Wednesday, August 07, 2013

India is not responsible for the mess in Afghanistan

Tempers in India have been ruffled by some recent writings associated with the Brookings Institution which suggest that the road to peace in Afghanistan goes via Kashmir.
The director of the institution's intelligence project, Bruce Riedel's 2013 book Avoiding Armageddon, has said that Pakistan has created its jihadist infrastructure to fight India directly in Kashmir and indirectly in Afghanistan. Indian "flexibility" in Kashmir was therefore, the key to game change in South Asia.
Then there was the essay by our own William Dalrymple, written for the Brookings Institution, where he stated: "The hostility between India and Pakistan lies at the heart of the current war in Afghanistan."

Shifting blame: President Barack Obama meets Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, left, and former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari
Shifting blame: President Barack Obama meets Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, left, and former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari 

Stephen Cohen, the Brookings premier South Asia expert has taken up the India-Pakistan issue in his recent book Shooting for a Century, but takes a different tack which is not germane to this argument.
With retreat staring it in the face, the US is being offered various options by analysts and scholars. The India-Pakistan one seems convenient, but it misses its target by a mile. There is no special India-Pakistan rivalry in Afghanistan. There may be one imagined by Islamabad, but the reality is that geography prevents New Delhi from any substantive involvement in Afghan affairs.
That is why, the Indian effort which was mainly related to infrastructure and social development in the past decade was an adjunct to that of the US and ISAF's security operation, and with that security being withdrawn, India is confronted by a major dilemma.
As a friend of Afghanistan and a strategic partner of its government, New Delhi remains committed to the economic and social development of the Afghan state. But that does not mean that, for the sake of keeping the US happy, it can cheerfully endorse its emerging policy of striking a deal with the Taliban, through the dubious instrumentality of the Pakistan military.
Beginning with the Bonn and Berlin conferences of 2001 and 2004 respectively, we were told that the mission of the western forces was to transform Afghanistan. The state would have a new constitution, an elected government and its policies would be in line with the best practices of democratic countries of the west.


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has held multiple meetings with Pakistan's army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani this year
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has held multiple meetings with Pakistan's army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani this year

In 2013, the democratic project is being blithely abandoned. The west says it needs to withdraw, and must do so in good order. Therefore it has changed its order of priorities - placing the need to leave Afghanistan in 2014 as number one. To that end, it is willing to sup with the Taliban devil, and forget Pakistan's betrayal. And it wants the rest of the world to applaud the move.
The problem for India is that the west's new road to Kabul is via Islamabad. The Doha talks have been facilitated by Pakistan, as indicated by the numerous meetings US Secretary of State John Kerry and the special representative for Afghanistan James Dobbins have had with Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani this year.
Pakistan, as we know, virtually created the Taliban and the outfit has served as its proxy in maintaining its influence on Afghanistan. The Taliban of today is even more amenable to manipulation by Islamabad than it was before.
It is important to be familiar with a bit of history. Pakistan did not have much influence in Afghanistan till the rise of the Taliban.
Actually relations between the two countries have been quite indifferent, to use a polite word, since the creation of Pakistan.
Conventional wisdom assumed that it was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which triggered Islamabad's support to the mujahideen; the reality is that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was supporting Afghan Islamists against Kabul well before that event.
Pakistan's Afghan policy, dictated as much by attitudes in Kabul, has never really been related to India. Following the defeat of the Russians, the Pakistanis had a free hand in Afghanistan. And what a mess of it they made.
The end result was the rise of the medieval Islamic Emirate of Mullah Omar and the homicidal al Qaeda.


Pakistan bears a great deal of responsibility for what Afghanistan has gone through in the last two decades. Now the US, once again, wants to hand over its destiny to Islamabad. Considering the blood and treasure that Washington has already expended in the last decade, this is foolhardiness of a high order. But that is imperial hubris for you.
Till the Soviet invasion, Indian interests in Afghanistan were essentially those of a friendly near neighbour. But following the invasion and the American-led jihad, things changed.
Designated as the lead player in that jihad, Pakistan saw it as an opportunity to get its own back on India. Parts of Afghanistan under mujahideen control were used to locate training camps for terrorists. Besides a concern for the fate of the Afghan people, New Delhi worries that with Pakistan in the driver's seat, Afghanistan will once again become a training ground for terrorists.


Even so, New Delhi is unlikely to play the spoiler. The ball is really in the American court and it remains to be seen just how they will pick up the one that the Taliban have dropped in Doha. In the end, what will matter is the leadership in Kabul and whether it can keep its nerve against the psychological games being played by its mentors - the US and EU - as well as the Taliban.
The Afghan National Security Forces appear to have the will to fight, and if they are supported they can give the Taliban a run for their money. The responsibility for the future lies firmly with the US and EU, who messed up the war and now seem to be determined to mess up the peace efforts as well.
No amount of analytical jugglery can shift the onus to countries like India, whose role in Afghanistan may be important, but is still secondary.
What India and other countries leery of the Taliban need to do, is to push the US and the EU to adopt a policy that will benefit Afghanistan in the long run, rather than be tailored for their immediate need to exit.
Mail Today July 22, 2013

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