President Obama is in India. Pakistan is miffed. India considers an Afghanistan empty of US troops as a threat since it will revert to a land mass controlled from Islamabad through Pakistan’s security apparatus working with acceptable elements of the Taliban. Pakistan’s western border would then be reasonably secure allowing it to turn its attention to India and the Kashmir issue.
India is, to say the least, touchy about foreign intervention attempts at settling the Kashmir “problem”. As far as India is concerned, Kashmir is an internal security matter. As NATO and US presence begins to evaporate in Afghanistan, India has been inserting itself with development aid and establishing a foothold to maintain its leverage against Pakistan and prevent it from turning its attention to the east.
However, what possible alternatives are there to preventing Afghanistan from becoming a center of Islamic fundamentalist terrorist training if it is not a strong Pakistani presence? Islamabad is very familiar with the players and would not be inclined to accept the former Taliban regime from regaining anything close to its former level of power. They would likely support enough Taliban control to stabilize Afghanistan through traditional tribal deals and to create a status quo that resembles the Afghanistan of pre-Soviet times. This is what India will try to disrupt.
Is there a deal that can be brokered between India and Pakistan and can Obama do it. Frankly, I doubt it merely because Pakistan wants a settlement of the Kashmir issue, India does not except solely on its terms and the US has little leverage. Pakistan may want continued US support, but that won’t happen at the expense of India if only because of the economic element – Pakistan has little to offer while India controls a huge market that impacts US jobs and trade. There is also a little matter of balancing China’s growing influence.
Nevertheless, it is US foreign policy that can play the largest role in the sub-continent – no one even comes close. Obama visits Pakistan next year and will have a chance to smooth over the ruffled feathers in Islamabad. Afghanistan will be in full wind down. No one can afford a vacuum. The transfer of power to multiple parties in Afghanistan, including Karzai, the mayor of Kabul, needs to be arranged with security and stability in mind.
Unlike Iraq, where the US invasion and handling of the aftermath has resulted in the destruction of secularity and a gift of the entire country to Iran, the transition process in Afghanistan must carefully balance regional interests so that no one country ends up on top.