India, Afghanistan and America must recognize the three main issues in the region, at the heart of which is the Pakistani state’s relentless quest for “national security”. The first is Pakistan’s refusal to accept the LoC as the border with India because of the simmering dispute over Kashmir. The second, which derives from the first, is Afghanistan’s refusal to accept the Durand Line as the border with Pakistan. And the third, which derives from the second, is the conflict between the US-led international community and Al-Qaeda-led Islamic radical resistance based in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas. All three are inter-related and have spawned non-state actors to tilt the balance of power in the great game in the region.
Pakistan’s unresolved dispute with India over Kashmir has had ten disastrous consequences. One, it has provoked war between the two states (as in 1965 and 1971). Two, it has spawned non-state warring actors as state proxies in time of peace (by Pakistan in Indian Punjab in the 1980s and Kashmir in the 1990s and by India in Balochistan in the 1970s and 2000s). Three, the bitterness over Kashmir has led to a proliferation of other disputes over Siachin, Sir Creek, and now Baghliar. Four, by virtue of being a Soviet ally through much of the cold war, India was encouraged to outflank Pakistan in Afghanistan, stop Kabul from settling the Durand Line with Islamabad and provoke Pakhtun nationalism and separatism in the NWFP. Five, when an opportunity arose to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s, Pakistan readily joined hands with the US to create non-state actors for the purpose of staking its own claim in the 1980s. Six, after the Soviets and Americans departed from Kabul, Pakistan and India continued to slug it out in Afghanistan out via proxies – Pakistan through sections of the Pakhtun Mujahidin and later the Pakhtun Taliban, and India via the Uzbek-Tajik Northern Alliance (NA). Seven, the scales in Afghanistan tilted in favour of Pakistan when the Taliban seized control of Kabul in 1997 and sent the NA packing to the north, and against Pakistan after the Taliban cobbled an alliance with Al-Qaeda and provoked America to react in 2001, emboldening India to consolidate its stake with the NA dominated and US backed Karzai regime. Nine, Pakistan was now compelled to turn a blind eye to Taliban safe havens in its tribal areas in the expectation that its old “assets” could be retained to capture Kabul and thwart India after the exit of the Americans from the region. Ten, this “protection” to the Taliban has outraged America which has openly breached Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty in order to put the Al-Qaeda-Taliban down and precipitated a wave of anti-American and anti-Indian religious nationalism in Pakistan.
The most significant consequence of Pakistan’s unresolved disputes with India is the rise of the Pakistani military as the pre-eminent force in Pakistan’s body politic based on the notion of a national security state. The military has created and sustained non-state religious actors both as a means of undermining the mainstream political parties to ensure its predominant role in politics and as a tactical tool to keep India under pressure to resolve Kashmir.
This implies that without a resolution of the various conflicts that bedevil India-Pakistan relations in Kashmir, Quetta and Kabul, the non-state actors that have assumed critical mass because of the intelligence agencies’ proxy wars in the region cannot be tracked and shut down, either in Pakistan or India or Afghanistan. Conflict resolution would also be a starting point for redressing the civil-military imbalance within Pakistan.
India has had an aversion to multilateral diplomacy to resolve its bilateral disputes in the region. But bilateralism hasn’t worked and disputes have become bleeding wounds. Yet when there has been conflict, both countries have clutched at multilateralism to stop the downslide into nuclear war, as during Kargil in 1999, LoC in 2002 and now via the UNSCs directives to Pakistan to ban some non-state actors.
Therefore a regional conflict-resolution approach is the need of the hour to diffuse the Kashmir-Kabul-Quetta time bomb. This should include America, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, along with their proxies like the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. A high profile American regional envoy would facilitate the process since both India and Pakistan are on the right side of Washington for the first time in history. India should be nudged to start talking seriously to the Kashmiris in Srinagar and resolve Siachin and Sir Creek expeditiously. Pakistan must be persuaded to disband its non-state actors. America must fashion a medium term exit strategy from Kabul that facilitates all ethnic stakeholders so that the Afghan Pakhtuns look towards Kabul and Pakistani Pakhtuns towards Islamabad for their respective political salvation. A holistic regional approach to conflict resolution is the only route to ending the scourge of terrorism by non-state actors and ensuring the survival and growth of representative democracy in the region. A war between India and Pakistan would hurt India more than Pakistan simply because “shining” India has more to lose than “failing” Pakistan, just as America has lost more than the Taliban and al-Qaeda by its reckless adventure in Afghanistan.