Just days before the much-hyped visit of ISI chief, Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, to Kabul on Saturday, Indian Ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, met Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanekzai, the deputy chief of Taliban’s Political Office, in Doha “at the request of the latter.” Stanekzai’s meeting with the Indian envoy was described as the Taliban’s first-ever diplomatic engagement with any foreign official after their ascent to power in Kabul. With the same force, General Faiz’s visit was publicised as the first visit of any foreign official to Kabul after the fall of the city to the Taliban. Both events set the ball of the first-ever geopolitical struggle of supremacy rolling in post-Taliban Afghanistan. We may expect several more current and cross-currents from global and regional powers in the country, which is aptly being described as the roundabout of Central Asia, South Asia and West Asia. When the Taliban took over power in Afghanistan, Pakistan over-actively celebrated it-ostensibly for two reasons i.e. the rampant support for the group in the country’s power corridors and the extremist religious circles and the Indian factor. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid not only said that India was “in a state of mourning’ but even went to the extent of ‘crediting the Pakistani nation and its institutions’ for New Delhi’s defeat in Afghanistan.” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry was more blatant in asking India to “stay away from Afghanistan.” Observers even saw the subsequent test-fire of the Fatah (conquer) missile by Pakistan as a fire-shot towards India while the federal cabinet asserted, “India would no more be able to use Afghanistan’s soil against Pakistan.” No doubt, Pakistan has genuine stakes in Afghanistan. The closer geographic, religious, cultural and ethnic proximity has tied the two nations in such intertwined bonds that while both have a common interest in prosperity, none can escape the negative impact of the other’s agony. This fact binds them in such a stronger relationship that despite mutual resentments and intermittent blame games, none can overlook the importance of the other. Neither Pakistan nor India will be able to make Afghanistan a battlefield of their rivalries for long. However, the Indian factor has given a negative dimension to this equation. Pakistan has been alleging that India is using Afghanistan’s soil to foment TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) and Baloch militancy on its soil. For its part, Afghanistan has denied the charge and counterclaimed that Islamabad has been supporting the Afghan Taliban. Both claims might have a degree of truth as the militancy has been thriving on both sides of the border. The past several decades have proved that Afghans are after all Afghans. Pakistan and India will both be deceiving themselves if any of them think that it will be able to edge the other out of that country. As for Pakistan, the bitter memories of the previous term of Taliban in office have not yet faded out. Even after the facilitating formation of the Taliban group and its reach to the throne of Kabul in 1996, the group, like its predecessor government of Gulbadin Hekmatyar, forged a stronger relationship with India. It also incurred an exchange of fire with the Pakistan Army at three border points of Qamardin Karez in Balochistan, Angoor Adda in the former Kurram Agency and Torkham in Khyber Agency. Bilateral relations would have seen further depths of bitterness hadn’t the Taliban come under the attack of the US and NATO in 2001. This time, Pakistanis appear to be attaching rather higher expectations with the Taliban. While the government in Islamabad is issuing irresponsible statements about the Taliban’s victory and “India’s defeat” in Afghanistan, the country’s mainstream and social media are boastfully celebrating the Taliban’s victory and the US’s defeat. Those watching the flow of events in the Afghan capital have, at the very outset, been predicting a turnaround in the Taliban’s positions on the India-Pakistan equation. “Afghanistan should not be dragged in the internal fight of India and Pakistan,” Stanekzai was quoted by world media last week. He categorically stated that they “will not allow India and Pakistan to play out their rivalry in Afghanistan.” Describing India as an important country, Stanekzai said the Taliban would forge “cultural, political, economic and trade relations” with New Delhi. One may play down Stanekzai’s statement as he has since long been pro-India among the Afghan and Taliban leaders but even Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman of Taliban’s Political Office, has wished to open a “new chapter” in relations with India. “India is welcome to complete its reconstruction and infrastructure projects in Afghanistan,” Shaheen said in a statement last week. Not only India but even the Taliban have sent discouraging signals to Pakistan on two other issues of vital interest. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, gave a clear-cut message to Islamabad when categorically stated the previous day that the “issue of TTP is one of Pakistan, not of Afghanistan,” asking the latter to “take it up” itself. Mujahid also opposed the border fencing by Pakistan saying that “Afghans are unhappy” over it and “oppose it.” Of course, Pakistan also enjoys strong pockets of support among the Taliban, who have vital stakes in stronger economic and strategic partnerships with Islamabad. India also has witnessed that while the Afghan people and political parties may welcome its economic, trade and cultural overtures, many among them are opposed to using their country’s soil against any third country. Both Pakistan and India will have to remember that while both have a support base in Afghanistan, none will be able-for long-to make the country a battlefield of their mutual rivalries. Now that geopolitics is giving space to geo-economics in world politics, the two mightier South Asian neighbours also have to view the changing realities in the region with open eyes. Even if they find political hindrances to such positivity at the bilateral level, they can make Afghanistan a test case to gear themselves up to changing geopolitics from the Eurasian heartland to Southeast Asia in the coming decades. The writer is an independent freelance journalist based in Islamabad.