The latest chapter of the Great Game being played out in the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan revolves around the vacuum being created by the United States military withdrawal from that area.
Rawalpindi wants to ensure a Pakistan-friendly government is installed in Kabul — and ‘friendly’ means one that includes the Afghan Taliban. This is not just about Pakistan’s paranoia about being caught between India and Afghanistan. It is also about an equally questionable belief that an Afghan Taliban government would ensure that the former do not become allies of the Tehreek-e-Taliban, popularly known as the Pakistan Taliban.
The Tehreek are locked in a bloody war with Pakistan and are now seen by Rawalpindi as its greatest non-State threat. Reports of a split within the Tehreek, with the Mehsud tribe walking out, will come as a relief to the Pakistan army.
There were numerous reports that the Mehsuds were unhappy under the leadership of Maulana Fazlullah because he was ethnically different and Afghanistan-based. It is also not clear whether the split has made the chances of a negotiated settlement between Pakistan and the Tehreek more likely.
India has no interest in supporting a retrograde terrorist organisation like the Tehreek. Nonetheless, New Delhi should worry about the geopolitical fallout of such developments.
The evidence seems to show that the US troop withdrawal has resulted in an uptick in Pakistani-backed violence in Kashmir and along the Line of Control the past two years. An all quiet on Pakistan’s western front would only accelerate such a trend: The Tehreek had been a primary reason Pakistan’s military had preferred not to provoke India.
The consequences of the split remain uncertain, but the new Indian government should recognise that it missed a political bullet when the terror attack on its consulate in Herat failed. Af-Pak geopolitics is not an academic exercise. It is crucial to India’s national security and whoever rules in New Delhi must have a clear strategy on how to address the potentially very bloody fallout of being wrong-footed in the Great Game.