Summarising Afghanistan’s neighbours
Summary: constructive, pragmatic, but often unhelpfully self-interested – a summary of the possible impact of Afghanistan’s neighbours in the coming years.
I was asked this question by a Wikistrat colleague, on the issue of Afghanistan’s neighbours.
Do you see any regional players getting more involved in the rebuilding process and maintaining stability (i.e. Pakistan, India)? What kinds of roles would they play?
I really need to redevelop some proper thoughts since this paper, but I think the key themes are still broadly where we are now, so thought I would race through a few lightly updated “headlines” for the key neighbours. A recurring theme has been the unexploited but massive economic potential in and around Afghanistan. “New Silk Road” studies regularly point at trillions of dollars of minerals, gem, natural resources, transport and trade opportunities. Every time this gets publicity, it seems to come to nothing as a result of security and corruption issues…
Pakistan: a confused and conflicted relationship with their Afghan brothers. The assertion by many analysts is that Pakistan is engaged in a “double game”. Pakistan seeks a passive “client” state in Afghanistan that has polices favourable to Pakistan. To preserve all options, Pakistan is covertly retaining links with, and providing support to, the Taliban. There has been some small scale economic and political reach-out, but the border between the two countries is fluid allowing insurgents of all sorts to come and go and smuggling to bypass regular trade, tax and economic process. Until the two countries sort out their security issues – their relationship will be fraught. Development and stability opportunities will underachieve for the next few years.
Iran: Iran remains concerned about instability in Afghanistan leading to more refugees coming to Iran. Its engagement with Afghanistan has been a mix of constructive – yes to investment and reconstruction, including a railway, in western Afghanistan – but also unhelpful. NATO has certainly complained quite bluntly about weapons and IED technology coming in from Iran and ending up in the hands of insurgents, although this might slacken now NATO has more or less gone.
China: China has managed to stay out of the conflict (although worried about the risk that insurgencies might spill across) but snap up investment opportunities where it can, desiring the trade and natural resources that Afghanistan (and Central Asia) offer. China has invested heavily (the Afghan government received around $3Bn for the Aynak copper mine). This month China seemed to be trying to broker talks between the Taliban, Pakistan and Afghanistan, suggesting new interest in the security side.
Crudely summarising the others: the Central Asian States will have limited impact. India will continue to invest heavily and will enjoy provoking Pakistan as it does so.