India and Afghanistan conclude strategic partnership, further isolating Pakistan

India and Afghanistan sign a strategic partnership agreement during Karzai's visit to New Delhi. Nepal's new prime minister says constitution to be drafted by November. Pakistan reiterates support to China in fighting terrorism, and a Bangladeshi war tribunal files its first charges. All this in today's security briefing...
Radu Nikolaus Botez
6 October 2011

On Tuesday, Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh signed a strategic partnership agreement, the first Afghanistan has signed with any country, as Karzai started a two-day visit to New Delhi.

Under the agreement, India will notably train the Afghan national security forces, with Manmohan Singh saying that “India will stand by the people of Afghanistan as they prepare to assume the responsibility for their governance and security after the withdrawal of international forces in 2014.” Regarding the agreement, the Indian prime minister explained that it “creates an institutional framework for our future cooperation in the fields of political and security cooperation, trade and economic cooperation, capacity building and education, and social, cultural, civil society and people-to-people relations.”

With $2 billion in assistance so far, India has been one of Afghanistan’s largest donors, much to the discontent of Pakistan which has been looking at India’s actions in Afghanistan with suspicion, claiming, for instance, that the four Indian consulates in the country are used to carry out anti-Pakistan activities.

The United States welcomed the agreement, with an official quoted by the Indian Express, a newspaper, saying that “everybody would be able to benefit from peace and security so it is not a zero-sum game,” in reference to Pakistan’s potential uneasiness about the deal. Anticipating Pakistan’s likely suspicion, both Karzai and Singh said that the agreement was not directed against any country.

The openSecurity verdict: The agreement comes at a time when relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been deteriorating following the assassination of former Afghan president and peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani, which Afghanistan claims has been plotted in Pakistan. Although Karzai’s visit to New Delhi was decided months ago, it appears, especially given the details of the strategic partnership agreement pertaining to security questions, as allowing relations with Pakistan to deteriorate further. Ties between the two countries were further strained as an Afghan government commission charged with investigating Rabbani’s assassination accused Pakistan of refusing to cooperate on the issue the same day Karzai arrived in New Delhi.

India shares Afghanistan’s concerns regarding activities of the Haqqani network, an Islamist militia close to the Taliban and responsible for the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008, as well as those of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a terrorist group with links to Pakistan blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which has reportedly extended its operations to Afghanistan. On Wednesday, Afghan national security advisor Dadfar R. Spanta linked the Haqqani network to Pakistan by saying that “it is a group managed, trained and led by ISI”, Pakistan’s military spy agency. He thereby echoed a statement made last month by Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the US joint chief of staff.

India also wants to avoid a return of the Taliban as it believes this will curb Islamic fundamentalism in the region and its neighbourhood, with potentially devastating consequences.

For Pakistan, which fears a situation where it would have to face India on both its western and eastern border, limiting Indian presence and avoiding a pro-Indian government in Kabul is a primary objective.

While close ties to New Delhi are without doubt important for Afghanistan’s future, a solution to the current situation is impossible without engaging with and addressing the situation within Pakistan. Indeed, earlier this week, Karzai announced that he will no longer talk to the Taliban, but to Islamabad, given the links between the two. A.S Dullat, a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s foreign intelligence agency, underlined this point when saying that “everybody is a little angry at Pakistan these days, but the truth is that nobody can do without it. Pakistan still holds the key to stability in the region.”

It seems questionable whether further alienating Islamabad, and playing into its paranoia by strengthening ties with India, is useful at this point. At the same time, Afghanistan has to partner up with countries like India in order to foster development in different areas and prepare security forces to face the withdrawal of foreign troops, envisaged for 2014. The difficulty, it seems, lies in doing this without giving Pakistan the impression that it is engaged in a zero-sum game, as that is likely to make pressuring Islamabad to isolate those elements within the establishment supporting the Haqqani network and similar groups rather impossible.

Nepal’s new prime minister says new constitution to be drafted by end of November

Last week, Nepal’s new prime minister, Baburam Bhattarai, voiced his intention to complete the drafting of a new constitution by the end of November, saying that “if I fail in that I won’t like to continue in this position [of prime minister].” Bhattarai, a Maoist, is the country’s fourth prime minister since the establishment of the republic in 2008, following a civil war between Nepal’s Maoists and the state, that lead to the death of 15,000 Nepalese between 1996 and 2006. Nepal’s parliament, elected in 2008, had failed to draft a new constitution by 2010 as initially mandated. Its term has been extended twice so far due to lack of consensus among the major political parties. A definitive failure would lead to the parliament’s dissolution, feared by many as it might lead to chaos and renewed violence.

The drafting of a new constitution is part of the larger peace process that started at the end of the civil war, the most contentious issue of which regards the fate of 19,000 former Maoist fighters. They are currently living in camps under the supervision of a multi-party special committee, but are ultimately supposed to be integrated into Nepal’s army, according to the peace agreement ending the conflict. However, the political parties have so far been unable to agree on the details of the envisaged integration.

Bhattarai is also facing criticism from hardliners within his party as he is perceived to be too India-friendly. Indeed, following his election, reports suggested he had been promoted by India in order to counter China’s growing influence in Nepal. Bhattarai will visit New Delhi later this month, and head to Beijing afterwards. 

Pakistan reiterating support to China in fighting terrorism

Last week, during a visit of Chinese public security minister Meng Jianzhu to Islamabad, Pakistani interior minister, Rehman Malik, said Pakistan “will strike very hard” against Uighur militants, believed to have strong ties to militant groups in Pakistan, where they receive training and participate in militant attacks. He further stated that “anybody who is the enemy of China is the enemy of Pakistan.” Following two attacks by Uighur militants, seen to have ties to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a militant separatist group, in China’s Xinjiang province earlier this year, the local government and Chinese media said militants were trained in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. However, links to Pakistan were later questioned.

The recent hailing of its “all-weather friendship” with China is seen by observers as aiming at “cosing up” to China at a time when relations with the United Stated are constantly deteriorating. However, China is unlikely to be willing to replace the US in Pakistan; although China regards Pakistan as a counterweight against India and the US in the region, it believes Washington’s assistance to Islamabad is important in order to maintain a relative stable state that could respond to China’s security concerns, especially with regard to Xinjiang. Moving closer to Islamabad is also likely to jeopardize progress made in relations with India in recent years.

Bangladesh war tribunal files first charges

On Monday, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), a Bangladeshi war crimes tribunal set up by the government to try those who have collaborated with Pakistani forces and committed atrocities during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, filed its first charges. It accused Delwar Hossain Sayeedik a prominent member of the country’s largest Islamic party, Jammat-e-Islami, of having committed, amongst others, acts amounting to crimes against humanity and genocide. Sayedee, who was arrested last year, pleaded not guilty. During the war, the party’s student wing organised a militia that supported the army of West Pakistan, today’s Pakistan.

Four other members of Jammat-e-Islami as well as two members of the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), are also facing trial. Both parties, which have formed a coalition government from 2001 to 2006, have claimed that charges are politically motivated, with a Jammat-e-Islami member saying that “the trial is nothing but the government's strategy to destroy Jamaat and the unity of Islamic forces.” In the meantime, human rights organizations have demanded changes in the tribunal’s procedure to meet international standards and ensure fair trials.

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