The third and final part of this paper deliberates on the roadmap to peace itself.
Roadmap to Peace
The road map includes the following and should be followed linearly.
- A Novel Kashmir Approach With Some “Give and Takes”
- Independent Overseer/Investigator
- Economic Relations Take Centre Stage
- Political, Cultural, Military CBM’s
- Outside the Box Approach for Kashmir
A Novel Kashmir Approach With Some “Give and Takes”
The paper suggests that rather than deliberating and bickering on whom Kashmir belongs to (and to hold a plebiscite), there should be no such discussions for at least 10 years. Let the territorial status quo maintain and instead of debating upon the territorial qualms, both countries should solely work towards improving Pakistan-Indian economic relations in the first 5 years and in the next 5 begin focusing on socio-cultural, military, and political CBM’s.
This kind of strategy seems to find favour with Lt. General Singh of India, who suggests freezing of the situation with regards to Kashmir and then gradually opening the borders for economic cooperation and increased people-to-people contact. This emphasis on the economic relations initially and then commencing political, social, and other CBM’s on its foundations must be extended towards the entirety of Kashmir as well.
Unfortunately, Kashmir, on both sides of the LoC, has suffered due to two regional powers playing tug of war with it. The issue has not come close to being resolved in more than 70 years and due to the historical militarization, the proliferation of proxies and hostile politics, Kashmiris have been the main fatalities. This should not be considered as deprioritizing Kashmir and furthermore should not be discerned as counterproductive and controversial.
Kashmir is interwoven with the emotions of all Pakistanis, but the reality is that with a weak economy and modest international stature, Pakistan cannot effectively deliberate the Kashmir issue (especially since India is second only to China in terms of economic and international stature in the region). This needs to be communicated effectively to the people of Pakistan especially the Kashmiris.
The major Kashmiri political and religious parties such as the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (JKPDP), APHC, the Pakistani government, and the Indian government must work jointly towards this end. It should not be seen as Pakistan forsaking Kashmiris but only that the traditional “Kashmir first policy” in a weak position will and has caused greater harm to Pakistan and Kashmir in totality.
What should be communicated to the Kashmiris and the rest of the country is that Pakistan and India would work together for the sake of Kashmir – both countries should strive to develop better educational and health facilities, improve the networks of roads and infrastructure, augment intra-LoC trade, liberalize visas so Kashmiris on both sides can move easily. This human development side of the new Kashmir policy will benefit not only Kashmir but will bring both nations closer.
“Give and takes” means that both countries need to give each other space for this roadmap to succeed. As India has always acknowledged Kashmir to be one of the issues while Pakistan has signalled it to be the primary issue, this new stance of Pakistan will be welcomed with much glee by the Indian government.
Pakistan has blamed India’s brutal machinations in J&K as the key cause of dissent, while India has continually blamed Pakistan for supporting proxies and instigating the Kashmiris in J&K. The truth, however, as mentioned earlier is that Pakistan has significantly clamped down its proxy efforts in J&K especially since 9/11. The September 11 attacks and the ensuing environment of zero tolerance for terror-based violence made organized violence a less attractive route.
Pakistan has militarily decimated the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the main terror outfit in the country, as well as other groups in the past decade. The problem for the country lies with the pro-Pakistan militant groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) that the country has supported against India in the past. These groups cannot be dismantled in one sweeping motion as they have a huge welfare network across the country.
In addition to having a well-established network of educational facilities across the country, LeT offers blood banks, mobile clinics and ambulance services. Therefore, abolishing a militant organization such as LeT would not only cause the group to turn anti-state but would also mobilize the masses in certain areas of the country to their support – this would lead to another insurgency similar to the one Pakistan faced after 2001.
Conversely, the country must neutralize these militant outfits somehow, as international pressure regarding this issue is immense. The international community, however, especially India, must not turn a blind eye to sacrifices made by Pakistan and its population vis-à-vis terrorism. As stated, this new Kashmir policy will expressively signal to India that Pakistan truly wants better relations and also suggests that the country has not only been trying but will expedite its policy of eliminating militancy.
India has stated that dialogue shall not initiate until Pakistan eliminates its support for terrorism across the LoC and other parts of India. The ball, then, so to speak, would be in India’s court. Under the new Kashmir policy, Pakistan will be providing massive space to India by disclaiming that the territorial status quo should be unchallenged for 10 years. India would realistically be pleased by this decision and hopefully would see the need to reciprocate in kind to meet Pakistan’s huge step.
Pakistan should demand that India cease hostilities in Kashmir and maybe even reduce its military presence in the region. This allows pressure off Pakistan from its own public as India’s decision would alleviate the stress on the Kashmiri people. Furthermore, it will reinforce that the decision taken by the Pakistanis is a sound one as it has loosened the noose around the Kashmiri people.
Cordial relations and economic ties with India will benefit the whole of Pakistan including Kashmir – and of course India as well. Without the reassessing of myopic policies, Pakistan will only suffer. Pakistan does not gain an inch of territory by inciting troubles in Kashmir and it subsequently jeopardizes talks on the bilateral level.
At the same time, it does not help that India’s hard-line security policy and its own disregard towards Kashmiri discontent has led to yet another Kashmiri uprising in Indian controlled Kashmir. To ensure this new Kashmir policy succeeds, Pakistan should cease any funding and training of insurgent groups, while India should focus on reducing military and providing strong institutions and a pure sense of democracy in the region.
To ensure the peace process and CBMs that would initiate after the first facet is implemented are not derailed, an independent international organization should oversee and investigate any attack or any triggering event that could potentially disrupt the peace process. Setting up such a body is integral due to each country’s history of blaming the other when a triggering event occurs and this leads to the dissolution of the peace process.
Both countries should jointly decide which countries’ nationals be a part of the group, how many members the body should have, and other technicalities. After these formalities are completed, both countries should sign a formal document that empowers the overseer body with pre-determined powers which includes investigatory powers, and also that its decision should be final and accepted by both countries.
On several occasions in the past, India has blamed Pakistan for orchestrating an attack even before starting an investigation and vice versa. Due to the fragile nature of Pakistan-India relations, any slight misunderstanding can lead to hyperbole, and due to prejudices produced by the “enemy syndrome,” many peace initiatives have collapsed on various occasions.
For example, the 1992 bilateral peace process between both countries was halted by the desecration of Babri Mosque by Hindu extremists in India; in 1992, the Lahore Declaration ceased due to fighting in the Kargil sector; and the Composite Dialogue between President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee in 2003 was paused due to the Mumbai train bomb blasts in 2006.
It should be ensured that baseless allegations are not made against either country and that third parties (such as Islamic and Hindutva extremists) do not hijack the peace initiative as they have done in the past. The international organization tasked with the investigation should be the one to pin the blame on the perpetrator and not the states themselves.
Eventually, if relations drastically improve, an unbiased joint-investigation team consisting of members from both countries should replace the international overseer. It is counterproductive for any country’s international reputation and economic safety to initiate a peace process consisting of CBMs and simultaneously conduct terrorist attacks (including false flag attacks) on the country they are trying to make things work with.
However, if Pakistan or India are short-sighted enough to make such mistakes, the overseer will act as a further deterrent to each country since it would weaken its own international repute if found involved in sabotaging a peace process that they themselves initiated. Furthermore, if an attack is found to be conducted by an entity other than Pakistan and India, the non-state actors responsible would become highlighted and swift action can be taken against them by the respective state.
The preceding is especially true as there are various militant groups and proxy organizations in both countries that do not want any kind of peace process – as it is within their interests for both states to remain hostile. Although India has maintained traditionally, that a third party is superfluous and that talks should be conducted on a bilateral level, this was mainly true only for when Kashmir was being discussed.
Moreover, the third-party overseer will only come into action during an attack or after events that could possibly destabilize relations. The overseer need not have any kind of other authority over bilateral talks and CBMs of both countries. It would be advantageous for both countries to take this step to ensure the peace process has a significant chance of succeeding in this region filled with raw emotions and distrust.
To further guarantee that the states themselves do not sabotage the process, a peace accord or ceasefire should also be signed preferably ratified by certain important nations.
Economic Relations Take Centre Stage
Economic ties should be the premier focus for both countries in the first 5 years of the decade long roadmap. India has been pursuing a Pakistan-declared MFN for many years, but they must also remove non-tariff barriers on Pakistani goods. The opportunities section thoroughly detailed what both countries must do to better their economic relations – from digitizing security at the border to the removal of the list system.
All of these recommendations must be adopted. Currently, Pakistan needs better trade relations to receive cheaper exports from India and to send out its own exports directly to India’s huge market. India, on the other hand, can benefit not only by trading with Pakistan but also by taking advantage of CPEC. Therefore, Pakistan, India, and China should sit down and decide India’s role in CPEC.
As mentioned above, if executed effectively, India gets a gateway of new and improved infrastructure links in Pakistan and to Afghanistan and Central Asia, while China finds a new route connected to India and can tap the Indian energy and other markets more effectively. Furthermore, Kashmir, across the LoC, as discussed must be developed economically. Intra-LoC trade is considered the best CBM but the recommendations stated earlier must be adopted.
Since CPEC will pass through the northern areas of Pakistan to China, Kashmir, Gilgit, Skardu, etcetera would be getting important economic spillovers, improved roads, and infrastructural networks. CPEC would also augment employment in these areas. Both countries should promise to earmark money for the development of Kashmir especially in the first 5 years of this framework.
Furthermore, economic CBM’s should be strived upon during this period. For example, regular meetings between Finance Ministers to pursue economic cooperation; India granting greater concessions (decreased non-tariff barriers) to Pakistan; promoting regular Chamber of Commerce contacts on each side; formulation of a joint commission to discuss initiatives for trade improvement and non-tariff barriers.
Improvement of economic relations has dual advantages as it not only aids the economy of both nations but automatically aids in achieving healthier political and cultural relations as well. Trade is beneficial for Pakistan-India bilateral relations and that improved bilateral trade can act as a deescalating factor for both nations, contrasted with the economic isolation policy both countries have pursued so long.
Pakistan and India’s mode of cooperation would automatically benefit Kashmir as well since LoC violations would cease (or at least reduce) to the relief of the Kashmiris across both sides. The goal is to reach some extent of economic interdependence with each other within the first 5 years. This goal is integral, as it acts as a deterrent for either country trying to pursue proxy war tactics on the other’s soil.
Maintaining good trade and economic relations while trying to malign each other from behind the shadows will be counterproductive to each in the short and long term. The restrictions towards trade and other economic opportunities as cited in the aforementioned “Opportunities” section should become the focus of both countries. Not only will economic interdependence improve the economic conditions of both countries but will also lead to a strong foundation where further, more direct, political, and socio-cultural CBM’s can finally be implemented.
The premise is thus that rather than directly focusing on political and social misgivings (without a solid base) initially, only economic connectivity should be worked upon. This sole focus on economics will create a less complicated agenda for both states and will eventually allow the trust deficit to be gapped.
Political, Cultural, Military CBMs
Only after the trade and economic CBMs have played their part in fixing economic relations and setting the groundwork for further developments, can the peace process enter the next stage – i.e. mending political, socio-cultural, and military reservations. Throughout their turbulent history, Pakistan and India have found meagre success through peace dialogues and CBMs – not without a lack of trying, however.
The paper delineates some of the most important and successful ones: In 1999, the ground-breaking Lahore Declaration was signed which would ensure strategic nuclear restraint – but a few months later the limited war on Kargil ruined any progress made. The Agra Summit resulted when President Musharraf visited Agra in 2001 to meet his Indian counterpart.
The summit was a landmark peace process and both countries came close to signing a joint declaration. Both leaders discussed CBMs, Kashmir, economic activity, and so on but due to the age-old tug of war of “Kashmir” (for Pakistan) and “cross-border terrorism” (for India), the talks faltered.
India’s Lt. General Singh, however, notes that due to the internal dynamics on the Indian side, the opportunity presented by the Agra Summit on compromising on contentious issues was missed. In 2004, the Composite Dialogue began; India placed 12 CBMs to Pakistan including sports resumption, reopening rail links, visas, tourism, increasing embassy staff, etcetera. Pakistan accepted all CBM’s (it amended three) and added two more.
The Composite Dialogue in 2004 also saw the inclusion of terrorism as an agenda item for the first time. It also consisted of the “mother of all CBMs”, the Kashmir bus service, which started operations in April 2005. The strong point of the dialogue was that it continued uninterrupted for four years and that it even continued after the Ayodhya attack in 2005.
Furthermore, the authors state that there was flexibility shown from both sides and that India had agreed to continue the dialogue even if a triggering event occurs. Pakistan, under Musharraf, showed an extreme degree of flexibility on the Kashmir issue (i.e. he did not insist on a UN plebiscite to solve the issue). However, the Indians seemed reluctant to discuss Kashmir at all, to the dismay of the Pakistanis.
Although these three peace processes might not have achieved long-term prosperity, lessons should be learned from their successes and failures for future talks and CBMs. Since, with respect to the roadmap offered by the paper, Kashmir’s territorial aspect will not be discussed for 10 years, it should not hinder the dialogue as it did during the Agra Summit and others.
This paper suggests that the flexibility shown from both sides during the Composite Dialogue should be emulated especially because it continued even with the triggering events – this time, however, with an international overseer to aid things if necessary. With the increased economic activity and the improved trust deficit achieved due to the road map’s initial economic focus, a structured, multifaceted, and continuous back and forth between the two states (like the Composite Dialogue) could do wonders for both countries.
The issue of liberalizing visa regimes must be seriously contemplated. Currently, it is extremely tedious and bureaucratic to visit either country. This must be extended to Kashmir so their people can travel more seamlessly through the border. The potential of religious tourism is huge across the subcontinent with a plethora of Shrines, Mosques, Temples, Stupas, and Sikh Gurdwaras.
Familial ties can also be reinforced through familial tourism. Improving tourism offers multiple benefits as it allows citizens from the other country to not only enjoy the beautiful landscapes of the host country but more importantly helps engage them in people-to-people contact. Pakistan and India can also promote tourism in Kashmir on both sides of the border.
This would allow the average Pakistani and Indian to experience Kashmir in its totality and would aid the economy of the underdeveloped region as guesthouses, hotels, and restaurants, etcetera would be utilized. Tourism creates cultural links that can eventually heal the “enemy syndrome” mentality amongst the general populous of both countries.
Regular meetings between foreign and prime ministers (Track I diplomacy) should become a staple of Pakistan-India relations. This will also improve SAARC’s credibility and strength as turbulent relations in the past have undermined the regional organization. Track II diplomacy has found success in recent times and this should be encouraged more so. In the recent past, students, lawyers, teachers, journalists, NGO workers, and celebrities have visited each country to exhibit trust and build a lasting peace.
Track II diplomacy should run parallel with Track I diplomacy and play a supportive role to it.In 2018, Indian and other journalists were invited to 7 Division Headquarters at Miranshah, North Waziristan, which was a safe haven for terrorists, to showcase how the Pakistani armed forces have not only cleared the area of terrorism but also introduced development initiatives such as a new cricket stadium, orphanages, schools, and even a golf course.
Initiatives like these are very important because they highlight Pakistan’s struggle against terrorism. These images and narrative must penetrate through to the Indian and other international media outlets rather than the “double game” or “do more” rhetoric that constantly undermines Pakistani efforts in combatting terrorism since 2001.
Sports resumption, and as mentioned earlier, the inception of annual sports tournaments will allow people-to-people contact to increase. Initiatives like the bus service from Delhi-Lahore (commenced in 1999), and the Samjhauta Express should be reinforced, and like-minded initiatives should be started throughout. Concerning Kashmir, the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service (launched in 2005) was a breakthrough in terms of CBM’s.
The bus called the Karvan-E-Aman runs weekly and has helped thousands of divided families to reunite with one another. Creating a new bus schedule that allows the bus to run throughout (or most of the week) would help even more people meet loved ones. The long-term plan should be to streamline the bureaucracies such as tedious visas, wait times, security checks, at the border and make it as easy as possible for the Kashmiris to travel back and forth on their land.
Military contacts must also be emphasized. The DGMO (Director General Military Operations) hotline (established in 1990) should be an uninterrupted line of communication between both countries especially in times of a crisis. This hotline should not be disbanded as it has been in the past due to political tensions. Nuclear CBMs should also be improved upon – for example, greater transparency towards one another’s nuclear facilities and programs should be addressed. This point cannot be stressed enough as Pakistan and India, both nuclear-armed countries, have been engaged in a decades-old arms race and a security dilemma that might not cease anytime soon.
Pakistani and Indian soldiers go abroad for training purposes in various military institutions such as the National Defence University (NDU) in America. This endeavour is also conducted in Pakistan and India but usually without the rival nations’ officers. Pakistan’s version of the NDU hosts many officers from the entire world and India should be included in this list (and vice versa). Defence cooperation must be initiated between both countries.
Lt. General Singh (2018) emphasises that India has only conducted defence cooperation in a superficial manner, especially with its neighbours – instead India should take a leaf from America’s book who proactively sought to engage with the Pakistani Army due to its pertinent position in the country. Other than this, film, TV, and journalists should contribute towards building strong ties. Pakistani and Indian media thrive on sensationalism and bashing the other.
A regulatory framework should be adopted and applied by each government that keeps the independent media sensationalism in check. A priority should be given to news that features positive developments between both countries rather than scandalous and exaggerated ones. These are only some specific examples of CBMs ranging from cultural to political that could take Pakistan-India relations to new zeniths.
Outside the Box Approach for Kashmir
While easier said than done, if the pre-requisites are present and the roadmap is followed to a certain degree at least, it would create amicable relations and a sturdy foundation for future relations. Unfortunately, the Kashmir issue without an outside the box solution will remain a dispute no matter how much the relations improve.
Even if both countries use the 10 years to shrink the economic, political, and cultural deficits, Kashmir would still be too “black and white” to solve. Pakistan will never hand over Azad Kashmir to India, and India will never hand over Jammu &Kashmir to Pakistan as a gesture of goodwill no matter how amicable relations are.
Realistically, to resolve the territorial aspect of Kashmir, both countries must leverage good bilateral relations achieved by following the roadmap and come up with an “outside the box” solution. President Musharraf displayed this when he suggested a 4-point formula in 2006 that strayed away from the historical UN plebiscite demand from the Pakistani side.
The 4 points included demilitarization in phases from both sides of the LoC; no change in the border or redrawing of borders but the movement of Kashmiris and trade will be free across the LoC; self-governance or autonomy in Kashmir without full independence; overseeing the progress via a joint supervision mechanism consisting of representatives from Pakistan, Kashmir, and India.
The paper suggests that a similar approach should be adopted if not the same. This kind of approach thinks of Kashmiris first rather than Pakistan and India — and hence is more humanitarian and selfless in its approach.
The paper deliberated on the opportunities for friendship with regards to Pakistan and India. The logic of doing this was to highlight and subsequently contemplate the contentious nature of the relationship and how to use the opportunities to overcome it. The barriers consisted of proxy wars, terrorism, international interference, Hindutva machinations, and trust deficit faced by both countries while the opportunities consisted of CPEC, trade, and collaborations in other sectors.
Keeping these barriers and opportunities in mind, the final section provides a roadmap that the paper considers applicable if certain pre-requisites and sequencing of events are done. The roadmap states that Kashmir’s territorial dispute should be put on hold for 10 years at least. An independent overseer must be involved to oversee and investigate any triggering incident that could potentially disturb the peace process.
During the 10-year time, economic relations should be the prime focus (for 5 years) after which political, socio-cultural, and military CBM’s should commence. There are obviously myriads of things that could go wrong or regional and global shifts that could hamper or even aid the process – nonetheless, a concerted and conscious effort must be made from both sides to resolve not just the Kashmir dispute but to create a lasting friendship that can be cited as a miraculous example by history.
Afghanistan may face famine because of anti-Taliban sanctions
Afghanistan may face a food crisis under the Taliban (outlawed in Russia) rule because this movement is under sanctions of both individual states and the United Nations, Andrei Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, told TASS on Monday.
“A food crisis and famine in Afghanistan are not ruled out. Indeed, Afghanistan is now on life support, with assistance mostly coming from international development institutes, as well as from the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States, i.e. from Western sources and institutes close to the West,” he said. “The Taliban is under international sanctions, not only unilateral US and EU sanctions, but also under UN sanctions. That is why, in formal terms, the Taliban coming to power may mean that these sanctions could be expanded to the entire country, and it will entail serious food problems. Food deliveries from the World Food Program and other international organizations may be at risk.”
According to the expert, statistics from recent years show that annual assistance to Afghanistan amounts to about five billion US dollars, but this sum is not enough to satisfy the needs of the country’s population. “It is believed that a minimal sum needed by Afghanistan to maintain basic social institutions to avoid hunger in certain regions stands at one billion US dollars a month, i.e. 12 billion a year,” Kortunov noted. “Some say that twice as much is needed, taking into account that population growth in Afghanistan is among the world’s highest and life expectancy is among the lowest. And around half of Afghan children under five are undernourished.”
He noted that despite the fact that the issue of further food supplies to Afghanistan is not settled, some countries, for instance, China, continue to help Afghanistan but a consolidated position of the international community is needed to prevent a food and humanitarian crisis. “A common position of the international community is needed and it should be committed to paper in corresponding resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, which should provide for reservations concerning food assistance in any case,” he added.
However, in his words, the key question is who will control the distribution of humanitarian and food assistance inside the country. “There were such precedents when countries and regimes under sanctions were granted reservations and received food assistance. But a logical question arises about who will control the distribution of this assistance. This has always been a stumbling block for programs of assistance to Syria, as the West claimed that if everything is left to Damascus’ discretion, assistance will be distributed in the interests of [President Bashar] Assad and his inner circle rather than in the interests of the Syrian people. It is not ruled out that the same position will be taken in respect of the Taliban,” Kortunov went on to say. “It means that the international community will be ready to provide food assistance but on condition that unimpeded access will be granted to the areas in need and everything will not be handed over to the Taliban who will decide about whom to help.”
After the US announced the end of its operation in Afghanistan and the beginning of its troop withdrawal, the Taliban launched an offensive against Afghan government forces. On August 15, Taliban militants swept into Kabul without encountering any resistance, establishing full control over the country’s capital within a few hours. Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani said he had stepped down to prevent any bloodshed and subsequently fled the country. US troops left Afghanistan on August 31.
From our partner RIAC
The failure of the great games in Afghanistan from the 19th century to the present day
Whenever great powers have tried to make Afghanistan a colony, they have always been defeated. British imperialism and its “civilising mission” towards backward (and therefore terrorist) populations – a mission equal to that of the time when Great Britain established itself as the first drug pusher to the Chinese Empire with the two opium wars of 1839-1842; 1856-1860: an action that was terrorist at the best.
The Russian Empire and its exporting the orthodox faith and the values of the Tsar towards the barbaric (and therefore terrorist) Afghans. The Soviet Union and its attempt to impose secularisation on Muslim (and therefore terrorist) Afghans in the period 1979-1991. The United States of America that thought it could create parties, democracy, Coke, miniskirts, as well as gambling and pleasure houses by bombing the Afghan terrorists tout-court.
In this article I will try to explain why Afghanistan won 4-0, and in 1919 – thanks to its rulers’ wise skills – was one of the only six actual independent Asian States (Japan, Nepal, Thailand and Yemen), so that at least the barroom experts – who, by their nature, believe that History is just a fairy tale like that of Cinderella and stepmother with evil sisters – reflect on the nonsense we read and hear every day in the press and in the media.
In his book I luoghi della Storia (Rizzoli, Milan 2000), former Ambassador Sergio Romano wrote on page 196: “The Afghans spent a good part of the nineteenth century playing a diplomatic and military game with the great powers – the so-called “Great Game” – the main rule of which was to use the Russians against the Brits and the Brits against the Russians”.
In the days when geopolitics was a forbidden subject and the word was forbidden, in the history textbooks of secondary schools it seemed that the United States of America and the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had fallen from the sky as large as they were on the atlases. I still remember that in the dialogues between professors and high school students, it was stated that the two powers could not be called colonial, since they had something messianic and redeeming in themselves (therefore anti-terrorist).
It was only thanks to western movies that the young people of the time understood how the thirteen Lutheran colonies had extended westwards into lands that we were led to believe had been inhabited by savage villains to be exterminated (hence terrorists) and by uncivilised Spaniards, as Catholics, to be defeated. Moreover, we did not dare to study Russia’s expansion eastwards and southwards, at the risk that the high school students – unprepared, pure and enthusiastic – would understand that the homeland of socialism had no different assumptions from all other imperialisms.
Sometimes the students heard about the great game or, in Russian, the tournament of shadows (turniry teney). What was the great game? Today it is mostly remembered as the epic of freedom of the unconquered Afghans, but in reality its solution meant the alliance between Russia and Great Britain, which lasted at least until the eve of the Cold War. A key position that is sometimes too overlooked, and not only in scientific and classical textbooks, but also in many essays by self-proclaimed experts.
British aversion to the Russian Empire – apart from the “necessary” anti-Napoleonic alliances in the Second, Third, Fourth, Sixth and Seventh Coalitions – dated back to the 17th century and worsened considerably in the 19th century. Although Russian exports of grain, natural fibres and other agricultural crops were made to Great Britain – because the Russian landowners were well disposed to good relations with the Brits in order to better market those products abroad – there were no political improvements. The opposition came more from Great Britain than from Russia.
Tsar Nicholas I (1796-1825-55) – in the late 1830s, during his trip to Great Britain in 1842, and later in 1850-52, i.e. just before the Crimean War (1853-56) – often tried to bring about normalisation, but due to British suspicions and doubts (the Russians were considered to be terrorists) this did not occur.
What worried the Foreign Office – created in March 1782 – was Russia’s fast march eastwards, southwards and south-westwards. Great Britain could feel Russian breath on it from the three sides of India. The Russian goals with regard to Turkey, the successes in Trancaucasia and the Persian goals, not to mention the colonisation of Central Asia, initiated by the aforementioned Tsar Nicholas I, and conducted vigorously by his successor Alexander II (1818-1855-81), were – for Her Britannic Majesty’s diplomats and generals – a blatant and threatening intimidation of India’s “pearl”.
In the north-west of the Indian subcontinent the British possessions bordered on the Thar desert and on Sindh (the Indus River delta) which constituted a Muslim State under leaders residing at Haidarābād, conquered by the Brits in 1843. To the north-east of Sindh, the Punjab region had been amalgamated into a strong State by Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji (1780-1801-39) who, as a simple Governor of Lahore (Lâhau) on behalf of the Afghan Emir, Zaman Shah Durrani (1770-93-1800-†44), had succeeded not only in becoming independent, but also in extending his power over Kashmir and Pīshāwar, creating the Sikh Empire in 1801, which was overthrown by Great Britain during the I (1845-46) and II (1848-49) Anglo-Sikh wars; the region became what is known as the Pakistani Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (the North-West Frontier Province).
Given the British expansion into the neighbouring States of Afghanistan and Persia, Russia’s influence was trying to creep in; hence the Brits were paying close attention to what was happening on the border of the great Northern “neighbour”.
Russia had long been aiming to make its way to India through Western Turkestan, but that steppe region was inhabited by the Kyrgyz in the north-east and the Turks (Turkmen) in the south-west.
After unsuccessful attempts at peaceful penetration, the Russian Governor of Orenburg, Gen. Vasilij Alekseevič Perovskij (1794-1857), prepared an expedition against Chiva: it involved crossing about a thousand kilometres of desert and was thought to be easier to make during the winter. The expedition left from Orenburg in November 1839, but the cold killed so many men and camels that the Commander had to give up the venture and turn back (spring 1840). For a long time, the Russians did not attempt any more military infiltrations there.
In Persia, instead, Russian influence was strongly felt: Tsar Alexander II pushed the Shah, Naser al-Din Qajar (1831-48-96), to undertake an enterprise against the city of Herāt (which dominated the passage from Persia and Western Turkestan into India): it had detached itself from Afghanistan and had been a separate State since 1824. The Persian expedition began in the autumn of 1837: Herāt resisted strenuously, so much so that in the summer of 1838 the Shah had to renounce the siege and accept Britain’s mediation for peace with the sovereign of that city. That diplomatic move was therefore also detrimental to the influence of St. Petersburg. Even the first relations established by Russia with the Emir of Afghanistan did not lead to any result.
In those years, Russia was busy quelling the insurrections of the mountain populations in the Caucasus, where the exploits of the alleged Italian sheikh, Mansur Ushurma (Giambattista Boetti, 1743-98), in the service of the Chechen cause, still echoed.
Through two treaties concluded with Persia (1828) and Turkey (1829), Russia had become the master of the region; however, it found an obstinate resistance from the local populations that still persists today.
The First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42) was one of the most important military conflicts of the great game and one of the worst British defeats in the region. The Brits had started an expedition to Afghanistan to overthrow Emir Dost Mohammad (1793-1826-39, 42-63), the first of the Barakzai dynasty, and replace him with the last of the Durrani dynasty, Ayub Shah (17??-1819-23, †37), who had been dethroned in 1823, but he renounced. Not wanting to cross the Sikh country in order not to arouse mistrust among the Sikhs, the British entered Baluchistan, occupied the capital (Qalat), then penetrated into Afghanistan and advanced without encountering serious resistance as far as Kabul, where on August 7, 1839 they installed their own puppet, Shuja Shah (1785-1842), formerly Emir from 1803 to 1809.
Dost Mohammad was caught and sent to Calcutta. A the beginning of 1841, however, one of his sons – Sher Ali – aroused the Afghans’ rebellion. The military commander, Gen. William George Keith Elphinstone (b. 1782), got permission to leave with 4,500 soldiers and 12,000 non-combatants to return to India. In the mountain passes near Kabul, however, the expedition was taken by surprise and annihilated (January 1842). The commander died as prisoner of the Afghans (on April 23).
The Brits obviously wanted revenge: they sent other troops that, in September of the same year, reconquered Kabul: this time the Brits – intimidated – did not deem it advisable to remain there. Convinced they had reaffirmed a certain prestige, they withdrew and, since the Emir they protected had died on April 5, 1842, they agreed – helplessly – to Dost Mohammad’s return to the throne. He conquered Herāt forever for Afghanistan.
Russia did not just stand by and watch and asserted its power in the Far East. In the years 1854-58 – despite its engagement in the Crimean war: the first real act of the great game, as Britain had to defend the Ottoman Empire from Sarmatian aspirations of conquest – it had established, with a series of expeditions, its jurisdiction over the province of Amur, through the Treaty of Aigun – labelled as the unequal treaty as it was imposed on China – on May 28, 1858. Shortly afterwards the fleet arrived at Tien-Tsin (Tianjin), forced China into another treaty on June 26-27, thus obtaining the opening of ports for trade, and the permanence of a Russian embassy in Peking. Moreover, in Central Asia, Russia renewed its attempts to advance against the khanates of Buchara and Kokand (Qo’qon), and had once again led the Shah of Persia, Mozaffar ad-Din Qajar (1853-96-1907), to try again the enterprise of Herāt (1856), which had caused again the British intervention (Anglo-Persian War, 1856-57) that ended with Persia’s recognition of the independence of the aforementioned city. The Anglo-Russian rivalry thus continued to be one of the essential problems of Central Asia, for the additional reason that Russia gradually expanded into West Turkestan, Buchara and Chiva between 1867 and 1873.
After the Russian conquests in West Turkestan, Dost Mohammad’ son and successor, Sher Ali (1825-63-66, 68-79), came under the influence of the neighbouring power, which was trying to penetrate the area to the detriment of Britain. On July 22, 1878 St Petersburg sent a mission. The Emir repelled a similar British mission at the Khyber Pass in September 1878, thus triggering the start of the war. The Brits soon opened hostilities, invading the country with 40,000 soldiers
from three different points.
The Emir went into exile in Mazār-i-Sharīf, leaving his son Mohammad Yaqub (1849-79-80, †1914) as heir. He signed the Treaty of Gandamak on May 26, 1879 to prevent a British invasion of the rest of the country.
Once the British First Resident, the Italian Pierre Louis Napoleon Cavagnari (b. 1841) went to Kabul, he was assassinated there on September 3, 1879. British troops organised a second expedition and occupied the capital. They did not trust the Emir and raised a nephew of Dost Mohammed, Abdur Rahman (1840/44-80-1901), to power on May 31, 1880. He pledged to have no political relations except with Britain.
The former Emir, Mohammad Yaqub, took up arms and severely defeated the Brits at Maiwand on July 27, 1880, with the help of the Afghan heroine Malalai Anaa (1861-80), who rallied the Pashtun troops against the attackers. On September 1 of the same year Mohammad Yaqub was defeated and put to flight by Gen. Frederick Roberts (1832-1914) in the Battle of Kandahâr, which ended the Second Anglo-Afghan War.
This brought Afghanistan permanently under British influence, which was secured by the construction of a railway from the Indus River to the Afghan city of Kandahâr. Since the railway passed through Beluchistan, it was definitively annexed to British India. In 1880, Russia began the construction of the Transcaspian Railway, which alarmed the Brits who extended the section of their “railroad” to Herāt.
It was only with the accession to the throne of Imānullāh (1892-1919-29, †60), on February 28, 1919 (Shah from 1926), that Afghanistan took its foreign policy away from Great Britain through the Third Anglo-Afghan War (6 May-8 August 1919), by which the Afghans finally threw the Brits out of the picture (Treaty of Râwalpindî of August 8, 1919, amended on November 22, 1921).
As early as 1907, the Russian government had declared it considered Afghanistan to be outside its sphere of influence, and pledged not to send any agents there, as well as to consult the British government about its relations with that country.
Indeed, Britain soon gave up direct control of the country, given the fierce fighting spirit of its people, who had humiliated it many times, and contented itself with guarding and keeping the north-west Indian border under control.
In reality, the great game has never ended. As Spartacus Alfredo Puttini stated (La Russia di Putin sulla scacchiera, in “Eurasia”, A. IX, No. 1, January-March 2012, pp. 129-147), upon his coming to power Vladimir Putin found himself grappling with a difficult legacy. Gorbachev’s policy of katastroika had dealt a lethal blow to the Soviet and later Russian colossus.
Within a few years, Russia had embarked on a unilateral disarmament that led, at first, to its withdrawal from Afghanistan and then from Central and Eastern Europe. While the State was heading for collapse and the economy was being disrupted, it was the very periphery of the Soviet Union that was catching fire due to separatist movements promptly subsidised by those who – in the great game – replaced the Brits. Massive US aid to the heroic anti-Soviet patriots, who were later branded as terrorists.
In a short time the real collapse occurred and the ‘new’ Russia found itself geopolitically shrunken and morally and materially prostrated by the great looting made by the pro-Western oligarchs in the shadow of the Yeltsin Presidency.
To the west, the country had returned to the borders of the 17th century; to the south, it had lost Southern Caucasus and valuable Central Asia, where the new great game was soon to begin. In other words, the process of disruption would not stop, and would infect the Russian Federation itself: Chechnya had engaged in a furious war of secession that threatened to spread like wildfire to the whole of Northern Caucasus and, in the long run, called into question the very survival of the Russian State divided into autonomous entities.
This was followed by the phenomenon of “orangism” in 2003-2005 (Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan): the various caricatures of oxymoronic “liberal” revolutions aimed at moving certain governments away from Russia’s influence.
Ultimately, the central power had been undermined on all sides by the policy of Yeltsin and his clan, aimed at granting extensive autonomy to the regions of the Federation. Public property, the glue of State authority and the instrument of its concrete activity to guide and orient the nation, had been sold off. Over time, Putin put things right, and the rest is condensed into the restoration choices of the plebiscitary vote in his favour.
In the end Afghanistan also saw the US failure, which I have examined in previous articles.
The Asian sense of freedom is summed up in the expulsion of foreign aggressors from their own homelands and territories. Someone should start to understand this.
The Post-US Withdrawal Afghanistan: India, China and the ‘English Diplomacy’
The recent developments in Afghanistan, the impatient Tri-axis and the emphatic India at SCO, with the ‘English Diplomacy’ at display that tends to blunt the Chinese aggressiveness in South China Sea mark a new power interplay in the world politics. It also shows why the US went for AUKUS and how it wants to focus on the Indo-Pacific.
Afghanistan has turned out to be the most incandescent point of world politics today deflecting the eyes from the South China Sea and Gaza Strip. What is more startling is the indifferent attitude United States has shown to the other stakeholders in the war torn state. While Brexit appears to have created fissure in the European Union the AUKUS effects further marginalisation of France and India against the US-British and QUAD understandings. The vacuum that US have created in Afghanistan has invited several actors willing to expand their energy access to central Asia and Afghanistan provides an important bridge in between. The TAPI economics (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline) and huge Indian investments are endangered by the Afghan security question and make it imminent for India to stay in Afghanistan as a reckoning force.
The Taliban and the Troika
While the Russo-Chinese and Pakistani engagement with the Taliban’s takeover was visible the US exit has invited the wrath of other stakeholders like India, Saudi Arabia and Iran. India is significantly affected because of its huge investments of over 3 billion dollars over two decades in Afghanistan that would become target of the orthodox retrogressive Taliban regime. The government of India’s stand on Afghanistan is that an ‘Afghan peace process should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled. Any political settlement must be inclusive and should preserve the socio-economic and political gains of the past 19 years. India supports a united, democratic and sovereign Afghanistan. India is deeply concerned about the increase in violence and targeted killings in Afghanistan. India has called for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire’(MEA).
However, the takeover by Taliban that endangers India’s strategic and capital interests has made it pro-active in the state. Probably for the first time in Afghan history, India has shown aggressive tones against the militant government which may create problem for Kashmir in the longer run. The Pakistani air force’s engagement over the Panjashir assault by Taliban has unravelled the larger plans of destabilisation in South Asia.
In the meantime China has unequivocally expressed its willingness, as was expected to work with Taliban. The visit of Taliban delegation, led by Abdul Ghani Baradar who also heads the office of Taliban at Doha, met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other officials in Tianjin, on July 28, 2021. The visit followed the Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Kureshi’s visit to Beijing and unravelled how the two states have been supporting the Talibani cause. Although, China has its own perceptions about Xinjiang and Mr. Wang even told the Taliban “to draw a line” between the group and terror organisations, specifically the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) which has carried out attacks in Xinjiang. Russia too has shown interest in Taliban and it didn’t plan to evacuate its embassy at Kabul. Its foreign ministry official Zamir Kabulov said that Russia will carefully see how responsibly they (Taliban) govern the country in the near future. And based on the results, the Russian leadership will draw the necessary conclusions.
The little Indo-Russian engagements over Afghanistan have minimised the scope of cooperation over the decades now. Although, Russia has been trying to follow a balancing policy between India and Pakistan yet its leanings towards the latter is manifest from its recent policies. “The extent of Russia-Pakistan coordination broadened in 2016, as Russia, China, and Pakistan created a trilateral format to discuss stabilizing Afghanistan and counterterrorism strategy. In December 2016, Russia, China, and Pakistan held talks on combating Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISKP), which were widely criticized in the U.S. for excluding the Afghan government.” (Ramani). The deliberate neglect of Afghan government and Indian role reveals the neo-Russian policy in South Asia that de-hyphenates India and Pakistan and sees Pakistan through the lens of BRI and at the cost of North-South Corridor. The Chinese and Russian belief that by supporting Taliban they will secure security for their disturbed territories and escape from terrorism appears to be unrealistic keeping in view the Taliban’s characteristics which are chameleon like i.e. political, organizational and jihadi at the same time looking for appropriate opportunities.
Is it the Post-Brexit Plan?
The Brexit ensures a better space for Britain; at least this is what Brits believe, in international politics following the future US overseas projects. However, it for sure annoys some of its serious allies with the new takes. The announcement of the AUKUS (Australia, UK, US) pact, a historic security pact in the Asia-Pacific to contain China is an important step in this direction. The Brexit and the US-withdrawal seen together mark a shift in US policy perception of Asia that aims at Asia Pacific more as compared to Central Asia. It has not only betrayed India in Afghanistan but also France through AUKUS which sees an end to its multibillion dollar deal with Australia. France now shows a stronger commitment to support India in its moves against Taliban and Pakistan’s interventions.
President Macron recalled French ambassadors for consultations after the AUKUS meet that dropped France deliberately from the major maritime security deal. The French anguish is not about its absence in the deal by the Canberra, Washington and London but being an allied nation, its neglect in the secret deal. “The announcement ended a deal worth $37bn (£27bn) that France had signed with Australia in 2016 to build 12 conventional submarines. China meanwhile accused the three powers involved in the pact of having a “Cold War mentality”(Schofield 2021). It also reminds one of the Roosevelt’s efforts at truncating French arms in Asia, especially in Indo-China and the consequent sequence of betrayals by the US. AUKUS also symbolises the ‘English diplomacy’ of the English speaking states just like the Five Eyes (FVEY), an intelligence alliance consisting of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Started around 1946 the member countries are parties to the multilateral UKUSA Agreement, a treaty for joint cooperation in signals intelligence. Recently there have been voices for taking India, Japan and South Korea also into its fold to strengthen the contain China job.
The Wildered QUAD
While the first ever in-person QUAD summit approaches near, the announcement of AUKUS shows haze that prevails over the US decision making. President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian PM Scott Morrison and Japan’s Yoshihide Suga meet at the White House for the summit on September 24, 2021. This follows the virtual meet held in March 2021. How apposite it would be to declare a maritime deal at a time when the QUAD meet is about to take place with the same motives and plans, notwithstanding the fact that QUAD has a wider platform for discussion like climate change, cyberspace, pandemic and Indo-Pacific. Is there an uncertainty over the realisation of QUAD? However, AUKUS unravels the US intentions of first line preferences and second line associates in its future projects that will further marginalise its allies like France, Germany and many other states in future.
At SCO meet at Dushanbe India has unequivocally announced its view of the situation that takes Taliban as a challenge to peace and development in Afghanistan and South Asia. Prime Minister Modi remarked that the first issue is that the change of authority in Afghanistan was not inclusive and this happened without negotiation. This raises questions on the prospects of recognition of the new system. Women, minorities and different groups have not been given due representation. He also insisted on the crucial role that UN can play in Afghanistan. India’s investment in the Iranian port of Chabahar and the International North-South Corridor along with TAPI are central to its argument on the recent developments in Afghanistan. Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar had also remarked in July 2021 that the landlocked Central Asian countries can benefit immensely by connecting with the huge market of India and the future of Afghanistan cannot be its past and that the world must not let the new generation of Afghans down (Hindustan Times). The Indian message is clear and received huge support at Dushanbe and India is poised to play a greater role in Afghanistan, where the US and Russia have failed miserably.
The Internal Dynamics
The internal dynamics in Afghanistan presage a government by uncertainty in the coming months as Sirajudin Haqqani of Pak supported Haqqani network, captures Mulla Baradar, the man who settled the deal with US at Doha. It appears from the Pakistani backed government of Haqqani that Baradar has been dumped for his commitment for inclusive government expected to be pro-west against the Sino-Pakistan expectations. The US reluctance to remain engaged in the troubled region marks a shift in US foreign policy but the exclusion of its allies from Indo-Pacific plan are bound to bring new engagements in world power politics. While US dumped Afghans France and Israel appear as new hopes for Indian led moves against the undemocratic terrorist forces in Afghanistan.
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