The IP has provided a degree of consensus around the nature of shared threats to the HA. However, interpretation of the meanings of these threats is filtered through the lens of national interests. Consequently, responses differ; multilateral cooperation is difficult to achieve. Situating peace in Afghanistan as the pivot for cooperation further complicates the process, as positions on how peace should be secured diverge.
The quest for peace cannot be understood in a vacuum; it intertwines with a number of disputes at local, national and regional levels. One effort to map this examines regional disputes between India and Pakistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan and Taliban factions which span their borders, Iran and Saudi Arabia and the USA and Iran (Vigier 2009).
The Afghan conflict is therefore multilayered, with intricate roots in the past. It is shaped by tribal, ethnic, regional and economic factors that often encompass local, national, regional and international levels. This section demonstrates the ways in which regional intervention through the IP is often hindered by the continuation of negative strategies and divergent conceptions of how peace should be addressed.
Central to this is the uncertain presence of the USA in the post-2014 period. Historically, Afghanistan has played host to various geostrategic conflicts, with the legacy of the Great Game still evident in the use of proxy models by great powers and Afghanistan’s neighbours to foment conflict and hedge their bets should the country remain unstable. National rivalries and fragmentation have often clouded the perception of shared economic opportunities reinforced through labyrinthine bureaucracy and lack of infrastructure with which to support economic cooperation.
The IP is conceptualised to bridge this gap, but even its approach does not imply the naïve idea of complete regional harmony. Rather, it concentrates on developing productive patterns for improving peace and stability in the HA as a whole. The success of pacification strategies is largely determined by acceptance of target audiences (HA countries) of the vision articulated by policy enunciators. Even where agreement emerges, peaceful outcomes may not ensue.
Afghanistan and the USA
Sustainable security in post-2014 Afghanistan is premised on the nature of the continuing US presence in the country, the strength of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and a successful political transition.
The question of good governance is especially critical, as highlighted at the 2012 Tokyo Conference (Tokyo Declaration 2012). Finally, Afghanistan’s economic transition away from donor dependency towards self-sufficiency and private sector development will be integral to its stability.
The fundamental outline for post-2014 USA-Afghan relations is contained in the ‘Bilateral Security Agreement’ (BSA), enabling American forces to remain in Afghanistan. This falls under the ‘Strategic Partnership Agreement’, specifying a general framework for the relationship over the next 10 years, yet there is lingering uncertainty whether either party will be able or willing to adhere to the provisions of the pact.
For Kabul’s part, its expectations include fair elections, anti-corruption measures and improved protection of human rights. Points of contention, though, revolve around the nature of the future security relationship. The Karzai administration wants to be considered as though it was a NATO ally, yet it refuses to allow American forces to continue hunting for Al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Instead, it wants any intelligence to be handed over to the ANSF, which could then decide on appropriate action.
However, the continuation of the American drone programme in tribal border areas—exemplified by the recent killing of Taliban leader, Hakimullah Meshud—demonstrates the reluctance of Washington to cede control. There are also concerns over immunity for US military personnel and the number of troops that will remain. The nature of US ‘presence’ is still undecided; there will be no ‘permanent’ American bases for use against neighbouring countries, but the agreement may permit long-term use of Afghan facilities. The level of American economic aid remains unspecified.
Washington’s real position in the HA region remains uncertain for all states involved in the IP. What will super-bases mean for the security of Afghanistan’s near and extended neighbours? How will the USA continue to utilise its influence over Pakistan in order to pursue its own interests? How much funding will it contribute to the IP, and how will it use commercial interests to extend its power in the HA region?
Of Afghanistan’s regional neighbours, Pakistan is viewed as most critical to peace. Islamabad frames its interaction with Kabul through the prism of the existential threat which India poses to Pakistan’s survival. Historically, it has wanted a weak Kabul government dominated by a malleable, supportive Taliban insurgency, enabling ‘strategic depth’ against India (Tellis and Muharji 2010, p. 17–26).
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) maintains a close relationship, founded on mutual benefit, with factions of the Taliban, such as the Haqqani Network (Waldman 2010). The latter needs external sanctuary, military and logistical support; the ISI assists it to enhance Pakistan’s position viz. India.
The ongoing Afghan war straddles the disputed border with Pakistan; the Durand Line was never officially recognised by Kabul, and the shared Pashtun population represents a persistent source of tension. Without the acquiescence of the ISI, a peace settlement in Afghanistan is unlikely.
It is possible that incorporating Pakistani input within a broader regional process such as the IP could ultimately be constructive. Islamabad’s support is essential to a lasting peace settlement; its hostility is not a static variable, yet genuine cooperation cannot be expected before the fundamental causes of its insecurity are addressed. This requires a regional peace process and support for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute from ‘extended neighbours’, particularly the USA (Harpivken 2010). It further necessitates military and political reform, and a combination of incentives and disincentives to persuade Pakistan’s elite that support for the Taliban is no longer in its national interests.
Iran has substantial security concerns relating to American presence in Afghanistan after 2014, viewing this as an ‘existential threat’. However, it is actually ambivalent on withdrawal, publicly demanding it while also fearing this could indicate a return to power of the inherently anti-Shi’a Taliban, which it fought to expel before the American invasion.
Tehran wants a pro-Iranian government in Kabul, which would distance itself from the USA, but not be dominated by the Taliban or its proxies (Dobbins and Shinn 2011). It wants gradual withdrawal of international troops in order to minimise threats to its investments, especially along its borders in western Afghanistan.
It perceives the introduction of the NSR vision as a threat to its economic influence as an emerging transportation route to Central Asia and Europe. Iran aims to be a key partner in regional integration in the HA. Certain signature projects of the IP that circumvent its territory, such as the Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, are viewed as contrary to its interests.
However, the recent election of Hasan Rouhani may reduce hostility between Iran and the West and perhaps nudge the ruling hierarchy towards more flexible approaches and deeper engagement in the IP’s quest for peace (Mousavian 2013). For Tehran, the possibilities for cooperation with Afghanistan in the post-2014 period may outweigh the advantages of continuing low-level proxy warfare through factions such as the Taliban. In particular, an improved American-Iranian relationship would render a regional peace solution much more realisable for the IP.
Central Asian republics
Afghanistan constitutes both a problem and an opportunity for the five CARs. Its continued instability renders it a detrimental source of extremism, terrorism, narcotics and weapons trafficking, yet the economic reconstruction promised by the IP can also lead to opportunities for greater cooperation on gas, electricity, transportation infrastructure, pipelines, hydroelectric power, equipment and technology transfer, expertise in agriculture, education and science (Weitz 2006).
The post-2014 period implies geostrategic fine-tuning for all CARs. Western hyper-engagement since 2001 has enabled them to utilise the Afghan issue as an important policy mechanism in relations with great powers and neighbouring countries.
In such vein, Kazakhstan portrays itself as a responsible stakeholder in the international community. It has taken the lead in education, humanitarian aid and reconstruction projects in Afghanistan through the IP; the last and most substantive HA meeting took place in Astana in 2013.
The principal issue underpinning Kyrgyzstan’s geostrategic position, however, is the status of the Manas military base. If the USA is permitted to use the base with civilian status, it will remain a potent source of revenue, but accommodation of American interests risk incurring both the antagonism of the Kyrgyz public and Russian resentment (Dzhuraev 2013).
Turkmenistan is committed to the doctrine of ‘perpetual neutrality’, consistent with its position in the 1990s. It will cooperate with whatever government succeeds the Karzai administration, regardless of whether it is strongly influenced by the Taliban. Its intention is to harness the potential for economic growth provided by the IP, while safeguarding against the overflow of threats originating in Afghanistan.
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are in more vulnerable positions should the Taliban regain power. This would force Tashkent to choose either confrontation or conciliation; the reinforcement of the domestic Uzbek Islamist opposition would be a central concern. Like Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan wants to capitalise on the economic advantages of the HA, particularly its electricity exports and railway investments, irrespective of the ideological orientation of a new government in Kabul. Tashkent also wishes to exploit the strategic advantages gained from US intervention and its involvement in the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). This affords it a vital position in the HA.
For Tajikistan, the permeability of Tajik/Afghan societies renders Afghanistan as an important determinant of its future stability (Olimov and Olimova 2013). Should the Taliban regain power, Afghan Tajiks would be at risk, creating substantial difficulties for Dushanbe in terms of cooperation with Kabul. Renewed civil war would mean that Tajik territory could be used to support Afghan Tajiks in the conflict. There is also the fear that geopolitical and economic competition would intensify between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan; the Afghan issue is employed as a foreign policy mechanism by both nations. Instability in Afghanistan could further lead to Tajikistan, finding itself caught in a proxy war between Moscow and Washington.
In terms of the peace process and economic development, CA states therefore maintain a range of unilateral proposals. Ashgabat would like to use Turkmenistan’s position as a neutral power to broker peace negotiations. This would strengthen its position on the international stage as a neutral state. It wants to engage in economic cooperation, particularly through the TAPI pipeline. Tashkent also wants to play a role in regional diplomacy, but not as part of a cooperative process that includes Russia (such as the IP); instead, it proposes a unilateral solution, the ‘6 + 3’ initiative, with the support of the UN (Tadjbakhsh 2012, p. i–x).
On balance, asymmetric rivalries between CA states, reinforced by the intervention of external actors in the region, help explain their failure to engage in a collective regional strategy towards Afghanistan. These states are intensely focused on regional security dynamics and seek to maintain equilibrium between both internal rivals and the influence of external actors. The absence of a collective strategy towards Afghanistan reflects the failure to attain intra-regional cooperation and a shared security strategy among the CARs. This pattern is likely to obtain in the future, again undermining the momentum of the IP.
Russia and China
Considerably, as a result of its own traumatic recent history in Afghanistan, Russia recognises that the potential failure of the USA and NATO to secure Afghan stability may increase the power of the insurgency, with significant consequences for the stability of the region. It is very unlikely to contribute to military operations to stabilise Afghanistan in the post-2014 period, but is interested in expanding its sphere of influence through infrastructure projects, provision of material for the ANSF and increasing cooperation with forces on the ground in countering narcotics operations.
Russia negotiated with NATO to allow the NDN, a series of commercially based logistical arrangements connecting Baltic and Caspian ports with Afghanistan via Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus. Ironically, this makes NATO dependent on Russian goodwill. Russia also wants greater engagement with the regional military organisation it sponsors, the CSTO.
Moscow is reluctant to give full support to the IP, which is largely connected to its own interests in influencing the HA countries. Nonetheless, it has reinforced the TAPI project, a core IP initiative, announcing this at the SCO Summit in 2011. It has also promoted the concept of a single economic space within the Customs Union created in 2010 between itself, Belarus and Kazakhstan. It believes that this will ultimately transform into a Eurasian Union, with other nations within the post-Soviet sphere joining too.
From a regional perspective, China is much more likely to favour the SCO—where it exercises greater levels of control—than the IP. Beijing is less engaged in military and security issues connected with Afghanistan than Moscow. The SCO does provide a space for debates concerning Afghanistan and broader regional security, but it enjoys negligible influence on the ground. It lacks a coordinated structure between member states focused on Afghanistan to deal with humanitarian crises, refugee issues or shared border management (Cooley 2012).
In strategic terms, Beijing conceptualises the CARs as a critical buffer through which to stabilise and develop the Xinjiang region. Its fear of the deepening links between Uighur separatists and Islamic extremists has led it to increase border and intelligence cooperation, engage in confidence-building measures (CBMs) with state governments and strengthen its relations within the SCO. The underlying rationale is that economic development in Xinjiang—rendering it the centre of China’s oil and gas industries—will counter extremism and lead to stabilisation.