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SOUTH ASIA AND THE IMPACT OF AFGHANISTAN EVENTS: An Analysis

 

 

Paper 369                                                    04.12.2001

by Dr. Subhash Kapila

Afghanistan, in terms of its stability or otherwise has historically had a marked impact on the Indian subcontinent, euphemistically now called as South Asia in deference to Pakistani wishes.  The geo-strategic location of Afghanistan by virtue of its contiguity to the vital regions of the Persian Gulf, Central Asia and South Asia sucked in the intrusive influence of external powers like the United States, Russia and China.

South Asia is deeply impacted by Afghanistan as a result of the long Pak-Afghan border i.e. the Durand Line which is disputed by Afghans of all political hues including Pakistan’s protege i.e. the Taliban.  Pakistan in its games of the "pretender power" in South Asia, had used till recently, Afghanistan along with Kashmir, as pawns in its South Asian power games.

South Asia presents a strikingly different political landscape today than a month before because of the dramatic changes in Afghanistan.  Leading from the September 11, 2001 events, the United States has ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan by a mix of US air power and Northern Alliance ground power.  The United States under the aegis of the United Nations is seeking to replace the Pakistani imposed Taliban’s medieval Islamic  governance with the essentials of modern democratic governance.  The Afghan people in the last two weeks, since their deliverance have strongly projected publicly their hatred for the Taliban and Pakistan.

Against this contextual background, this paper seeks to analyse the major impact of the Afghanistan changes on South Asia.

Pakistan Loses Heavily: The exit of the Taliban from Afghanistan imposes heavy losses on Pakistan in virtually every conceivable field.  Afghanistan along with Kashmir was the strategic centre-piece of Pakistan’s foreign, military and state-sponsored terrorism policies for over a decade.

Strategically, Pakistan today loses strategic depth that it tried to build up so zealously during the last decade.  Its Western frontiers can no longer be perceived as secure.  With the turbulence generated, it is likely that the Durand Line dispute and the calls for ‘self-determination’ amongst the Pashtuns may get revived.

Politically, Pakistan’s Islamic credentials have taken a beating both domestically and externally.  It is being perceived as an Islamic nation which did not have a second's compunction in ditching the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s own creation, the Taliban.  Possession of an ‘Islamic Bomb’ alone cannot guarantee Pakistan’s aspirations for the leadership of the Islamic World.

Politically, in South Asia also, Pakistan’s image gets affected considerably.  South Asian states which would cozy-up with Pakistan to discomfit India would now have to think twice of Pakistan’s reliability to stand by them.  The strategic losses of Pakistan resulting from the Afghanistan events impact heavily on Pakistan’s pretensions to emerge as the ‘second pole’ in South Asia politics.

Pakistan’s State-sponsored Terrorism- The Impact:  Pakistan’s state-sponsored terrorism policies get impacted in two ways because of Afghan developments, namely, the loss of terrorist infrastructure and networks and secondly, the psychological effect on Islamic Jehadi terrorists.

Pakistan had spent millions to create terrorist bases and terrorist training infrastructure in Afghanistan.  It served two purposes: (1) Provided Pakistan, a deniability exit that it did not host terrorist networks on Pak soil; and (2) the flotsam from Pakistani madrassas was conveniently diverted from Pak soil to Afghanistan territory for re-processing as Islamic Jehadis for export to India in particular and globally, elsewhere.

It would be naive to assume that Pakistan’s perfidy with the Taliban would have no impact on Islamic Jehadis.  The TV visuals from Afghanistan depicting Afghan hatred for the Taliban and dead Pakistanis being kicked around would bring home to the Islamic Jehadis what awaits them finally.

Nowhere more will this psychological impact be felt than in Kashmir’s carpet seated, cozy, lotus-eating, independence leaders and the so called Kashmiri mujahideen.

Notwithstanding the above, Pakistan is unlikely to be restrained in the field of state-sponsored terrorism.  Rather than hosting its own creations, Pakistan is likely to facilitate the whole-sale transfer of the Islamic Jehadis influx into Pakistan to Jammu and Kashmir.

India may then be willy-nilly forced into cross-border counter-terrorism operations against such an Islamic Jehadi influx, if the United States sequential tackling of global terrorism does not coincide time-wise with the threat against India.

India’s Enhanced Security Problems: On a first-look analysis, it would seen that India would gain military as a result from Pakistan’s strategic losses resulting from Afghanistan developments.  A deeper analysis would however indicate otherwise. India’s security problems get enhanced due to Pakistan on two counts.

Pakistan’s re-christening as a ‘front-line’ state in American strategy would qualify it for sizeable US largesse, both economic and military.  As in the past, the former is also likely to get diverted into military expenditure.  Raised Indian security concerns so accruing would result in larger Indian defence expenditure.

The immediate security impact on India would be, to face heightened levels of Islamic Jehadis operations in Jammu and Kashmir and the North Eastern states.  Public opinion in India would demand strong responses raising military temperatures in South Asia.

Bangladesh and Al Qaeda Network: The Islamic Jehadi terrorist network Al Qaeda had its tentacles in Bangladesh.  These tentacles provided bases for bin Laden’s plans against India and the planned bombings of the United States Embassy in New Delhi. Sheikh Abdul Salam Mohammad, Emir of the Bangladesh Jehad Movement was one of the signatories of Osama bin Laden’s original fatwas declaring war against USA, Israel, Russia and India.  Bangladeshi Jehadis were present in Afghanistan till recently.

In the aftermath of the Afghan developments, the impact on Bangladesh could be: (1) Sneaking back of Bangladeshi Jehadis as they would not be welcome in Pakistan; (2) Increased Islamic fundamentalist activities; (3) Pakistan’s ISI enhancement of its network and bases in Bangladesh for operations against India.

Khalida having come to power with the help of the fundamentalists, it remains to be seen how effective she would be in curbing the Jehadis.  She is yet to display the level of commitment required to take preventive measures.

Sri Lanka: Pakistan in its bid to cut its strategic losses emanating from Afghanistan may like to create strategic problems in India’s neighbourhood.  Sri Lanka has always presented an attractive target for Pakistan on this score.  The ongoing ethnic strife in Sri Lanka is inextricably linked to India’s domestic politics of its southern state of Tamil Nadu.  Pakistan could be expected to exacerbate the problem to its own advantage.

 It may be recalled that Pakistan had in the past supplied arms to the LTTE in exchange for transporting drugs from Pakistan.

Nepal: Pakistan, concurrently with its mis-adventures in Afghanistan and Kashmir was also engaged in establishing a vast ISI network and Islamic terrorist rings along the Indo-Nepal border.  The hijacking of the Indian civilian airline flight IC-814 was engineered by the Pakistan Embassy in Nepal.  One First secretary of the embassy was recently declared PNG (persona non grata) after a big stock of RDX was found in his residence.

Events in Afghanistan are unlikely to curtail Pakistan’s use of Nepal as a base for its anti-Indian operations.  On the contrary, the recent spurt of Maoist insurgency in Nepal may provide Pakistan greater opportunities for enhancement of its anti-Indian activities.

Conclusion: Pakistan’s strategic adventurism in Afghanistan and the resultant losses should normally have had a salutary effect on Pakistan.  Pakistan had embarked on great-power games in South Asia and contiguous regions without having the natural attributes of power potential.  The result was economic ruin facing it on September 10, 2001 and a strategic disaster on September 11, 2001.

While Pakistan is loathe to learn the correct lessons, it is incumbent on Pakistan’s external patrons to drive home the lesson to it, that Pakistan is ill equipped to pay great power roles.  They should prevail on Pakistan that "economic advancement" and not "strategic advancement" is the solution to prevent Pakistan’s down-slide into a "failed state" category.

South Asia’s stability is best assured by an economically-stable Pakistan, rather than a Pakistan indulging in ‘imperial overstretch’ without imperial trappings.

(Dr. Subhash Kapila is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst.  He can be reached on e-mail for discussion at esdecom@vsnl.com)

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