Afghanistan Stability 2015 and the Pakistan-US-China Triangle
Paper No. 5989 Dated 17-Aug-2015
By Dr Subhash Kapila
Afghanistan’s stability in 2015 is far from the offing despite the Pakistan-United States-China triangle’s flawed convergence of interests in co-opting the Taliban for Afghan reconciliation post-US military involvement exit from Afghanistan, oblivious to the reality that the Taliban is not part of the solution but the major problem itself.
The United States is the odd-man out and can be faulted for being a part of an unholy trinity where Pakistan and China have not only constantly destabilised this region but also worked directly against and undermined American strategic interests in Greater South West Asia.
In a recent article published on August 15, 2015, noted US expert on South Asia aptly observed that “The United States must get over the idea that Pakistan can be a force for good in this region when the preponderance of evidence speaks to the contrary. Once the United States rids itself of this preposterous notion, perhaps it can get down to the real business of crafting policies that will contain the multifarious threats that Pakistan poses to United States interests in South Asia and beyond.” Christine Fair also rightly observed that with every change of Pakistan Army Chief “Unfortunately, Americans are constantly looking for signs that Pakistan has turned a new leaf.”
Surely, the United States has a wealth of astute policy makers/advisers both within the State Department and the profusion of think-tanks in Washington who are conscious of the past mistakes that the United States made and repeated in Afghanistan catering to Pakistan Army generals and their sensitivities.
Pakistan has a vested interest in imparting renewed political legitimacy to the Taliban having ‘fathered the Taliban’ in the first instance, followed by proxy take-over of Afghanistan using the Taliban instrument, and thereafter under United States duress ditching the Taliban regime in Kabul but as a follow-up strategy Pakistan Army providing sanctuaries within Pakistan to Taliban to shield them from the American wrath.
Pakistan’s sequential moves outlined above are understandable as it provides Pakistan Army’s strategic control of Afghanistan. But what is not understandable and defies logic is as to how the United States and China have allowed themselves to be sucked-in into a flawed triangular configuration with Pakistan to perpetuate Taliban’s continuance as the major factor in the Afghanistan- stability calculus.
China can be forgiven as it has no independent position or standing on Afghanistan affairs. China’s stances on Afghanistan are determined by its adherence to Pakistan Army’s sensitivities and priorities in Afghanistan. China subscribes to the proposition that it is only the Pakistan Army and the Taliban that can provide the type of stability in Afghanistan that is in consonance with China’s strategic interests in Afghanistan.
But what beats all strategic logic and strategic prudence is the United States propensity despite Pakistan Army’s treachery with United States over Afghanistan, to continue giving prominence to Pakistan Army’s strategic objectives in Afghanistan through once again proxy use of Taliban. The United States has been more than active in not only promoting Taliban’s centrality in Afghanistan reconciliation process but also opening direct talks with Taliban.
The Pakistan-United States-China triangle while pursuing their convergent designs to keep Taliban’s centrality in Afghanistan stability discussions , however, seem grossly oblivious to the Afghanistan Government, Afghanistan National Army and the Afghan people’s utter contempt and dislike of the Taliban
The Afghan people historically have long memories and they are unlikely to forget the decade of medieval brutalisation of the Afghan society by the Taliban and the Pak-installed Taliban Government in Kabul. Such was the Afghan hatred for the Pakistani imposed Taliban on Afghanistan that they facilitated the United States Forces march to Kabul during the 2001 military intervention, riding on the shoulders of the Northern Alliance militias.
Media reports indicate that President Ghani, the incumbent Afghan President is strongly opposed to the ongoing Taliban appeasement by the United States and China. There may be some scattered Afghan people’s support in Southern Afghanistan contiguous to Pakistan but it would be a misnomer to give credence that the Taliban enjoy widespread support in Afghanistan. Kabul and Northern Afghanistan deeply oppose re-imposition of the Taliban in Afghanistan by the Pakistan-United States-China triangle.
Long term stability in Afghanistan cannot be ensured or assured by the Pakistan-United States-China triangle strategies premised as they are on political and strategic expediency rather than a realistic reading of the ground realities in Afghanistan contributory to Afghanistan’s long term stability.
The hollowness of the Pakistan-United States-China triangular postulations on Taliban’s inclusion as a pressing imperative in any ongoing Afghan reconciliation process stands exposed by the fact that all three of these well-wishers of Afghanistan were complicit in keeping in shrouds the demise of the Afghan Shura leader Mullah Omar in a Pakistani hospital three years back.
The fissures in the Taliban hierarchy ae now coming into the open in terms of succession to the leadership and the follow-up consequential fissures in the Pakistan-United States-China triangle surfacing is now only a matter of time. Fissures within the Taliban which Pakistan is unlikely to contain effectively may soon lead to differing perceptions on Taliban’s relevance and utility in the Afghanistan reconciliation process.
The biggest loser in the ongoing game is going to be the United States as by ceding strategic space to China in Afghanistan affairs, which is in cahoots with the Pakistan Army, the United States has not only marginalised India which had legitimate security interests in Afghanistan and supplemented American ‘hard power’ in Afghanistan with India’s ‘soft power’, but the United States by doing so has harmed United States security interests in Central Asia.
Concluding, it needs to be stressed that Pakistan and China by its Pakistan- complicity, are not perceived by the Afghan people as benign stakeholders in stability and peaceful development of Afghanistan. Further, every triangle in strategic geometry generates an equal and opposite triangle. Can emergence of a Russia-India-Iran triangle on Afghanistan be ruled out?