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A new strategy for Afghanistan

The best bet for India is to use Trump’s interest in India, but re-crafting an India – US partnership that addresses India’s core concerns and possibly of Pakistan

By Maroof Raza

With US President Donald Trump’s first public articulation of his policy thrust for Afghanistan which has demanded more from Pakistan than either George W Bush or Barack Obama did in battling terror groups that are essentially Pakistan’s long cherished proxies   the key issue for us in India is: What’s in it for us? In his typically transactional manner, Trump in the same speech, asked India to plough back some of its trade profits with the US into Afghanistan.

Interestingly though, India is perhaps the only country that has sincerely made tangible commitments to the re-building of war-torn Afghanistan from its Parliament building to schools to hospitals, roads and dams. But that hasn’t got us anywhere in playing a role of consequence in the future settlement of Afghanistan. Sadly, many policy-makers in Washington (and even in New Delhi) still feel that Pakistan’s interests must be accommodated in that war-torn land. Bereft of financial resources to match India’s investments and goodwill, Pakistan’s military hawks have cultivated abundance of proxy Armies, especially the Taliban that now controls over 50 per cent of Afghanistan.

Pakistan is wedded to the idea that Afghanistan will provide it strategic depth against an Indian invasion, and this is now an article of faith for Pakistan’s Army, (No it is not. NH) even though many Pakistani scholars dismiss it as sheer paranoia. Thus, any Indian effort, to provide the Afghans military equipment and training of its forces, will be resisted and will only add to Pakistan’s anti-India hysteria of a two-front threat.

In fact, for years now, Pakistanis have complained that India has supported its Baloch rebels  with virtually no evidence  and some have even absurdly alleged that India was behind the December 16, 2014 attacks on the Army school in Peshawar. And to add to everyone’s dilemma, the Afghan Government(s) can’t seem to get their acts together: They have no financial system of any consequence and little governance. Here, India can certainly help Kabul to put systems in place.

Development aid apart, for India to remain in reckoning, India’s leadership needs to debate if it wishes to deploy troops in Afghanistan. If so, it must answer three questions that were apparently asked by the Army brass when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister.  First, under whose command will our troops serve there? A UN force is fine, but certainly not under a US commander. Second, who would pay for our expenses? And, third, is there an exit timeline?

Clearly, we cannot commit our troops forever as our Army is overstretched at home and our police is inadequately trained and equipped to battle terror or the Naxal menace. No answers were provided then and, perhaps, none are available even now. But the flip side is that all earlier developmental efforts by India  while the US was essentially blowing apart an already shattered land  didn’t get us a seat in the high table of powers deciding on Afghanistan’s future, in Chicago or in London. So, should we again kowtow to the US’ demands to keep doing more, and sit on the sidelines?

Or can India extract more for its efforts this time? While America’s patience with Pakistan may have run out, but as China is keen on a bigger role in Afghanistan  by extending the China Pakistan Economic Corridor Pakistan is only determined to expand its footprint in Afghanistan. It certainly doesn’t want India there. Also, Russia and Iran are keen to enter Afghanistan to stake claim to its apparent mineral wealth. Could New Delhi, therefore, adopt a transactional strategy with the US and Pakistan by avoiding troop deployments and getting cooperation from Pakistan, in return with tangible concessions on the India-Pakistan front?

This must include pro-active, verifiable measures by Pakistan to abandon the use of terrorism as a tool against India. The US will continue to need the logistics corridors via Pakistan to Afghanistan, and the many Pakistani friends, still active in Washington, would be glad if India keeps out. So, a better bet instead for India will be to use Trump’s continuing interest in India, but re-crafting an India-US partnership that addresses India’s core concerns and possibly of Pakistan. India could militarily stay out of Afghanistan, but only if Pakistan formally commits to abandon state support to the terror groups within Pakistan.

Comments of ‘Nisarul Haque’ in Barackets

The author is a retired Indian Army Officer.



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