WASHINGTON DIARY: Competing in Afghanistan —Dr Manzur Ejaz
Pakistan has a certain potential edge over India because of the Pashtuns living on both sides of the border. However, Pakistan will have to use the Pashtun card differently than it has done in the past
While Pakistan failed in its delusionary policy of gaining strategic depth in Afghanistan, India is gaining broad and deep influence there. Investments of $1.6 billion and its dominance of every economic sector of Afghanistan will give India long lasting influence. And Pakistan’s Taliban proxies may not be a sufficient policy tool to balance Indian influence.
India has already constructed the 218-km Zaranj-Delaram highway to use as an alternative for Indo-Afghan trade in case Pakistan does not allow its territory to be used for the purpose. Besides building the Afghan Parliament, India has donated three Airbus airliners to Ariana, 400 buses for the public transportation system, and 105 vehicles for the Kabul municipality. India has heavily invested in several power generation projects as well, including a solar plant for the electrification of a hundred villages.
In the field of communications, India has established a modern TV studio, a 1000W TV transmitter in Jalalabad; and is setting up a mobile TV satellite uplink and five TV relay centres in Nangarhar province. In addition, India has leased a slot on its INSAT 3A satellite for RTA transmissions since 2004.
Afghanistan has also received significant amount of food aid from India. Besides rebuilding hundreds of schools and providing English teachers throughout Afghanistan, India has constructed the Maulana Abulkalam Azad Block for the Hindi and English language departments of the Languages and Literature College at Nangarhar University.
The list of Indian reconstruction ventures in Afghanistan is very long. More importantly, Indians have taken over many public service functions like the postal service and electricity distribution. Indian domination of the Afghan economy and social sector is so comprehensive that it would be almost impossible for crisis-stricken Pakistan to pose even a modest challenge.
India has been growing in double digits and has huge foreign currency reserves. Therefore, it can afford to invest a few billion dollars to further its foreign policy goals. In contrast, the Pakistani economy, much smaller in size to start with, has been stagnating or shrinking despite claims of make-believe positive growth. In addition, dealing with a civil war-like situation and anarchy all around the country, Pakistan cannot even imagine competing with the Indians in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani allegation that India is aiding subversive groups in Balochistan and other parts of the country may be well supported, but India is gaining without playing naughty. It is a universal truth that economic domination is the most powerful tool. The US, and before that the UK, dominated the world because of their economic superiority. Indian domination in the region is playing out on the same basis.
As a matter of fact, Indian economic influence in Afghanistan is surpassing the US. There are several reasons for this. Indian personnel can better adjust to Afghanistan’s environment than Americans. In addition, Indians can provide material and services at a much lower cost than the US. India has another unique edge: most of the ruling elites of Afghanistan have been educated at higher education institutions in India. Unlike Pakistan which provided madrassa education to religious minded Afghans, India provided training in modern and technical fields.
Pakistan cannot undo what is already done but it can accept the incontrovertible situation and vie for its share through streamlining its own system and genuinely compete with Indians in providing goods and services. Pakistan has a certain potential edge over India because of the Pashtuns living on both sides of the border. However, Pakistan will have to use the Pashtun card differently than it has done in the past.
Instead of seeking control over Kabul through a crude Pashtun force, religious or otherwise, Pakistan will have to consolidate and modernise its own Pashtun belt, bordering Afghanistan. If FATA and other backward Pashtun areas have better educational institutions and industrial infrastructure, Pakistan can better compete with India in providing goods and services because of geographical proximity and ethnic similarities. However, if Pakistan fails to recognise its past mistakes and continues with the same strategy, it will have an enemy country on its western borders: the Indian military may follow its economic domination in Afghanistan, and that would not be without historical precedent.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org