Pakistan’s activities in Afghanistan have been making headlines again. Army chief Kayani and ISI director-general Pasha visited Kabul, sparking speculation that Pakistan is seeking to ramp up its influence, as America and Britain signal their intention to withdraw troops.
If the speculation is true, it would not be the first time that Pakistan has tried to play its hand in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s complete control over the flow of CIA and Saudi weapons and money to the mujahideen during the war against the Soviets meant that the Taliban have enjoyed official and unofficial Pakistani support since they first arose in the early 1990s. Pakistan’s army and intelligence services have been accused of not attacking militant groups, which stage and train in Pakistan for attacks on NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Some analysts have claimed that Pakistan’s arrest of the Taliban’s deputy commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in February this year was an attempt to ensure Pakistani influence in domestic peace talks by forestalling Baradar’s own peace negotiations with the Karzai government. Others claim that Pakistani pressure in favour of its Taliban and Haqqani led to resignations by Afghan interior minister and intelligence chief, who opposed negotiations with the Taliban.
Whatever the truth of these allegations, other signs point to the beginnings of a more visible shift in the dynamics of the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan. After a number of unsuccessful Pakistani offers, the Afghan government has agreed to send some of its army officers for training to Pakistan. Afghan diplomats and bureaucrats have also been offered training opportunities and Afghan students are already accepting scholarships to study in Pakistani universities.
Pakistan’s recent shift to ‘soft power’ diplomacy in Afghanistan pales next to India’s own commitments to the country. India is the fifth-largest donor to Afghanistan after the US, the UK, Japan and Canada, and over 100 development projects are currently under way. While some flagship projects like the construction of the Afghan Parliament building showcase Indian values, the majority of Indian development work in Afghanistan has focused on fulfilling more immediate needs such as power and road infrastructure, clean water, health and education. India also runs very successful capacity-building programmes that bring accountants, economists and bureaucrats to India for training and provides university scholarships for Afghan students. It almost goes without saying that Indian TV serials and Bollywood movies are wildly popular among Afghans.
In many ways, India is doing everything that a regional power