Regional Powers Should Increase Their Role in Afghanistan After NATO. By Manish Rai

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The NATO withdrawal next month will leave Afghanistan more vulnerable to insurgency, which is gaining ground in Afghan countryside. Moreover this withdrawal will also create a power vacuum which other regional countries like- China, India, and Iran wants to fill by their own respective influence. With U.S. and NATO forces preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan, the future of the war-torn country may rest in the hands of its neighbors and regional countries. The Afghan economy boomed in last decade because of a war bubble and now we are seeing it slowly deflates. The budget deficit is around $750 million, with security costs eating up around $650 million of the government’s meagre funds. After the NATO withdrawal funds coming from west will dry up soon. So Afghanistan has to find regional powers with greater role and commitment in Afghanistan to sustain its government and economy. The steps in this direction have already been initiated. The September meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization for instance, allowed for new members to join that grouping, seen by some as China and Russia’s answer to NATO. Along with Pakistan and India, Iran is likely to be first in line to join. Let’s see the current and future roles of some regional powers in Afghanistan.
China- After the collapse of the Taliban regime, China was one of the first countries that rushed to assist Afghanistan. China is connected to Afghanistan by a narrow corridor with a border length of only 97km. This “Wakhan Corridor” has been closed to regular border traffic for almost 100 years. Despite the limited land connection between the two, Afghanistan is attractive to China for several reasons: China is interested in Afghanistan’s natural resources; the country is geo-strategically important to China because of its location both in Central and South Asia and Beijing is concerned about possible links between the restless Muslim population in Xinjiang and the Taliban and other Islamist groups in Afghanistan. No wonder, therefore, that Beijing thinks it worthwhile to keep Afghanistan stable and to invest in making sure this happens. Taliban provided sanctuaries to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement and other terrorist groups which are running an Islamist insurgency movement in Xinxiang province of China. In the past 13 years, China has granted Afghanistan more than $300 million, has trained more than 1,000 government officials, and has offered hundreds of scholarships to Afghans. The building of the Jamhuriat Hospital, the second phase of the water irrigation system in Parwan province, the establishment of the National Education Center of Science and Technology, as well as the Confucius Institute in Kabul, is examples of projects that have been made possible with Chinese support. China has invested over $3.7 billion in the Aynak copper mine and Amu Darya Basin. China has committed to provide Afghanistan unconditional assistance of more than $300 million for the next three years. China will provide 500 scholarships to Afghanistan, and will train 3,000 government officials in the next three years. China’s role in post NATO Afghanistan will be very crucial for stability of the country.
India- The traditional ally of the Afghan people, in the past 13 years has provided Afghanistan more than $2 billion in aid. India is implementing major developmental projects. India has been providing more than 1,500 scholarships to Afghans annually for the last five years, and has a training program in place for government officials at various capacities. India will invest billions in the Hajigak iron mine. India also have some serious concerns after NATO moving out of Afghanistan the main one being that non-state actors hostile to India will be emboldened and have more space to ramp up their operations and perhaps even to target India in attacks and fuel Kashmir insurgency. India has quietly gone about helping Afghanistan through economic investment, trade, and of particular importance training and advising of the fragile Afghan security forces. India is a critical bilateral partner of Afghanistan and it signed the strategic partnership agreement a few years back, which involves close and frequent cooperation. It also entails a strong Indian presence in Afghanistan, mainly in a diplomatic and economic sense. India's desire to be recognized as a rising and responsible global power, a more visible role in Afghanistan especially one that can grow into a leadership role would certainly serve New Delhi's interests quite well.
Iran- It’s in Tehran’s best interests to have a stable Afghan government in Kabul, one that is free of influence from the Taliban Iran’s staunch enemy. Ignoring Iran is impossible for Afghanistan as it’s a home to nearly 3 million Afghan refugees and it’s a huge Afghan trading partner more probably than any other neighbor. Hundreds of Iranian companies conduct business in the country, and Afghan exports to Iran have grown from $9.2 million in 2009 to $16.8 million in 2013, according to the International Monetary Fund. Iran has built several roads, power transmission lines, border stations and many other infrastructure projects to better link the two nations. Iran has also contributed more than $50mln annually to Afghan anti-narcotics efforts during the last five years. Iran wants to export oil and gas to South Asia for that it requires safety of the pipelines which will run from Afghanistan territory which is only possible if insurgency is checked.
Afghanistan, in the words of President Ashraf Ghani, can become a model for cooperation for regional powers. This model can help Afghanistan to change its geopolitical position, which for the past 200 years was a rout of invaders from north and south, from being a big challenge to being an opportunity for cooperation between South and Central Asia. The former president Hamid Karzai correctly said that Afghanistan should be a meeting point for civilizations, not a battleground for super powers. All these regional countries have high stakes in Afghanistan and they all desired peaceful and stable Afghanistan may be to serve their own vested interest. But how far these countries are willing to engage in Afghanistan beyond their own narrow interests remain to be answered.
(Author is a freelance columnist for Middle-East and Af-Pak region and Editor of geo-political news agency www.viewsaround.com can be reached at manishraiva@gmail.com)

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