During U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s visit to India, his counterpart in New Delhi Nirmala Sitharaman focused on the $3 billion investment her country had made in Kabul, making it clear India would not send any soldiers to Afghanistan: “We have built dams, hospitals, schools and institutions there. We are providing training there and medical facilities. Our cooperation [with Afghanistan] will expand; however, we have made clear that there will be no boots on the ground.”
However, Pakistan, which has spent around half a billion U.S. dollars on infrastructure in Afghanistan, doesn’t want India there. Not too long ago, Pakistan’s military leaders designated Afghanistan their “strategic depth” against India, a kind of imagined retreat in the face of superior Indian military capability. There was a time when Pakistan leaned on Iran for similar “depth” during times of conflict with India, but that was during a different superpower global divide when Pakistan and Iran rode on the same side with America.
Today, America is with India against China in the region in a much less well-defined cold war: both America and India are major trade partners with China, and China gives evidence frequently of not wanting to fight this new cold war. India has built the Chabahar port in Iran as an entry-point to landlocked Afghanistan, thus discounting the traditional Karachi-Kabul route operated by Pakistan, and is buying big into Iran’s gas-fields while China builds Iran’s infrastructure with more undisclosed amount of money than what it has invested in Pakistan.
When asked in America what role India should play in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi replied, “None.” It revealed Pakistan’s rather outmoded thinking while still signatory to the “regional cooperation” treaty SAARC of which both Afghanistan and India are members. While being punished by India on its eastern border with mortar-fire and hounded from the inside by India-funded gangs of radicalized Pakistani religious zealots, Pakistan is losing sight of its other strategic vision: that of trade and trade routes in place of the thinking of a besieged castle.