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Islam and Politics ( 13 Oct 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Hopelessly Pavlovian over Indo-Afghan Accord

By Khaled Ahmed

Oct. 14th, 2011

Pakistan sees another Indian conspiracy involving encircling Pakistan, destabilising it and finally ending its existence.

Pakistan is in the process of becoming heavily predictable over the recent Indo-Afghan 'strategic' accord which will confirm and enlarge economic cooperation between the two, adding training of Afghan security personnel to the roster of things India was already doing for Kabul. The word 'strategic' bothers analysts who see another Indian conspiracy behind the accord involving encircling Pakistan, destabilising it and finally ending its existence.

India has effectively checkmated Pakistan's 'flanking move' through Bangladesh into the Assam tinderbox by tapping Iran for letting it build the Chahbahar port to knock out Pakistan's stranglehold on land-locked Afghanistan through the transit route

But the word strategic was already in currency the last time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Kabul in May this year. This was what was reported: 'The two sides agreed that an important part of their Strategic Partnership would be cooperation in the area of security, law enforcement and justice, including an enhanced focus on cooperation in the fight against international terrorism, organised crime, and illegal trafficking in narcotics, and money-laundering'. The Declaration had averred: 'The two sides affirmed that their Strategic Partnership was not directed against any other State or group of States'.

The latest Strategic Accord has simply reaffirmed the above 'partnership'; only it has come in the wake of a serious Pak-American rupture.

Pakistan's Institute of Strategic Studies has put a paper on the internet explaining Indo-Afghan relations thus in its unbelievable conclusion:

'India's Afghan policy should be analysed in the context of the principles and perceptions of the overall Indian foreign policy. Important Hindu scriptures and the works of Hindu political thinkers have influenced the process of foreign policy formulation in India. One such important political thinker was Kautilya, whose concept of political circles of neighbours has influenced India's regional policy. According to Kautiliyan philosophy, neighbours are regarded as enemies and an enemy's immediate neighbour as a friend'.

Pakistan accuses India of interfering in Balochistan from Afghanistan and there are rumours that two Mengal warriors were photographed visiting the Indian embassy in Kabul and meeting a military officer there, which act was followed by a suicide-bombing of the embassy in which the said Indian officer was killed among others. Pakistan doesn't care much about the SAARC plan of regional and extra-regional 'connectivity' which it signed and is even less enthusiastic about letting India have a transit route through its territory to Afghanistan and from there on to Central Asia. It has signed a transit trade accord with Afghanistan allowing road access to Afghan goods going to India but is soft-pedalling it.

Pakistan's problem is that its military thinking is not as nimble as the thinking of its assumed antagonists. It has leaned on its traction with Afghanistan because of the transit route and has over-used its non state actor option beyond the discard-date even after most of the non state actors had turned against it. On the other hand, India has effectively checkmated Pakistan's 'flanking move' through Bangladesh into the Assam tinderbox by tapping Iran for letting it build the Chahbahar port to knock out Pakistan's stranglehold on land-locked Afghanistan through the transit route. Pakistan has to fall back on its dangerously outmoded and boomeranging non state actor option to respond to India. The most excruciating irony is that it is economically broke as it confronts an economically prosperous foe under an outmoded 'strategic depth' doctrine.

The pavlovian reflex has taken over. If Pakistan doesn't properly rationalise the Indo-Afghan strategic accord and doesn't come up with a more innovative response, it is going to lapse into a series of spastic episodes of isolationism making Pakistan internally heroic but externally a basket-case. Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has warned Afghanistan that it should stop all cross-border attacks from its territory in Pakistan and added that 'the army had made all arrangements to counter any terrorist attack from across the Afghan border'. The warning is significant as it was delivered on the occasion of a joint military exercise with Saudi land forces near Jhelum. Although the exercise was a continuation of an old practice, it will be taken as a shot across the bow to Pakistan's antagonists: Afghanistan and India who have signed a strategic agreement.

The Foreign Office in Islamabad underlined the possibility that Pakistan may view certain aspects of this agreement with concern. The spokesperson said Thursday that the two should 'avoid taking steps that may affect regional stability'. Read together with General Kayani's assertion that Saudi Arabia has always contributed to 'regional stability', it seems that India and Pakistan have already started communicating in a hostile manner. Some analysts in Pakistan have made dire predictions about the hidden agenda behind the Indo-Afghan deal as backed by the US taking its anger out on Pakistan.

Unfortunately, exchanges between Afghanistan and Pakistan have taken on a bitter edge - despite the 'twin brother' remark by President Karzai - after the assassination of the high peace committee president Prof Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul. As the Foreign Office took care to concede, the making of an agreement between two members of the SAARC group of states was perfectly legitimate, but Pakistan would study the content of the agreement carefully to see if it was inimical to its interests. As things stand, Pakistan itself is in the process of finalising a far more important trade agreement with India. The region would have benefited as a whole had the three members of SAARC got together and made the Indo-Afghan agreement a tripartite accord with Pakistan giving India a transit route and India allowing investments in Pakistan.

With minds inflamed by purely military thinking, Pakistanis tend to be convinced that India has been finally given the go-ahead by America to establish itself firmly in Afghanistan. And if it trains the Afghan military personnel in Afghanistan, it might result in the posting of Indian troops there; and this will challenge Pakistan Army directly under the doctrine of 'strategic depth'. If this kind of thinking is advanced further, Pakistan will be obliged to bite off far more than it can chew in the coming months. In India however there are words of caution in the post-accord period, advising New Delhi against military escalation against Pakistan in Afghanistan. But the truth is that if Pakistan does nothing - which means abstaining from ruining its economy further - the Indians will soon realise the limits of their penetration in Afghanistan.

The Foreign Office must develop a less hostile posture and protect the advance it has made in the direction of increased trade with India. It should not allow the talks to wither on the bough just because the Indians will now train Afghan military personnel. It is not only India and Afghanistan as SAARC members who have moved closer, India has closed ranks with Iran as well despite American persuasion to the contrary. Pakistan has opened up a new chapter of cooperation as well and has the option of not taking a radical stance. It can behave less like a warrior state blinded by its sense of honour and act like a market state to benefit from a burgeoning India and oil-rich Iran. Why should it take on the states - one a superpower, the other a regional power - that it cannot defeat?

If military thinking persists, India and Pakistan can step up the negative activities that South Asia and the neighbouring regions simply can't afford. India has an air base and a military hospital in Farkhor in Tajikistan which it can refurbish and use; and Pakistan can encourage the Pashtun warriors of Afghanistan to make India suffer simply because its accord with Kabul will tend to leave the Pashtuns out and benefit a predominantly non-Pashtun officer cadre of the Afghan army. Making Saudi Arabia an actor in South Asia is dangerous because of the internal Pakistani trend of sectarian violence by non state actors funded by the Arabs against Iran. The region of South Asia can be stable if its states develop economic synergies instead of military confrontation. If this happens, extra-regional actors will become irrelevant.

Source: The Friday Times, Lahore