It is becoming clear that Afghanistan is increasingly an integral part of South Asia. It may not feature in the “official” categorisation of South Asian states (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka), but it impacts the two most important states of the region, Pakistan and India. There is no question of sorting out Pakistan and India’s issues with each other without the country featuring somehow in the discussion. The Cold War in Afghanistan and the US War on Terror have made sure of that.

This is an odd question of geographical re-categorisation. Since Afghanistan has been made part of the SAARC organisation, and the US mashes up security policy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, should journalists and academics not study the country as a South Asian one?

Realistically, Afghan way of dress and social interaction can only be described as being dominantly Afghan rather than anything else. Afghans are their own category and probably won’t feel compelled to associate strongly with such groupings. Though the thrust of culture may be Central Asian, its future survival will always be tied to South Asia.

Traditionally, Afghanistan is considered Central Asian, then Middle Eastern, then South Asian. The Middle Eastern categorisation makes little sense and is probably the result of Western ignorance. Additionally Afghanistan’s Persian link, to Iran and beyond, has no real impact on the Middle East, and Central Asian and South Asian cultural practices and ethnic links dominate. The dominant languages are Persian, Pashtu, Uzbeki and Turkmen. In 1991, the Central Asian states of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (along with Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan farther north) became independent states with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Afghanistan was never a part of the Soviet States and thus has a divergent history from Central Asian states.

Additionally, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan share borders with Afghanistan that collectively span more than 2,000 kilometers (about 1,240 miles). The Afghan border with Tajikistan, along the eastern edge of Afghanistan, makes up more than half of that distance. This border is mountainous and poorly demarcated, and the topography of Afghanistan’s frontiers with Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan is largely deserted. The Durand Line in contrast has been must more important and controversial as the ribbon that divided a common ethnicity. The sheer resistance on the part of Afghans to truly accept the Durand line also points to the fact that either northern Pakistani populations can be considered “Central Asian” (which is a bit of a stretch), or that these Afghan and Pashtun communities are truly South Asian (a shorter stretch). This is not too much of a reclassification. The region has such diversity in it already, that adding more geographical and ethnic diversity to the mix does not feel out of place and there is a history of pre-colonial empires in Afghanistan that have stretch into the sub-continent, interacted with local Muslim rulers (whether it was fighting with them, or allying with them).

The point of this discussion about where to fit Afghanistan is to formally integrate Afghanistan into the way we think about South Asian security so that policy routes can be better anticipated. There has been widespread discomposure in Pakistan over the fact that India is becoming a major security and trading partner with Afghanistan, even though Pakistan has been hosting refugees and stands as America’s punching bag to distract the US from its own failures in Afghanistan. It is not enough to study the South Asia as one unit, academically or otherwise. Security is Pakistan’s major concern, and most scholarship on South Asian international relations has to do with the problem of security. This is the first place where researchers must do away with distinctions, and fully incorporate Afghanistan into their research. We will soon come to find, that even the Kashmir issue can’t be discussed without acknowledging the US-India and India-Afghan nexus that encircles Pakistan and reduces its foreign policy options.

This may seem just an academic discussion, but in the real world, may policy makers have come to realise that labels matter. If Afghanistan is South Asian, the corollary is that it is geographically and culturally more closely associated with Pakistan. If it is Central Asian, it is almost a different species we don’t really know or understand. We need Afghanistan to feel the historic association. We need to clarify that Indian proliferation in the country will only antagonise communities in Pakistan that have centuries of shared history. India opens the Afghan people to a future of religious conflict with a power that many will see as the Indian coloniser, rather than a benevolent force, as the current Afghan current government is trying to portray. The invasion is happening without India having to fire a shot, aided by capitalism and effective propaganda against Pakistan.

Pakistan opens Afghanistan to the CPEC and to China, leading it back to Central Asian warmth. India only promises extraction and trade deficits. Afghanistan should learn from Pakistan’s mistake with the US, and think of its territorial integrity before it give into Indian plans. Afghanistan’s future is South Asian, as it is this neighbourhood and its international allegiances that most impact the country and its survival.