If we are able to recognize that US foreign policy in respect to instability in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India is irrational due to the absence of a ‘necessary but not sufficient’ condition – bolstering of Pakistan’s strategic advantages over India – then the easy part is done. Crafting a foreign policy that addresses this contingent condition is especially problematic because of the precedent it will establish in appeasing a state that supports covert action to undermine transnational peace. Moreover, it would initially appear that the need to bolster Pakistan’s strategic position vis-a-vis India in Afghanistan is inherently zero-sum, meaning India will not reap any benefit; however, India would benefit from increased stability and assurances from Pakistan that it would extinguish extremist activity targeting India.
To begin, we can explore Pakistan’s strategic interests by examining benefits that it either is or reasonably should be seeking in Afghanistan. As is demonstrated by Pakistani support to armed opposition active in Afghanistan, foremost in Pakistan’s strategy is the desire to maintain control over security developments in Afghanistan. The intent behind this is to ensure not just instability in Pakhtunkhwa (aka Pakhtunistan) for egress and to protect its left flank, but also as a backdrop to facilitate and disguise lethal targeting of Indian actors and interests inside Afghanistan.
An inter-related and contentious issue is Pakistan’s interest in directing India’s military resources away from regular threats (i.e., the Pakistan-India border) to irregular threats (e.g., terrorist incursions and fomenting unrest in Kashmir) because of the inordinate amount of resources the latter require.
Obvious to anyone with a modicum of experience in Afghanistan, additionally, is the general disdain for most things Pakistani and the exultation of most things Indian, furthered by the populace rightfully placing extraordinary blame on Pakistan for the continuance of the Taliban and the brutality of the Haqqani network. Certain socio-economic conditions have expanded the chasm between Pakistan and India, leading to a preference for Indian arts (film and music), education, and medical assistance. Pakistan surely is not blind to Afghans’ cultural and professional worship of India and the subversive effect this preference has on Pakistan. In light of these observations, Pakistan should be looking to replace India as a most favored regional nation (although I have not really seen it pursuing this).
In sum, after analyzing Pakistan’s strategic interests in respect to India it becomes apparent that Pakistan will not be willing to support any policy that does not concretely allow it to do the following:
Tackling the above conditions in a concrete enough manner will be daunting; nonetheless, ignoring the impossibility of addressing the insurgency in Afghanistan and the grey war in Pakistan without altering US and international policies on the region will only guarantee further suffering, waste of life, and an inability to combat extremism. The 2010 London Conference on Afghanistan was nothing but a joke, meant to signify solidarity amongst wary NATO allies. A new, earnest conference should be convened to address instability in the region with the following objectives in mind (on a sidetrack, Iran’s role will also need to be addressed to inhibit existing Sunni and Salafist interference in Pakistan):
While not listed here, the belief is that the above objectives can rationally fulfill the qualifications that will allow Pakistan to abandon opposition forces that have been receiving support or using it as a safe haven. If Pakistan still chooses to side with opposition in Afghanistan despite these measures, then Holbrooke’s dream of supporting Pakistan in the face of the quagmire in Afghanistan and Pakistan is untenable.