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Beyond "Af-Pak"

Analysis: A myopic view of Afghanistan and Pakistan misses challenges and opportunities in the region.

The Kashmir situation has important effects in Afghanistan. As Coll notes, Gen. David Petraeus, who now runs U.S. Central Command, has ordered a policy overview which, among other things, stresses the importance of getting India and Pakistan to stop viewing each other as enemies.

The damage the rivalry does in Afghanistan, however, is more than psychological. India's own foreign intelligence agency, the RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) is accused by Pakistanis of trying to fill the void in Afghanistan left by the ISI's withdrawal after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists attacks. Indian money, too — more than a billion dollars of it — has poured into Afghanistan.

This rivalry in Afghanistan should not be underestimated. A July 2008 suicide bombing at India's embassy in Kabul killed 58 people, and India's national security advisor, M K Narayanan, publicly fingered ISI.

Even without Coll's timely reminder of the big picture, it has been a busy two weeks on the Af-Pak diplomatic beat.

Neighboring states are making their interests felt. Russian pressure (and financial aid) last month led the impoverished Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan to order U.S. and other NATO forces out of its Manas air base, a vital lifeline in the supply chain for the Afghan war. The Kyrgyz move, made official last week by its parliament, hammered home Moscow's determination not to be ignored in its back yard.

On Friday, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta took time out from three-way talks with Pakistan in Washington to tell reporters he hoped future rounds might include Iran, calling Tehran "an important regional player." Iran has spent some $300 million on reconstruction projects in Afghanistan in recent years, too, mostly centered in the Farsi speaking region of Herat.

The scene shifted to Beijing on Saturday, where Deputy Assistant U.S. Secretary of Defense David Sedney asked about the possibility of China providing alternative access — which could mean anything from rail lines to an airbase — to help in the fight against the Taliban.

Increasingly, then, India, China, Russia and Iran want their say on the future of Afghanistan. And after a seven-year stalemate, each of these players has particular reasons to doubt that the United States can pull a rabbit out of Herat.

Read more on Afghanistan and Pakistan:

Opinion: Taliban posed to "take" Pakistan 

Afghanistan troop surge costly

Obama/Nixon: History holds lessons for the new president

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Steve Coll is president of the New America Foundation, not the Center for American Progress.