Afghanistan: hand of friendship reaches out beyond Pakistan

As Karzai signs strategic pact with India, did Burhanuddin Rabbani's assassination create a chasm between Afghanistan and Pakistan?

The Pakistanis have appeared to manipulate the Americans, Taliban, and Afghan government to their own advantage for some time now. With millions of Afghani refugees on their soil that's not been very hard for them to achieve.

But Osama Bin Laden's assassination when the al-Qa'eda leader resided a stone's throw from the Pakistani intelligence service ISI, and that same organisation's alleged complicity via the Haqqani in the assassination of chief Afghan peace negotiator Rabbani, has led to renewed assessments by the US and now Afghans of their relationship with Islamabad.

The Haqqani network are in league with the Afghani Taliban. While in Pakistan itself, the government has fought a successful campaign of containment against their own version of the Taliban.

Now a strategic co-operation agreement with the Indians, as Afghan President Karsai and Indian PM Manmohan Singh meet in New Delhi. Trade, culture and security are the themes, and India could do alot to bolster Afghanistan in all three.

Is Pakistan gradually being left out in the cold? Only China still holds firm as a friend. Yet even they might slowly distance themselves, as they have their own concerns about Islamist activity. In Xinjiang, the Muslim Uyghurs have been overwhelmed and sidelined by the migration of the Han, who now form a majority in the northwestern province. 

The People's Republic is treading oh-so carefully in its dealings with a highly manipulative Pakistani hierarchy. So long as Pakistan is viewed by several international powers and now neighbours as pursuing a "double game", as Mohammed Karzai described it, Pakistan will progressively morph a no-man's land: neither a happy nor economically healthy place to be.

How much will Afghanistan benefit from the Indo-Afghan deal? This is the very first such pact of its kind for the war-torn state. So this is a first tenuous step. 

As they're new to this game, the Afghans would be well advised to talk to Kiwis to glean insightful tips. New Zealand has been more successful than almost any other country in developing bilateral links through Free Trade Agreements. 

When only a few days ago Imran Khan, a Pakistani opposition politician and ex-cricket captain, called for the UK to halt aid to his country as it fuelled corruption, you have to wonder what would enable Pakistan to engage more effectively with the world. It seems that Afghanistan for one has decided to look elsewhere for connections to boost trade and bolster security. 

The choice of India might be contentious however, given that country's problematic relationship with Pakistan. 

Equally, so would any decision of Afghanistan to press for closer ties with Iran, a traditional source of cultural influence as Persian film was particularly popular before the Taliban ruled. However, that prospect is made impossible while American forces operate on Afghani soil. But ties with Brazil, Indonesia or Mexico might be far easier to develop.

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