Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Unfolding Changes in Regional Geopolitics

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Unfolding Changes in  Regional Geopolitics

As the drumbeats of 2014 withdrawal of foreign troops become louder and the prospects of a post-2014 Afghanistan become hazier, the regional countries rush to secure positions, revive old ties or make new ones and prepare for a time when, in their calculations, the political and security landscape in Afghanistan will be radically different. In regional capitals from Islamabad to Tehran and onward to New Delhi and elsewhere, whispers are already being heard of diplomats and policymakers debating the so-called "end-game" in Afghanistan and pondering over their choices, options and rainy day contingency plans.

In India, many in the country's diplomatic and security circles lament about the loss of Ahmad Shah Masoud a decade ago and how it would negatively affect India's prospects and options in Afghanistan should the situation get any worse. Elsewhere, Iran and Pakistan are moving closer to each other, initiating broad consultations over their respective positions in Afghanistan.

India is interested in seeing a government in Afghanistan that is able to hold the country together, provide stability and security and be a partner to India at a time and age when India has started to dub central Asia, including Afghanistan, its "extended neighborhood". The current coalition government in India, the United Progressive Alliance, now in its second consecutive term and headed by Indian National Congress Party, has accelerated India's push towards central Asia as a priority for India's foreign policy.

Afghanistan, regardless of the complicated Indian-Pakistani relations, is a sure stepping stone towards central Asia for India as a rising country that is gradually opening its wings across the region and beyond. India's Afghan policy is to an extent dependent on and boosted by Iran's cooperation with India on Afghanistan.

Economically, Iran provides India alternate overland routes through its Chabahar port towards the roads India has built in Afghanistan's Southern heartland. India's Afghanistan policy over the past few years, along with the deterioration of relations inside Afghanistan, has reached a bottleneck where India sees himself alone on the strategic chessboard.

Pakistan's policies towards Afghanistan are decidedly not favorable to those of India. The U.S. and the broader Western coalition's Afghanistan policies have been in divergence with those of India. Until fighting the Taliban and preventing their return was the mainstay of Western policies and strategies, Indian policymakers and its security establishment saw their strategic interests in Afghanistan safeguarded.

With the talks of a so-called endgame in Afghanistan and the Western coalition's efforts to bring on board the Taliban, India has increasingly been feeling uneasy. The U.S. had repeatedly sought to reassure India that its interests in Afghanistan will be kept in mind in the "end-game", but as the months passed by, Indians worries turned into outright fears.

India, surely, feels lonely and isolated in Afghanistan. Iran is the only country in the fray in Afghanistan that carries the promise and the potential to help India break this isolation. Iran's and India's strategic interests in Afghanistan have historically converged on a significant array of issues including aversion to a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan.

India, as of late, has made overtures towards Iran as part of its attempts to renew the strategic understanding it had with Iran over Afghanistan. However, resuscitating the India-Iran cooperation on Afghanistan has fallen victim to the cold relations between the two countries that prevailed after India, on a number of occasions, took stances against Iran.

India's vote against Iran on the security Council plus letting down Iranians many times under the American pressure have all worked to get out the steam from their bilateral relations. For now, India's hopes are, in a significant part, placed on Iran.

Iran and Pakistan have been moving closer to one another by holding bilateral consultations over Afghanistan issue and other matters that are of interest to both countries. Iran, as a gesture of goodwill, has taken a special interest in generously helping Pakistan cope with the aftermath of its devastating floods.

According to reports, Iran will spend 80 million dollars constructing homes for the victims of last year's floods. This is a glimpse into how the Iranian government is expanding its regional cooperation agreements in a bid to overcome its international isolation and to further strengthen its regional agendas. The capture of Abdulmalek Rigi, the Iran's most wanted Baloch dissident and leader of a trouble-making militant outfit, was made possible by direct assistance of Pakistan and its intelligence agencies.

As far As Afghanistan is concerned, Iran and Pakistan so not see eye to eye when it comes to Taliban. Iran is averse to seeing a return of the religious fanaticism of Taliban to Afghanistan and perhaps requests Pakistan to contribute to averting of that possibility.

In November, a trilateral meeting of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran is scheduled to take place. For Afghanistan and President Karzai, this forum will be a good opportunity to engage both Pakistan and Iran in greater consultation and dialogue and continue with seeking a regional solution to the war in Afghanistan.

Slowly but surely, the geopolitics of the region in which Afghanistan is located, is undergoing changes that can lead to even bigger changes after a decade of more or less being frozen. These changes confront Afghanistan and the government of President Karzai with both challenges and opportunities.

While byecotting talks with Taliban altogether is neither feasible nor advisable, the current infatuation of President Karzai with Pakistan can at least provide a new push towards the imperative of exploring regional solutions to the problems that Afghanistan faces.

Post-2014 Afghanistan need not be one of intense regional rivalries of the sort that we saw long ago. The potential for making progress in Afghanistan is still significant. The question is if the countries involved including Afghanistan, its government and President can take the right steps and decisions.

Placing the blames on everything that goes wrong in Afghanistan on others leads us to dead-end. Afghanistan, after all, needs to be pragmatic, puts its own house in order, and start the process of reform not from the policies of its neighbors but from how it runs its own affairs.

The author is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlook afghanistan@gmail.com

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