Pakistan fearful of strategic encirclement by India: US report
Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

Washington: A US Congressional Report on Afghan Affairs has identified Pakistan as Afghanistan's most important neighbour, adding that the country has been playing 'an active but negative role' in Afghanistan while simultaneously, is fearful of strategic encirclement by India.

"Pakistan's security services maintain ties to Afghan insurgent groups, most notably the Haqqani Network, a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) that has become an official, the semiautonomous component of the Taliban," the independent and bipartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), which periodically prepares reports on issues of importance for Congressmen for them to make informed decisions, said.

Pakistan is concerned about the strategic encirclement by India as New Delhi is establishing strong relations with Central Asian countries, the report adds.

"India's diplomatic and commercial presence in Afghanistan and US rhetorical support for it exacerbates Pakistani fears of encirclement. Indian interest in Afghanistan stems largely from India's broader regional rivalry with Pakistan, which impedes Indian efforts to establish stronger and more direct commercial and political relations with Central Asia," the CRS said in its latest report that was released on November 1.

U.S. officials have long identified militant safe havens in Pakistan as a threat to security in Afghanistan, though some Pakistani officials dispute that charge and note the Taliban's increased territorial control within Afghanistan itself, the report said.

President Donald Trump, it added, has also accused Pakistan of "housing the very terrorists that we are fighting." "Pakistan may view a weak and destabilised Afghanistan as preferable to a strong, unified Afghan state (particularly one led by an ethnic Pashtun-dominated government in Kabul; Pakistan has a large and restive Pashtun minority)," the CRS said.

However, instability in Afghanistan could rebound to Pakistan's detriment; Pakistan has struggled with indigenous Islamist militants of its own, the report added.

Afghanistan-Pakistan relations are further complicated by the presence of over a million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, as well a long-running and ethnically tinged dispute over their shared 1,600-mile border.

In his August 2017 speech, the US President did encourage India to play a greater role in Afghan economic development.

The CRS said insurgent and terrorist groups have demonstrated considerable capabilities in 2019, throwing into sharp relief the daunting security challenges that the Afghan government and its US and international partners face.

At the same time, prospects for a negotiated settlement, driven by direct US-Taliban talks, are uncertain in light of the September 2019 cancellation of those negotiations and the Taliban's continued refusal to talk to the Afghan government, it said.

However, a potential collapse of the Afghan military and/or the government that commands it could have significant implications for the United States, particularly given the nature of negotiated security arrangements, the report warned.

Regardless of how likely the Taliban would be to gain full control over all or even most of the country, the breakdown of social order and the fracturing of the country into fiefdoms controlled by paramilitary commanders and their respective militias may be plausible, even probable, it added.

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Free Press Journal