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India’s Compulsion

July 18, 2010

Barack Obama has declared that the US and NATO forces will start withdrawing from Afghanistan in July of 2011. While it is true that it will be sometime before the west manages to withdraw completely from Afghanistan, remember, the US forces are still stationed in Iraq, yet even a token withdrawal will be a morale booster for the Pakistan sponsored Taliban.

The west may not have lost the plot completely in Afghanistan but the departure of Gen McChrystal and the slow progress in Helmand has meant that the US is finding it difficult to maneuver in this hostile country. The counter insurgency (COIN) force proposed has little teeth and west’s ability to trust locals armed with weapons has taken a blow when five British soldiers were killed by a renegade rebel among the ranks who went on a crazy shooting spree. The hunt for the 21 year old is still on.

In such a back drop Indian Home Minister and then the Foreign Minister visited Islamabad. The purpose of their visit was two fold. One was to pressurize Pakistan to bring to book rogue elements on the rolls of the ISI, men like Hafiz Saeed, Lakhvi, Zarar Shah and others. The Americans have cooperated with India in giving complete access to David Coleman Hadley and what this LeT-ISI man had to say was revealing. An uncomfortable Islamabad tried to wriggle out of the situation. The more pertinent reason for the visit of Indian foreign minister was to cool down the temperature between the two nations. Things went smoothly till Shah Mehmud Qureshi decided to go ballistic the day after the talks formally ended and when Indian FM Krishna had still not exited Pakistan. Pakistan realized that any ‘normalization’ of relationship will mean increased pressure from Washington to start offensive in the tribal regions of Waziristan. Pakistan does not want to unleash any offensive against a force that they have been nurturing since long, and one that they see as a strategic asset to be used once the west withdraws from Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s reluctance to act against the various factions of the Taliban including the TTP, Haqqanis, Hekmatyar and others is also because while on the one hand the west wants Pakistan to engage them militarily, on the other they want Pakistan to mediate between Taliban and the west. This gives mixed signals to Islamabad and they then refrain from acting against such regional warlords, and understandably so. The west must decide as to what their course of action will be – a hand of friendship to the Pashtun Taliban or a declaration of war against this force that ostensibly has close links with the al-Qaeda.

The Haqqanis have had talks mediated by the top echelons of Pakistan army in Kabul with Karzai and the west. Gen Kayani and Gen Pasha have been to Kabul more than once in the past few months.

India’s relation with Pashtun’s has been one of brotherhood and natural friendship, even love. Pashtun’s of North-West Frontier Province never accepted Pakistan. There has been a natural affinity and close ties that India has had traditionally with the Pashtuns. India treats the Pashtun’s as an extention of herself. Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and his son Wali Khan were treated shabbily by Pakistan and for decades rotted in Pakistani jails. It is unthinkable for Indian forces to raise their bayonets against their Pashtun brothers. For India to send troops to Afghanistan would have meant fighting the Pashtun’s. India will never do that.

It is true that the radical Taliban are mostly Pashtuns. Yes, the Pakistan army and the political leadership have played a dirty game when they radicalized a simple tribal people and gave them Wahhabi Islam. A peace loving, simple people who saw the whole of the sub-continent, from Bengal to Kabul as their home have been reduced to rabidly orthodox outfits that just does not jell with their traditional hospitable, loving nature where honor was what they lived and died for. Pakistan is also finding it difficult to get them around now. They have therefore pumped in Punjabi radical outfits which are an extension of the LeT to get their strategic objectives. The Pashtun’s have been disillusioned by the Punjabi dominated Pakistan army and the numerous attacks in various parts of Pakistan mirror their lack of patience. The Pashtun’s are slowly realizing that they are but pawns in the hands of the Pakistan army and the ISI which makes them do things they would not do otherwise, in the name of Islam. It must be recalled that almost 30% of Pakistan army is made up of Pashtuns. The increasing disillusionment among the Pashtun’s could spell disaster for the Pakistan army and for the nation that is Pakistan.

The Indian efforts will always be to try and build Afghanistan. India is constructing the Afghan parliament at the cost of millions of dollars. India has also extended scholarships to Afghan students both to study in Afghanistan and for some of them to come to India and study in Indian universities. Roads and bridges are being constructed from aid extended to Afghanistan. A total of more than $2 billion has been given to Afghanistan in the form of developmental aid. India will continue to extend all help to Afghanistan in their reconstruction efforts.

The question that flows automatically is – what will India do if Pakistan sponsored Taliban try and over-run Afghanistan post western withdrawal. India will again refrain from getting drawn directly into conflict with Pashtuns. We wish our Pashtun brothers well. They are being misguided and misled by Islamabad. However, India cannot afford to let Pakistan control Afghanistan. India will have no option but to give monitory and perhaps even military help to Tadjiks and Uzbeks to ensure that northern Afghanistan does not fall into the hands of Pakistan sponsored Taliban. The problem is that among the Tadjiks and Uzbeks there is no credible leadership. The demise of Tadjik Ahmed Shah Masud has left a void. Uzbek Abdul Rashid Dostum’s credibility is suspect, but he will be the best bet for India. With reluctance will India be forced to support men like Dostum who have unleashed atrocities on Afghans over the decades. This will not be a hostile act but one that India will have to take with much reluctance. Masud and Dostum did receive arms from India in the nineties. History may repeat itself if the west withdraws from Afghanistan a few years from now.

The sad part in this whole saga is that a people, a nation that has been traditionally close to India will again by the compulsions of circumstances be drawn apart. My hunch is that by the time the west evacuates from Afghanistan, so much would have happened that the Pashtuns would realize the sordid game plan of the Punjabi dominated Pakistan army and refuse to do their bidding. If there is a revolt in Pakistan army, the repercussions could be far reaching and would not limit to Pakistan alone. In the meantime, India tries to make Pakistan leadership understand the futility of harboring extremists of all hues and to stop radicalization of Pakistan society.  India wants a progressive, free and prosperous Pakistan. Radicalism has no place in any such society. The way Krishna-Qureshi talks went, I am afraid Pakistan refuses to understand what is good for them and for the region.

Update: The long standing demand of the Afghans for transit facilities through Pakistan to India have finally been granted. There is an urge among the Afghans to reach out to India, and this is mirrored in this agreement. As a sweetener to Pakistan, the US has announced a $7.5 billion aid package which includes two hydro-electric dams. The BBC has reported the transit agreement as follows:

On Sunday, Mrs Clinton helped broker an important trade agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which allows Afghan trucks to use a land route through Pakistan to carry goods to India.

This may seem as an innocuous concession, but the economic ramification for a resource starved Afghanistan are immense. They can now export fruits and handicraft and carpets to India and that will be precious resource for them. As for India, we would love to extend trade with our Afghan counterparts. They can get machine tools and goods of daily use cheaply and easily. I hope Pakistan honours its commitment.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. neel123 permalink
    July 18, 2010 10:17 pm

    It is not only India, but several other nations in the region that will go back to the pre 9/11 position of providing support to the Northern alliance in Afghanistan.

    In short, it will be back to square one !

    What will be interesting to see however, is how the US – Pakistan evolves in that situation …… it might expose the Americans and their real intention …. and provide some clarity with regard to the direction Indian policy towards the Americans should move !

    • sharma24 permalink*
      July 19, 2010 12:46 pm

      Yes, it will be back to square one. But there will be one difference – the US and India will perhaps come closer. People do not understand that the Indo-US relation is here to stay. In that the regional semantics might not be quite as they were pre 9/11. India will be the flag bearer of western interests in the region – an onerous task.

  2. sharma24 permalink*
    July 18, 2010 9:26 pm

    Thanks!!

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