Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai embarked upon yet another tour of India this week. This visit, which saw two countries inking four agreements, is crucial in the light of the current scenario in the geo-strategically crucial Afghanistan.
Was Karzai desperate this time? While he appealed to India to invest more in his violence-torn country and back security concerns before the western forces withdraw from its soils in another two years time (presidential election in Afghanistan will also be due in 2014), the Afghan President also expressed his strong displeasure with the USA's stand on his country and its problems, particularly terrorism.
Karzai told Indian business leaders that they should not shy away from mineral-rich Afghanistan where the Chinese have already started working and even pocketed some major contracts. The two sides also pledged to review a strategic partnership deal that they had signed last year.
Is Karzai afraid of the post-2014 situation in Afghanistan and hence banking strongly on India, a country with which he has old ties, for a breather? Or is he playing to extend his stay in power for which he has to seek backing from new friends? The worsening relation with the US and the strained equation between Kabul and Islamabad will require Karzai to win the confidence of friends like India, China and Russia.
US and Pakistan have allowed the Afghan crisis to drift
The concern for post-2014 situation has been mainly military. By overlooking the political and socio-economic challenges that Afghanistan is likely to face once the western forces pull out, those hoping for a stable Afghanistan will only witness more military conflicts.
The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) which are set to take over the Afghan security after 2014 may be successful in safeguarding the country or may not, depending on its own sustainability and the position of the Taliban. The extent to which the Taliban can seriously hamper the prospects for peace and stability in Afghanistan depends on the role of the USA and Pakistan but both these countries have lacked adequate will to address the issue.
The USA has not shown enough interest to resume talks with the Taliban, which according to many experts, is key to Afghanistan's interest. The Talibans have spoken with authorities close to the Afghan government in various conferences but Washington has not helped to build on those initiatives. The presidential election in the USA this year could be the reason why neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney addressed the issue for it would have been electorally self-defeating. Secret talks were also held between the Taliban and Washington but they did not sustain.
Battered US-Pak and Afghan-Pak relations have not helped
The problem has also been aggravated by the bad US-Pakistan and Afghan-Pakistan relations. Obama's re-election as the US President will not see repair of the strained relation between Washington and Islamabad in the near future. The drone attacks will continue and the Haqqani network will be targetted. This will fuel the anti-American feelings in Pakistan more and possibility of talks between the Taliban and Washington will be more difficult.
Pakistan could play the best role in facilitating peace in Afghanistan but it has failed. To begin with, Pakistan, which itself is also bogged down by endless domestic crisis, has no clear policy on Afghanistan. Moreover, the two neighbours have had problems over the appointment of anti-Taliban personnel at the top of Afghanistan's intelligence and also skirmishes at the border.
President Karzai was disappointed with Pakistan's delaying the conciliation process with the Taliban. Both sides have criticised each other over the issue. But the reality is: Pakistan prioritises its links with the Taliban for it is one of its instruments against arch-rival India. The Taliban itself has several active factions while Afghanistan is witnessing a power tussle between various coalitions, Karzai's ruling coalition being one of them. Lack of a trusted external influence to tame the factions from taking on each other could doom Afghanistan's emergence as a stable nation in the future.
President Karzai has reiterated during the latest tour of India that he was disappointed with the USA's role. Karzai had said in Kabul last month that he thought the USA was indulging in double standards by not fighting terrorists at their safe havens in Pakistan.
He also accused the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) countries of not providing sophisticated weapons to Afghanistan to fight terrorists besides slamming the western media for making negative propaganda about the post-2014 Afghanistan. The two countries also had problems over release of prisoners and death of Afghan women in US-led airstrikes earlier this year.
Iran, the western neighbour of Afghanistan, should also be made a party to the mechanism that can lead successfully to sustainable peace in the region but it is unlikely that the US will allow Tehran any access, much to the chagrin of Kabul.