Geopolitics

End game in Afghanistan
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Issue Courtesy: Aakrosh | Date : 11 Nov , 2011

A fact that stands out in all this is the recognition in New Delhi’s South Block that the U.S. and allied military operations have outlived their utility. Manmohan Singh’s call for the time of “reconciliation” given out while being in Kabul is an acknowledgement that every insurgency requires a political solution to complement the military actions.

The Wikileaks diplomatic cables show that the U.S., at least in 2005–2006, desired that India get wedded with its military coalition by providing humanitarian assistance under its aegis. India was then having the problem of securing its personnel working on these projects. So the country was amenable to Washington’s plan.

But Pakistan was the United States’ preferred choice between the two as it provided a staging post for its supply trains, crucial for its troops on the ground across the Durand Line. It also needed Islamabad’s help to monitor the Af-Pak border so that the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, fleeing from the Western troops, did not find sanctuary in Pakistan.

Pakistans army and its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence played a duplicitous game. They allowed most of the Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership to find sanctuary within the confines of Pakistans borders.

While President Pervez Musharraf had assured the American envoys in the wake of 9/11 that Pakistan was willing to be a frontline state in this war too, as it as in the 1980s against the Russian forces, Pakistan’s army and its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence played a duplicitous game. They allowed most of the Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership to find sanctuary within the confines of Pakistan’s borders.

While the U.S. understood Islamabad’s strategic hedging, it was initially powerless to do much about this short of expanding the war into Pakistan. Eventually, of course, it pressed a few nerves of the country’s civilian and military leadership and was able to target some of the Islamist leadership.

India, at that time, was fully supportive of U.S. leadership. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government was also not averse to militarily supporting the Western coalition. But this proposition was quickly scotched by the opposition parties in and outside parliament.

India’s quest at that time was to limit Pakistan’s ability to use Afghanistan for “strategic depth.” Many of the anti-India terrorists were connected with groups having training camps in Afghanistan and were establishing connections with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The IC 814 hijacking in December 1999, which led to the release of three leaders of terrorism to Taliban in Kandahar, had underlined that fact. India wanted these activities to be stopped.

Editor’s Pick

These issues still remain on the Indian agenda of desirables.

Intent

India had always shown the intent to be involved in Afghanistan. The country had a cordial relationship with the last monarch of the country, Mohammad Daud. Even after the rebellion against him succeeded, led by the socialist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan in 1978, and the next year, when the Soviet army invaded, ostensibly to prop up the socialist regime, India remained engaged.

Between 1979 and 1989, till the Soviets returned home, India executed many project-connected public works. New Delhi was castigated by various countries aligned with the U.S. for not condemning the Russian invasion; the Indian ambassador then posted in Moscow, Lakhan Mehrotra, recalled that the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev visited India in early years of the incursion to get India’s endorsement but failed because a strong-willed prime minister, Indira Gandhi, held back.

The departure of the Russians from the scene in Afghanistan was followed by a break out of internecine battles between the various warlords, some enjoying the support of Pakistan. India willy-nilly had to take a backseat. But when the dust began settling down and Pakistan succeeded in foisting a marginally better organised Pashtun regime at Kabul and Kandahar (southern Afghanistan) of the Taliban, India got involved in securing the interest of the Tajik and Uzbek ethnic minorities in the country, bound together in a Northern Alliance.

Not till 9/11 did the U.S. appreciate the Indian viewpoint. So when Washington eventually made the connection between Afghan terrorism of the Taliban and al-Qaeda with Pakistans stratagem of asymmetric warfare, instability in South Asia came full circle.

This Northern Alliance was bolstered with Indian arms and, sometimes, Indian military advisers, including air force pilots. In this venture, New Delhi was supported by the postcommunist Moscow and Tehran. This is the same alliance that helped the U.S. armed forces and the CIA paramilitary to gain ground in the initial days of the American invasion post 9/11, even in the absence of their most celebrated commander, Ahmed Shah Massoud. Massoud was killed the day before 9/11 by al-Qaeda fidayeens.

Through the 1990s, India showed the linkage between Afghan mujaheedins and the Islamist violence in Kashmir under the control of Pakistan government’s agencies. Not till 9/11 did the U.S. appreciate the Indian viewpoint. So when Washington eventually made the connection between Afghan terrorism of the Taliban and al-Qaeda with Pakistan’s stratagem of asymmetric warfare, instability in South Asia came full circle.

The fact that India intends to break this cycle of violence in South Asia is evident in its size of aid to the Karzai government. The $2 billion aid package reflects New Delhi’s intention to get to the top of the situation. In the same vein, the country’s opposition to the U.S. and its Western allies’ desire to cut a deal with the Taliban and run is implicit in much of what India does these days.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Pinaki Bhattacharya

Pinaki Bhattacharya, writes on Indian strategic security issues. He is currently working as a defence correspondent for a leading newspaper published from New Delhi.

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