Asia. The situation raises serious questions for Pakistan as to what strategies Islamabad is employing to adjust to the changing realities and benefit from them.

______________________

Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached via Twitter: @mansoorjafar

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.