Dividends of patience in International Diplomacy

Colonel Ajay K Raina, SM
In September 2021, I wrote two articles in the Daily Excelsior about Pakistan and Afghanistan. That was the time when people had been writing off Indian influence in Afghanistan and declaring victory for Pakistan’s military diplomacy in Afghanistan. Many perpetual Indian critics were taking pot shots at the Indian government’s massive investments in Afghanistan gone down the drain. Both my articles drew guarded responses from well-wishers who expressed their genuine apprehensions about conclusions drawn through those articles. And yet, less than one year later, as the Indian planes carrying earthquake material land at Kabul, the virtue of patience in international diplomacy comes to the fore.
Despite the fact that Pakistan’s ISI enjoys an intimate relationship with Haqqanis, there appears to be no let-up in the traditional trust deficit between Pakistanis and Afghans. Though more than 2.5 Lakh Afghans crossed the Durrand Line after the hasty retreat by the US forces in August 2021, that imaginary line continues to symbolise Afghan defiance of the British betrayal of 1893. Moreover, Balochs, who were equally affected by that treaty (obtained under the influence of drugs) and who were not even party to the agreement, have multiple reasons to be restless too. In a nutshell, the Taliban don’t accommodate Pakistanis beyond a limit. The most prominent reason for such a shaky love affair between the two is the pathetic economic condition of Pakistan. With no more dollars flowing into Afghanistan via Pakistan, the relationship is under enormous stress. Such a situation created that proverbial crack in the door India had been patiently waiting for.
India’s outreach to Afghanistan has remained a secret since the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan. Atrocities against Sikhs in Afghanistan have been a sore point, yet the recent visit of an Indian delegation to Kabul was the first publicised contact between the two nations. One Taliban minister then went on to declare his government’s intent to send Afghan soldiers for training to India. Pakistan, whose ISI chief once decided on the ministries in Afghanistan till a few months ago, could do nothing but wring its hands in despair. It is understood that irrespective of formal diplomatic ties, India and Afghanistan have reached an understanding wherein India will resume its projects and invest more in Afghanistan. A cash-starved Taliban establishment, thus, finds India more charming than a debt-ridden Pakistan. Moreover, unlike China, India is also willing to invest without looking for financial returns; such an approach makes India simply irresistible. That, in practical terms, means Islamabad losing its influence over Kabul significantly.
While the analysts were pointing to Pakistanis dancing in the streets with their Captain declaring an end to slavery for Afghans, India was quietly working on another front. India resumed developmental work in Iran after a pause. Having lunged towards China earlier, Iran has now swung back to a reasonable extent. Recent diplomatic exchanges bear witness to the thaw in the relationships. The historical enmity between Pakistan and Iran has helped that crack in the door widen further to let India insert a foot as well as a hand. A brief look at the map can help one visualise how fast Pakistan (and its CPEC culminating at Gwadar) is becoming redundant in regional and international geopolitics. That fabled strategic geographical location advantage is now sliding into the Persian Gulf. All that needs to be done now is to open Iran to the world. A patient approach to mainstreaming Iran is expected to pay dividends in the following years. Once that happens, Indian infrastructure in Iran–the Chabahar Port and Chabahar-Zahedan-Zaranj railway line–will hugely benefit India. Pakistan’s refusal to do its part on the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline even after Iran had completed its portion in 2016 had miffed Iran enough not to deal with Pakistan again. India’s agreement with Uzbekistan also indicates the level of trust nations have in the Indian projects in Iran.
At the ground level, both Iran and Taliban factors have implications for Pakistan. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan continues to enjoy the patronage of the Afghan Taliban, and Pakistan has been unsuccessful in making a dent in their relations. That translates into a continuous and formidable threat to Pakistan, which has been at its weakest since 1947. Baloch rebels, who also control the underworld of Karachi, have been accused of having safe havens inside Iran’s Balochistan as well as Afghanistan. These rebels are now needling Pakistanis like never before. Whether Pakistan’s allegations against India’s Research and Analysis Wing are true or misplaced, the fact remains that Pakistan finds its recipe of proxy war served on its table today; it is problematic for Islamabad and Rawalpindi (two power centres of Pakistan). Some ill-timed actions like Imran Khan’s open love for China, a short fling with Russia and declaration that the US has been plotting to sack him have also meant the withdrawal of financial aid from Washington. As a result of such external and internal factors and thanks to rampant corruption and religious fundamentalism, Pakistan is staring at a doomsday scenario.
For decades, India has preferred to believe that a stable Pakistan was a necessity; no longer! On the other hand, a balkanised Pakistan will mean a stoppage of financial and material support to extremists inside India. As we all know, terrorism is nothing but an ugly-looking yet highly profitable business for many. Once profit goes out and cash flow is squeezed, peace comes back, ambling and at a fantastic speed. The intelligence lies in victories without firing a bullet. Such battles can be won through clever diplomacy backed by a strong economy and a formidable muscle power in the form of the armed forces.
To some, the above developments may appear to be originating from multiple sources, and yet, the fact remains that nothing moves without diplomatic efforts on a global stage. And when it comes to international diplomacy, patience holds the key. India has been patient and pragmatic, and as the new world order emerges, these virtues are indeed taking India to a place on the podium it so richly deserves.
(The author is a Founder Trustee of the coveted Military History Research Foundation ®, India)