OCT 4, 2018: Former president Pervez Musharraf warned that a proxy war between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan would erupt in Afghanistan if U.S. forces exit the country.
Musharraf, who came to power in a 1999 coup before stepping down amid protests against his rule in 2008, said Pakistan wants a peaceful solution to the 17-year-old conflict next door. But the former military ruler also blamed India for using Afghanistan as a base to foment separatist insurgencies and attacks in Pakistan. In several interviews in the international media after leaving office, he has been highlighting that Islamabad countered and continues to counter India’s efforts to destabilize his country through the latter’s increasing presence in Afghanistan.
“You can expect a proxy war in Afghanistan if the U.S. leaves Afghanistan, definitely, 100 percent,” Musharraf said in an interview with Bloomberg at his penthouse apartment in Dubai, where he now lives in self-exile.
War-ravaged Afghanistan has long been a battleground for the broader geopolitical rivalry, particularly between India and Pakistan. Lately it has increased with the US tilt towards India, its defense and strategic ally in the broader South Asia region.
Musharraf’s comments underscore the fear of Indian encirclement that motivates Pakistan and its powerful military — it’s now fighting a hybrid war against faceless enemies several Pakistani analysts say.
U.S. President Donald Trump with his South Asia policy announced last summer, has further stoked those concerns by pushing for New Delhi to take on a larger role in Afghanistan as Washington looks to exit America’s longest war.
Musharraf said “India should remain out” of Afghanistan — its western neighbor and a common border, which Pakistan sees needs to be at peace for its own stability and progress.
Musharraf also warned that even if U.S. forces depart after a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, India and Pakistan would likely move in by supporting rival factions in Afghanistan.
“The situation will return to Taliban versus Northern Alliance, and in that Pakistan and India will fight a proxy war,” he said, alluding to a military coalition that fought against the Taliban in the 1990s and early 2000s.
India’s foreign ministry declined to comment on the interview. Indian officials, who frequently blame Pakistan for cross-border attacks in both Afghanistan and Indian-occupied Kashmir, have long said their presence in Afghanistan is focused on development and infrastructure — a position looked at with skepticism in Islamabad.
Pakistan remains a key player though in facilitating a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan if conditions are met with from all sides in good faith.
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi and “emphasized the important role Pakistan could play in bringing about a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
Pompeo “agreed that there was momentum to advance the Afghan peace process, and that the Afghan Taliban should seize the opportunity for dialogue.”
However, Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah told an audience last month in New York that he’s seen no change in Pakistan’s policies toward the Taliban since Prime Minister Imran Khan came to power after elections in July.
Khan who has many times prior to being elected PM had said the best way to end the Afghan war is via a negotiated settlement with the insurgent group, earlier last month, said his government would ally with the US for bringing peace, not continuance of war in Afghanistan.
Pakistan continues to wield “significant” influence over the Taliban, Abdullah said, though he added that the two countries are working together.
Last week, reports suggested representatives from the Taliban met an Afghan government delegation in Saudi Arabia to discuss security ahead of next month’s parliamentary elections and a limited prisoner release. Earlier in July, US officials met in Qatar with representatives of the Taliban.
The September meeting came less than a month before voters are due to go to the polls on Oct 20 to elect a new Afghan parliament, a process which has been hampered by fears of attacks on polling stations and campaign rallies — Taliban continues to control major swaths of the war-torn country.
With former cricket star Khan breaking the rotational and dynastic grip of Pakistani politics, Musharraf said he backed the current government, and there was no need for him to return as a “third force.”
(The original report appeared in Stars and Stripes)