Afghanistan-Iran-India: Since 8 December a strategic readjustment has taken place in South Asia, at least on the surface. Afghanistan has entered potentially significant agreements with Iran and India.
Iran. International media reported on 8 December that, “Afghanistan agreed to a long-term friendship and cooperation pact with Iran,” according to President’s Karzai’s spokesman Aimal Faizi. “The pact will be for long-term political, security, economic and cultural cooperation as well as regional peace.”
President Karzai reached the deal with Iranian President Hassan Ruhani in Tehran on Sunday. At the meeting Ruhani restated Iran’s strong opposition to a foreign presence in the region and its destabilizing effect.
“We are concerned about tension arising out of the presence of foreign forces in the region, believing that all foreign forces should get out of the region and the task of guaranteeing Afghan security should be entrusted to the country’s people.”
India. Karzai made his third visit to India this year on 13 December. The visit produced several significant agreements.
India will continue to train Afghan National Security Forces. India will train and mentor Afghan army and police personnel in Afghanistan, and Afghans will attend training academies in India. Several thousand Afghan military personnel attend various Indian military schools, including the military academy at Dehra Dun.
India also agreed to assist in equipping the Afghan forces with non-lethal equipment, such as vehicles and kit. The agreement does not include any deployment of Indian combat troops to Afghanistan. Both countries already share intelligence information.
India agreed to furnish Afghanistan with economic aid and assistance. The agreement provides an additional $500 million on top of the $1 billion India has already spent since 2002. In addition, India and Afghanistan will cooperate in the development of mining and energy production.
Finally, Afghanistan and India will establish a strategic dialogue between their respective national security advisers “to provide a framework for cooperation in the area of national security.”
Comment: Karzai hoped to obtain lethal military equipment from India, but India declined.
Iran. Besides defense and security, Prime Minister Singh and President Karzai also agreed to work with Iran in developing new trade routes to facilitate trade and transit to Afghanistan and beyond.
One of these is a land route beginning from the Iranian port of Chah Bahar. It enters Zaranj on the Afghan border from where India has built a road feeding into the Ring Road that connects major Afghan cities. A spur connects Afghanistan to Central Asia, thus opening up further prospects for India’s trade and economic drive in non-traditional markets.
India and Afghanistan are seeking facilities for trade representatives in Chah Bahar.
Comment: The US and Pakistan are significant by their absence. Karzai is much maligned in the US, but in one week he has strengthened alliances that might help him after US forces depart. Both India and Iran strongly oppose the Pashtun Taliban and have stood by Afghanistan before the US became involved in 2001.
Karzai is looking to the game beyond the end game of US involvement. In South Asia, it is settled lore that US interest is transitory and the US always leaves.
The arrangements Karzai is making are rooted in history. That history is dedicated to containing Pakistan, which has been a constant agent of instability in South Asia since World War II.
Any Afghan agreement with India, which already has thousands of Border Roads Organization paramilitary personnel in Afghanistan, will aggravate Pakistani fears of having to fight a two-front war. Those fears are quite realistic. That explains recent rumors that the Pakistan Army has been restoring its ties to the Afghan Taliban, in addition to supporting the Kashmiri militants.
History is resetting itself in South Asia, in anticipation of the US and NATO departure.
Phi Beta Iota: This is old news, but worth noting. Karzai and Rassoul have been working against this day for over two years and the entire USG failed to notice. Once noticed, the USG refused to listen to its contrarian analysts when they anticipated the BSA not being signed, the Taliban coming back into government, and a non-ISAF melange easily replacing the Coalition across all mission areas.