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

The Americans consciously kept India out of the major international conferences held to plan for the future of Afghanistan. Washington did this primarily on account of Pakistan, as Indian inclusion in those jamborees could raise the pulse rate of Islamabad. This, in turn, could have jeopardised the United States’ already combative collaboration with the country.

Pakistan had been raising constant objections about the rising Indian footprint in the Afghan theatre. They pointed at the number of consulates India had opened right up to the provinces bordering with Pakistan. Islamabad also charges India for covert action from an Afghan launch pad aimed at Pakistan’s rebellious Baluchistan province.

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India is also in the process of correcting its earlier exclusive dependence on the Northern Alliance for exercising its leverage in Afghanistan. This meant that the majority Pashtuns were inimical towards Indian influences amongst them. The country has now opened some channels with the Pashtun leadership on account of its unalloyed backing of President Hamid Karzai.

New Delhi needs to quickly begin thinking about ways and means of creating a strong regional bond of goodwill that could carry weight of Indias national interest.

Afghan intelligentsia is quite enthralled by India’s “soft power” in the country. The humanitarian projects in Afghanistan—not just of the big-ticket projects like the Zaranj-Delaram road, but also the smaller swift impact projects—have left the people applauding. It had even triggered a U.S. desire that India launch a provincial reconstruction team under the former’s aegis so that the Western alliance could gain some of the goodwill that is India’s preserve.

Nevertheless, considering the scenario in strategic terms, India’s biggest hindrance in Afghanistan is its lack of easy access. Under American pressure, the country had down-scaled its engagement with Tehran to such an extent that the latter was no longer a committed friend who could support New Delhi’s efforts at keeping any Pakistan-instigated threat from Afghanistan at a benign level.

Post 2014, this could well become an Achilles’ heel ready for exploitation. And this one inability could affect India’s outreach to the central Asian countries. New Delhi needs to quickly begin thinking about ways and means of creating a strong regional bond of goodwill that could carry weight of India’s national interest.

India also needs to impress upon the American interlocutors that they should not leave Afghanistan in a state that does not fulfill their original strategic objective of having a regime in Kabul that is strong enough to withstand the pressures of having volatile immediate neighbours. This regime should not get suborned once again by an assertive Islamabad seeking to use its own “strategic assets”—the Islamist terrorists.

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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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