The expanding relationship between India and the United States in the region has alarmed regional powerhouses, motivating them to band together. With the aim of hindering U.S. influence, they have even voiced support for Afghan non-state actors, i.e. the Taliban. A group that challenges the Afghan state has become the darling of Moscow after enjoying patronage from Pakistan for the last two decades. So much for upholding regional stability.
The changing global and regional political dynamics often see regional partners shift sides. Pakistan now sees much in common with Russia, its foe from the 1980s; India has joined hands with the United States; and China is joining Russia. The only constant is that Afghanistan will again be on the losing side. The fear is that the regional wrangling may once more bring misfortune on Afghanistan; the country may return to open civil war of the 1990s after enjoying an era of relative development during 2000s.
Afghanistan has never been at the table, setting the regional political agenda. Rather, the country has been a passive viewer of regional events. The Soviet Union invaded the country unilaterally; the United States backed warring groups and confronted the Russians using jihadi outfits and then left the groups at the mercy of Pakistan — all without consulting Kabul. During Afghanistan’s civil war, regional players again interfered, supporting non-state groups at the expense of the Afghan state. In 2001, the world decided to invade Afghan soil in order to bring the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks to justice.
Afghanistan has suffered badly during the last 37 years as battleground of global and regional players. Now is the time to give a break to the aggrieved nation. Instead of pushing the country into instability by building relations with anti-state elements, a supporting hand will help the whole region and globe.
A constructive role played by the far and near neighbors of Afghanistan can result in security, stability, economic prosperity, and development for the whole region. Afghanistan’s historic geographic location at the crossroads of Asia has always been a linchpin to the regional economy. Even in the modern era, Afghanistan remains a gateway to Central Asia for South Asia. Hence, a stable and secure Afghanistan can be beneficial for the whole region. Regional partners should bring the Afghan government into the mainstream rather than practicing the traditional approach of deciding on strategies without involving Kabul. It is wiser to engage with the state government rather than non-state actors, which are unpredictable and lack formal accountability.
The Afghan government is actively seeking regional economic reintegration and greater partnership building. President Ashraf Ghani on numerous occasions has offered Afghan land as route for transit and trade between South Asia, Central Asia, and Europe. A dialogue between the Afghan government and regional neighbors on Afghan foreign policy vis-a-vis its international partners would certainly help in identifying options for the Afghan government to balance its international and regional relations without harming the interests of any of its partners.
In addition, Afghanistan should be engaged in the development of all regional counterterrorism strategies. Any strategy devised without Afghanistan would remain hollow; after all, the terror outfits in question, such as Islamic State (ISIS), are based in Afghanistan. Tackling regional terrorism certainly needs input from Afghan security agencies, who have greater understanding of the context and also have intelligence about state-sponsored moral and material support for terrorism. Such a well-informed strategy can help the effective anti-terror efforts of regional partners.
Afghanistan’s neighbors should allow the country break free of its past and proceed on the path of development and stability. A self-sustaining Afghanistan will be able to make its decisions more independently and as such pursue its global foreign policy in the best interests of the South and Central Asian region. On the other hand, a weaker Afghanistan might turn out to be an Achilles heel for the region. A repeat of the 1990s will have far-reaching impact on the region in today’s globalized world. A destabilized Afghanistan today might cause far bigger losses than collapse of the Soviet Union and the attacks on the World Trade Center.