“Anyone who takes the side of Pakistan and blames India, please unfriend [me] from Facebook, otherwise I will [say things that] upset you,” Mohammad Iqbal Afzali wrote on social media on Tuesday. A quick scroll through his Facebook feed reveals a strong stance in support of India’s recent cross-border airstrikes on Jaish-e-Mohammed targets in Balakot, Pakistan, following the Feb. 14 terrorist attack on an Indian Army convoy.
If you didn’t know better, you’d think Afzali was an Indian nationalist. But, in fact, he’s an Afghan, just one of a chorus of voices in Kabul who support the Indian moves. Even though he spent several years in Pakistan as a refugee at the height of the Afghan conflict in the 1990s, Afzali doesn’t remember his hosts fondly. “Well, [India] attacked after Pakistan’s offense. When an enemy attacks, we must give them an answer. That’s what India did, and they did very well,” he said.
Qudratullah Andar Sultani, a former government official, agreed. “If America can attack a country for the sake of their national defense, then why can’t India? They too were under pressure to do something,” he said.
Afzali and Sultani are not alone. Afghans are not only maintaining support for India but calling for an escalation in a conflict that has gripped South Asia since the February attack that killed dozens of Indian soldiers. Strikes and counterstrikes have heightened tensions, though the release of a captured Indian Air Force pilot by Pakistan looks set to be a powerful gesture of good faith.
Afghanistan would inevitably be drawn into any India-Pakistan clash—a hard sell in a country that’s already known decades of conflict. Last week, Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul made comments suggesting that any aggression from India could affect Afghanistan, earning him the ire and a diplomatic demarche from the Afghan government. Islamabad has played a crucial role in facilitating the ongoing peace talks between the United States and the Taliban.
But many Afghans also see the Pakistani establishment as a key supporter of the Taliban insurgency in their country. New air and sea routes are connecting Afghanistan to the wider region, reducing previous dependency on Pakistan, and Afghans fear that Pakistan is looking to widen its leverage. Afghanistan even protested a scheduled meeting between the Taliban and Pakistan earlier this month, raising the issue with the U.N. Security Council, stating it “amounts to the official recognition and legitimization of an armed group that poses a serious threat to the security and stability of Afghanistan.” Pakistani Foreign Minister S.M. Qureshi told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that India’s airstrikes could affect the ongoing Afghan peace process.
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