As neighbors with a shared origin, India and Pakistan share several interests including border security and mutual economic cooperation. However, a trust deficit between the two countries mars most areas of bilateral or multilateral cooperation. Afghanistan is a key example in which this mistrust between India and Pakistan overshadows numerous areas of cooperation. This mistrust has shaped several diverging goals for India and Pakistan in Afghanistan.

In recent years, some argue that India’s view of Afghanistan as a gateway to Central Asia has created an important area of divergence between India and Pakistan.  Specifically, some believe by strengthening its ties with Afghanistan, India seeks to shrink Pakistan’s political leverage in Afghanistan and reward India with easier access to Central Asia. For example, Pakistani officials have accused the Indian consulates in Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat, and Mazar-e-Sharif of serving as control centers for India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s external intelligence agency. To reduce India’s influence in Afghanistan, Pakistan has largely limited India’s overland access to Afghanistan. In an effort to bypass Pakistan, India has planned to invest  $500 million (USD) in Chabahar, a port in southern Iran, in order to open Afghanistan and Central Asia to Indian trade without an overland route through Pakistan. It is important to note that the success of this venture does depend on a cordial relationship with Afghanistan and Iran for the foreseeable future, which could be difficult considering the internal instability in Afghanistan and the scrutiny placed upon Iran by the international community.

The support for extremist groups in Afghanistan also remains an important area of divergence between India and Pakistan. India accuses Pakistan of covertly supporting the Afghan Taliban in a manner similar to its support for extremists in Kashmir. In support of this claim, India cites Pakistan’s support for the Taliban regime in the 1990s. Although Pakistan denies supporting extremists currently, the strong mistrust over this issue has remained an important area of divergence.

In this atmosphere of diplomatic pressure and isolation, Pakistan has diverged from India by aligning squarely with China for its interests in Afghanistan. Pakistan believes that a Chinese-Pakistani influence on Afghanistan’s reconstruction and economic development would necessarily minimize India’s influence in the country. For example, Pakistan has strongly supported Chinese economic projects in Afghanistan while it has strongly opposed Indian projects. Pakistan also sees China’s $46 billion investment in the shape of the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) as a means to jumpstart its sluggish economy and bolster its already considerable trade with Afghanistan. Thus, it seems that Pakistan believes that cooperating with China, at the expense of India, is a better way of preserving its substantial regional influence and significance in Afghanistan.

Although the aforementioned picture displays the divergence of Indian-Pakistani interests, there are several important points of convergence between the two countries on Afghanistan. First, both countries could have an interest to limit the rise of militancy in Afghanistan in the long term because it could have spillover effects and endanger the security of all of South Asia. Although both publicly support the international call for peace in Afghanistan, this will require greater trust that Pakistan will not support the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups.

Second, both countries’ desire for cheaper energy resources could bolster cooperation between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan. Afghanistan could host gas pipelines from energy rich Central Asia that would transport much needed energy to both Pakistan and India. With pipeline projects such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, both countries’ desire for energy could incentivize security cooperation in Afghanistan to maintain energy inflows.

Third, in this age of globalization, Pakistan and India could both benefit from the promotion of regional trade activities with Afghanistan. Ultimately, these could also include Iran, China, and even Central Asian countries. In the long run, such economic cooperation could strengthen the stability and economic development of the entire region.

Interconnectedness has created opportunities for states to prosper, especially with the deeper economic engagement of the post-WWII international system. Unfortunately, Afghanistan has suffered in the past few decades from unrelenting conflict and has had little exposure to these benefits. India and Pakistan could work to reverse this negative history and jointly enjoy economic benefits from engaging with a stable Afghanistan. This would not only allow Afghanistan to prosper but could allow Pakistan and India to resolve many other contentious issues gradually. Although many areas of divergence remain, both India and Pakistan should work to reduce mistrust over each other’s intentions in Afghanistan in order to strengthen the possibility of future cooperation.


Image 1: Mikhail Svetlov-Getty Images News, Getty

Image 2: STR-AFP, Getty

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