A farewell to Indo-Afghan friendship?

THE future of Indo-Afghan relations does not look promising in the aftermath of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. India's close ties with Afghanistan before the 1978 Marxist coup were with the nationalists who controlled the regimes of both King Zahir Shah and Mohammad Daoud Khan. During the decade before the Marxist coup, however, fundamentalists in Afghanistan had sought closer ties with Muslim Pakistan without much success.

India refused to condemn the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and its ties with the Marxist regimes of Babrak Karmal and Najib there appear to be good. But India's relations are no longer close with the people of Afghanistan - nationalists and fundamentalists alike - who are seeking to overthrow the Soviet-supported puppet regime in Kabul. Afghan nationalists feel betrayed, and Afghan fundamentalists appear poised to seize power when Soviet occupation forces are withdrawn.

Before the 1978 coup, Afghan governments obtained political sympathy, if not support, from India for their dispute with Pakistan on the creation of ``Pushtunistan,'' an independent state for the Pathans of Afghan origin of the North-West Frontier Province. These Indo-Afghan links go back to pre-partition India when the Pathans of the North-West Frontier Province initially backed the Indian National Congress instead of the All India Muslim League, which was then demanding a separate Pakistan.

Thus, despite the Islamic ties between the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Afghan governments since 1947 under both King Zahir Shah and Mohammad Daoud Khan had consistently favored India in its disputes with Pakistan. India and Afghanistan supported the nonaligned movement and usually adopted identical positions on several major international issues.

The strong friendship and confidence between India and Afghanistan under the nationalists was evident in the late President Daoud Khan's decision to diversify Afghanistan's dependence on the Soviet Union for military training; he requested India provide such services as well.

The Indian Embassy in Kabul was one of the most influential embassies before 1978, and a posting at the Afghan Embassy in New Delhi was considered a prestigious one for an Afghan diplomat. After the Soviet occupation, Indo-Afghan military ties have ceased and commercial and cultural interaction between the two countries have declined significantly. There is official ``friendship'' and nothing more.

India's greatest loss in the Afghan crisis lies in the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as a major political force among the Afghans, both within Afghanistan and among the refugees in Pakistan and Iran.

The Afghan fundamentalists have consistently supported Pakistan in its territorial disputes with both Afghanistan and India. In turn, because Afghan nationalist governments had sought to create an independent state for the North-West Frontier Province Pathans, Pakistan tried to destabilize the Afghan nationalist regime of Daoud Khan. However, the Afghan fundamentalists failed to make any political gains before the Marxist coup of 1978.

The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the flight of over 4 million Afghans to Pakistan and Iran have now radically changed the relative power relationships among various Afghan groups opposing communist rule in Afghanistan - especially those between Afghan nationalists and fundamentalists. The Soviet invasion has made Pakistan the political center of Afghan resistance and enabled it to acquire unprecedented power in shaping future Afghan politics.

Pakistan is in a position to eliminate Afghan political groups it dislikes and promote the dominance of groups it favors. Indeed, this is the main reason for the present dominance of the Afghan fundamentalist groups and the near-eclipse of the nationalists.

Pakistan has refused to allow established Afghan nationalist parties to participate directly from Pakistan in the struggle for the liberation of Afghanistan. Nor has it allowed any prominent member of previous Afghan governments to organize the Afghan nationalists in Pakistan. Instead, Pakistan has allowed two new non-fundamentalist groups to fill the political vacuum left by the forced absence of the nationalists in the Afghan struggle.

This situation has consequences for a settlement of the Afghan issue and for future Indo-Afghan relations.

Compared with the fundamentalists and the communists, the Afghan nationalists offer the most reasonable alternative for a nonaligned and stable Afghanistan. Recall of King Zahir Shah, the aging monarch currently living in exile in Italy, may be a feasible option in a post-Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. This is unlikely to happen under present circumstances when the fundamentalists dominate the liberation struggle.

Yet a future fundamentalist regime in Kabul with close ties to Pakistan would not only invite another Soviet military intervention but could also increase the probability of destabilization in Pakistan itself through a Khomeini-style revolution.

In turn, a fundamentalist Pakistan could aggravate Hindu-Muslim tensions in India and revive Indo-Pakistani friction over Kashmir that could lead to war.

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