India’s Presence in Afghanistan Exacerbates Pakistan’s Encirclement Fear: Report

Foreign Affairs

New Delhi: With Pakistan playing a major role in Afghanistan and continuing to support insurgent outfits like the Haqqani group and Taliban, it was now apprehensive of a strategic encirclement by India which has been having increasingly good relations with the current government in Kabul, says a report of American Congressional Research Service (CRS).

“Pakistan’s security establishment, fearful of a strategic encirclement by India, apparently continues to view the Afghan Taliban as a relatively friendly and reliable anti-India element in Afghanistan,” the CRS said.

It said that “India’s diplomatic and commercial presence in Afghanistan – and US rhetorical support for it – exacerbates Pakistani fears of encirclement. Indian interest in Afghanistan stems largely from India’s broader regional rivalry with Pakistan, which impedes Indian efforts to establish stronger and more direct commercial and political relations with central Asia.”

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For decades, Pakistan has played an active but negative role in Afghanistan, the report said, asserting that Islamabad wants a weak government in Kabul.

In its latest report on Afghanistan, the independent and bipartisan CRS identified Pakistan as the most important neighbour of Afghanistan.

Pakistan, it said, has played an active, and by many accounts, a negative role in Afghan affairs for decades.

“Pakistan’s security services maintain ties to Afghan insurgent groups, most notably the Haqqani network, a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) that has become an official, semiautonomous component of the Taliban,” CRS, which periodically prepares reports on issues of importance for Congressmen to make informed decisions, said.

US officials have long identified terrorist safe havens in Pakistan as a threat to Afghanistan’s security, though some Pakistani officials dispute the charge, it said.

“Pakistan may view a weak and destabilised Afghanistan as preferable to a strong, unified Afghan state (particularly one led by an ethnic Pashtun-dominated government in Kabul; Pakistan has a large and restive Pashtun minority),” the CRS said.

However, instability in Afghanistan could rebound to Pakistan’s detriment; Pakistan has struggled with indigenous Islamist militants of its own, the report said.

Afghanistan-Pakistan relations are further complicated by the presence of over a million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, as also a long-running and ethnically tinged dispute over their shared 1,600-mile border.

The CRS warned that a potential collapse of the Afghan military or the government that commands it could have significant implications for the United States, particularly given the nature of negotiated security arrangements.

Regardless of how likely the Taliban would be to gain full control over all or even most of the country, the breakdown of social order and the fracturing of the country into fiefdoms controlled by paramilitary commanders and their respective militias may be plausible, even probable, the report added.

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