Afghanistan: A Chess Board of New Great Power Politics and its implications for Pakistan

Contemporary world can be characterized as a world of rapid transformations with surfacing of potential hegemonic war, formation of new alliances, partnerships and coalitions, altered war dynamics and increased transnational engagements. In the ambient of emerging China and its increasing regional and global outreach the world is witnessing alignment and re-alignment of alliances. The South Asian region in recent times has become epicenter of the New Great Power Politics from the perspective of containment of China and Indo-Pacific Policy. China is trying to uplift the region economically through ‘Constructive Engagements’ for its smooth rise, whereas, global hegemon and status quo powers are trying to maintain ‘Controlled Chaos’ in the region in order to deteriorate China’s growth. In this regards, the significance of Afghanistan owing to its presence in backyard of China cannot be denied. The decision of the US pulling out of Afghanistan without any visible gains has raised many queries. Is withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan is a testimony of US acceptance of its defeat? Does US has realized the cost of military overstretching? How the US withdrawal will complement its policy of containment of China? Is civil war inevitable in Afghanistan? What is going to be the position of Pakistan during post withdrawal period?

The answers to these questions are nothing more than literate assumptions, therefore, to have accurate presuppositions there is need to analyze empirical evidences. There is no denial of the fact that in the aftermath of US withdrawal the Taliban are marching on and there area of influence is constantly increasing.

Unexpectedly, in some areas Taliban were welcomed by the locals perhaps due to the fear or with hope that after getting over with the brutal foreign occupation they will get sigh of relief in upcoming local regime. However, the ideology propagated by Taliban and there strategy of implementation is point of concern for international community and the locals as well. On the other hand there were episodes in which the Afghan soldiers ran away from the battleground showing the prepared weakness and low morale. These empirical evidences lead me to predict that the law and order situation of Afghanistan is going to be the biggest threat to regional security in the coming years. Moreover, refugee influx, drugs, illegal weaponization, transnational extremism and terrorism and spillover effect of the Afghan turmoil will affect the region.

From the perspective of the US-Afghan war was perhaps the most costly war owing to the complexity, duration and geographical remoteness. However, the logical question here is that   why despite of having the regional interests in form of containment of China, US left Afghanistan at this point of time? There could be three rationale behind this: firstly, the US has realized the fact that with this level of military overstretching and foreign engagements the US cannot solve its domestic weaknesses, therefore, to compete China it needs to reduce the military overstretching. Second rationale may be – the US wants China to get involved in Afghan turmoil to divert its attention from “constructive engagement” to turmoil management or in extreme case it desires Chinese military boots on Afghan ground. Finally, the US and status quo powers might have left intentional vacuum to provide space to the proxy elements to create chaos in the region. These proxies could be used as an instrument against China when required. Beside this sudden withdrawal of India and western consulates also left many unanswered questions. On one side NATO and western alliances alongwith the US are directly targeting China, while on the other hand they are leaving the regional space for it. Does it indicate the probability of guerrilla or sub-conventional warfare against China using Afghan soil?

As far as the question of intra-Afghan conflict is concerned, that is inevitable owing to three reasons. Firstly, it is in the very nature of Afghans to fight for their land and they do not let their land go to the opponent, therefore, northern alliance will never let the Taliban hold their land and vice versa. Secondly, all the major regional and global power have designed their interests in Afghanistan, therefore, they will support and promote their preferred group by providing them weapons and financial aid. Besides there is no apparent possibility of the power sharing mechanism as Taliban have more power and they are getting their objectives by practicing their military power why would they share power with anyone else?

If we zoom in lens to Pakistan, most bordering areas are either contested or under Taliban control. This has left Pakistan with multi-faceted challenges as on one hand, it would have to fight the spillover effect owing to the porous nature of the border in form of the refugee influx, drugs, illegal weapons. While on the other hand it has to justify its policies internally and externally. On the internal front if Pakistan legitimizes the Taliban lead government, it will raise questions on internal operations being conducted against TTP and its segments, whereas, if it does not recognizes the Taliban regime, is it ready to bear the consequences? The answer obviously is no – because being economically weak – having vicious rival on the eastern border it cannot open a new war front on the western border. In this context, the situation for Pakistan is quite tricky where it has to find a middle way that satisfies the internal segments regarding rationalization of operations against terrorists without having a confrontation with the western regime. Externally, it is again a complicated situation for Pakistan – some international actors believed Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have influence on Taliban and it can guarantee peace in Afghanistan. While in reality, Pakistan is a facilitator not a guarantor of peace in Afghanistan. This misperception can bring criticism for Pakistan alongwith info warfare.

Now, from the perspective of Pakistan, it is indispensable to tell our people and the international community to analyze things in current space and time. To indulge in war on terror was a strategic compulsion of Pakistan because of four fundamental reasons. Firstly, Pakistan was told, “You are either with us, or with the terrorists”. Secondly, Pakistan was under the immense pressure of the international community and international law as terrorism was declared global war – being part of the international community and UN it was its responsibility to become part of global agenda. Thirdly, we did not have any other option at that time as the US was the only ally Pakistan had because it was providing military and economic aid to Pakistan. Finally, Pakistan was under the international debt and political trap. Now, the situation is different where we can opt for the choices by analyzing and re-analyzing the national interests. It is high time to utilize existing bilateral and multilateral relations to develop a regional framework to reduce the extra-regional influence.

The transformation in Indian-influenced regime and military institutions provide an opportunity to other regional states – engage various power centers in Afghanistan, therefore, leading to formation of a neutral Afghan lead government and institutions. Pakistan being the immediate neighbour needs to continue its role of facilitator without getting involve in internal matters of Afghanistan Pakistan’s policy of “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process” in this regard is really pertinent. Pakistan in last two decades has sacrificed a lot in context of global war on terror. Now, there is no “No-GO AREA in Pakistan” and FATA has been merged in the mainstream, therefore, it cannot afford to go back to the vicious circle of extremism and terrorism. Pakistan being cognizant of the challenges needs to formulate Afghan policy by taking all the stakeholders in confidence. Pakistan has done a lot for Afghanistan and Afghanis in the past, however, this time it should ensure its national interests prior to anything else.

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About Hadiqa Mir 1 Article
The author is a Ph.D. Scholar and is currently working as Research Associate in a think tank. Her area of interest includes BRI, CPEC, China Pakistan Relations, Great Power Politics, China-US relations, regionalism, and regional organizations.