Afghanistan has earned its status as a centerpiece of the global ‘Great Game’. It has been fought for, sought after for reasons ranging from its strategic location to huge in situ reserves of natural resources and reserves. Standing at the crossroads of Central-South Asia and Middle East, it is believed to be holding more than $ 1 trillion worth of untapped natural/mineral resources and metals.
For Pakistan, it has earned the repute of being its strategic depth owing to reasons ranging from use of the soil by India against Pakistan to cross-border terrorism. While India has capitalized on these threats post 2001 using USA-sponsored regimes in Afghanistan to launch its own hybrid warfare against Pakistan. The dossier released by Pakistan in November, 2020 proposed with evidence the existence of 66 terrorist training camps in Afghanistan that the report alleges were being used to wage terrorism and dismantle economic prospects of the former. Building upon prospects of state sponsored terrorism by India, it maintains that India has been actively involved in rekindling the fusion of Tehreek-eTaliban Pakistan (TTP) with its break away factions, Jammat-ul-Ahrar and Hizbul-Ahrar while also paying more than $820, 000 to TTP through its collaborators.
Owing to its strategic importance, India invested more than $ 3 billion in Afghanistan in about 400 economic projects it launched in the country. 150 projects were still underway when Taliban government took reins in Afghanistan in August 2021. During Ashraf Ghani’s government, India-Iran-Afghanistan Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) had been proposed, whereby India committed $21 billion to expand its Chahbahar project to Hajigak. It is pertinent to mention here that Hajigak holds 1.7 billion tons of untapped iron deposits out of total 2.2 billion tones that Afghanistan is estimated to be holding, placing Afghanistan among top ten countries with extractable iron reserves. About $11 billion worth of Hajigak iron and steel mining project was handed over to consortium of seven Indian companies, together with $ 2 billion commitments for developing supporting infrastructure including Chahbahar –Hajigak Railway. India will never give up on its planned and already attained investment in the country while for Pakistan, it is much favorable to bring in the major shift in its policy towards Afghanistan.
Pakistan, with the Taliban government stands on more favorable grounds contemporarily but owing to Afghanistan’s economic woes-about 28. 3 million people (2/3 of its population) need urgent humanitarian assistance in 2023, according Organization for Coordination of Humanitarian Relief (OCHR)-it is not unlikely for the country to shift alliances.
Pakistan has remained heavily invested in Afghanistan with respect to security affairs. It has been the foremost reason behind its independence from USSR in 1989 and is heavily engaged diplomatically to build interlinkages of the state with the international community for earning the humanitarian benefits for its people. A peaceful, prosperous, stable and connected Afghanistan serves the interest of Pakistan and hence the country continuously commits to pursue continuous and practical engagement with the interim Afghan government.
The atmosphere is now changing with realizations. In the latest Fifth China-Pakistan-Afghanistan Foreign Minister’s Dialogue, The Afghan interim government reiterated its commitment both with Pakistan and China that it would not allow any individual, group or party, including the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and ETIM to use its territory against the neighboring countries. The format is of strategic importance in its focus on trilateral economic cooperationto fully harness Afghanistan’s potential as a hub for regional connectivity. Pakistan shall be prudent in this regard as it can reap magnanimous benefits from expansion of CPEC to Afghanistan, as proposed. Ad hocism must be avoided to maximize mutual benfit under such overtures in such a manner that national interest is attained.
For its part, Pakistan has spent more than $ 1 billion in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and invested heavily in capacity building of Afghanistan, including 72 km Torkhum Jalalabad Road and 400 bed Jinnah Hospital worth $118. 8 million while also training 644 Afghan police and drug control officers, among others. Keeping up with its commitments of capacity building in Afghanistan, it has also been providing high-end assistance as that of road construction machinery, mobile hot mixers, generators, medicines, ambulances and trucks among others. More than $ 5 billion in in-kind humanitarian assistance has also bene provided.
Although such overtures intensify Pakistan’s standing in bilateral relations with Afghanistan but bilateral consolidation would require early completion of such projects as that of TAPI, CASA-1000, Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan power transmission line among others. Such projects serve dual purpose for Pakistan: Afghanistan that protects the interest of Pakistan and regional consolidation that would mean raising Pakistan to higher pedestals when it comes to regionalism and hence International affairs.
How Afghanistan realigns itself socially and politically will have long-term consequences for the entire region and the world. States continue to seek their own vested interests in the process. It is long-term, strategic and holistically calibrated policy making and intense economic investment on bilateral and multilateral levels that can pit Afghanistan in favor of Pakistan as compared to India, in the long run.