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The Neighborhood Looks Inward at Afghanistan

Relations between India and Pakistan seem always to be, well, strained. For Pakistan, these days, one big reason for the strain is America’s preparations for India to become more involved in Afghanistan.

US defense secretary Leon Panetta will encourage India to take a more active role in Afghanistan as international forces draw down after a decade of war, US officials said on Tuesday as the Pentagon chief arrived in New Delhi for two days of talks.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged the longstanding rivalry between India and Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan but insisted that both countries had an interest in working with the international community to ensure stability in their northern neighbor.

Panetta is well aware that the odds of India and Pakistan cooperating in Afghanistan are about the same as Pat Robertson converting to Islam. But the signals being broadcast from Asia during Panetta’s trip appear to indicate that Afghanistan will not become a vacuum after foreign troops withdraw in 2014: The neighbors are coming.

India is already heavily involved in Afghanistan as a donor to the Karzai regime, a significant contributor to infrastructure construction, and a trainer of Afghan security forces. Over Pakistan’s protestations, the U.S. is continuing to encourage India to deepen its relationship with Afghanistan.

India is not the only one being encouraged to get more involved in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an organization dominated by China and Russia—and not exactly NATO’s best friend—promised to become more involved in Afghanistan in the coming years:

“We will…play a greater role in the peaceful reconstruction process in Afghanistan,” Hu said in an interview published in the People’s Daily newspaper, the ruling Communist Party mouthpiece.

“The SCO supports Afghanistan becoming an independent, peaceful, prosperous, neighbourly country, free from terrorism and drugs,” he said…

Hu said the organisation—which has invited Afghanistan as a guest at this year’s summit—had decided to grant the troubled country observer status, amid general concern as NATO forces prepare to pull out by the end of 2014.

No one is envious of Hamid Karzai these days. NATO troops are scheduled to depart in 2014, and without foreign troops, the power that his family and friends have built up over the past decade is far from stable. That power will grow even more shaky if Pakistan rejects its neighbors concerns and doubles down on its support for the Taliban and other Pashtun radicals.

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  • Anthony

    Are we trying to shape events on the ground after our departure date? We will still have assets in Afghanistan (trainers, special forces, etc.) after withdrawal; what are our strategic goals – are India, SCO, and others being poised to have post NATO presence? The idea neighborhood looks inward reads like strategy for Afghanistan stability post NATO/American withdrawal.

  • WigWag

    Maybe, just maybe, if Karzai plays his cards correctly he can get the Indians to whisper in his ear some of those extraordinary health care secrets that have so inspired and titillated the staff of Via Meadia.

  • J R Yankovic

    “[Karzai’s] power will grow even more shaky if Pakistan rejects its neighbors’ concerns and doubles down on its support for the Taliban and other Pashtun radicals.”

    And if that happens, then as I see it the NEXT big question is whether China in turn will double down on its support of Pakistan, to the detriment of India, Iran and Russia, or whether Beijing will continue being supportive of its more rational (i.e., non-Salafi) neighbors’ Central Asian security concerns. The problem is that people who consider themselves better than others often like to have what they call a “free hand” – and so, e.g., can end up doing things that “lesser” neighbors deem treacherous or unreliable. MY next question, then, is what can we all do to encourage – and so eventually solidify relations with – a more rational, less “superior” China?

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