India has the kind of soft power among Afghans that the U.S. can only dream of

Discussion in 'Subcontinent & Central Asia' started by Singh, Jun 16, 2012.

  1. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

    Feb 23, 2009
    Likes Received:
    India key to US's Afghan Success


    With two important diplomatic victories last month, the Obama administration has laid the groundwork for the final chapters of the Afghan war. With a secret overnight flight to Kabul on May 1, U.S. President Barack Obama sealed an Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement (ESPA) with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, setting the terms for the United States to retain a robust counterterrorism force to combat the remnants of al-Qaeda and provide a modest security blanket for the Afghan government beyond 2014. Weeks later, at the NATO summit in Chicago, Obama rallied war-fatigued European allies to endorse his framework for an orderly transfer of power to the Afghan government and secure long term pledges of aid.

    These diplomatic successes were crucial components of the administration’s withdrawal strategy, but they offer little immediate relief to the war fighter in Afghanistan struggling to subdue a persistent insurgency. Despite some welcome news on the reduction of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, Washington’s leverage over the Taliban – which pulled out of peace talks months ago – is in terminal decline. The shocking admission by the chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees last month that the Taliban is stronger today than it was before the U.S. “surge” of forces in 2009 is a reminder that tactical victories can be swallowed whole by an unsound strategy. And the administration can’t seem to shake lingering doubts about the survivability of the Afghan government after the U.S. withdrawal. Should the Obama administration be crafting a Plan B?

    Plan A, of course, was Pakistan. From the outset of the Afghan invasion, the United States relied on Islamabad to provide critical intelligence and logistical support. Unfortunately, so did the Taliban. Pakistan’s widely-recognized “double game” was again highlighted in the Pentagon’s most recent six month progress report, which concluded a decade on, “the Taliban-led insurgency and its al-Qaeda affiliates still operate with impunity from sanctuaries in Pakistan.” Once seen as critical to a peaceful solution in Afghanistan, few doubt Pakistan is now a tremendous obstacle.

    Yet with flagging political support for the war and a receding footprint in the region, the U.S. has few options but to cultivate regional partnerships. China is concerned with access to Afghanistan’s natural resources, and little else. U.S. offers of closer collaboration in Afghanistan have been repeatedly rebuffed by Beijing. Russia is an equally problematic partner. While Moscow shares Washington’s concerns over militant Islamists and provides the coalition air and rail routes into Afghanistan, it has oscillated between fiercely opposing a long term U.S. military presence in the country and warning Washington about the consequences of a precipitous withdrawal. Iran, for its part, was once a staunch opponent of the Taliban, but reversed roles after the U.S. invasion, providing arms to the militant group and inciting anti-American sentiment across Afghanistan.

    That leaves India. Since 2001, Washington and New Delhi have enjoyed a fundamental convergence of interests in Afghanistan; namely, combating Islamist extremism and supporting democratic governance in Kabul. India vocally welcomed the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban and was the first to warn against any precipitous withdrawal. Its proven track record of opposing the Taliban predates the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, and in the last decade New Delhi has given nearly two billion dollars in aid to the fledgling democracy. More importantly, India draws from a deep well of “soft power” in Afghanistan. It regularly polls among the countries most popular with Afghans, and last year reached an accord with Kabul to train Afghan army and police officers. India built the Afghan parliament building and runs the biggest children’s hospital in the country’s capital.

    Of course, Indo-U.S. cooperation in Afghanistan isn’t a novel idea. New Delhi and Washington already have joint initiatives in place on capacity building, women’s empowerment, and agriculture. Afghanistan is a frequent topic at the panoply of bilateral dialogues held in Washington and New Delhi every year. Nor will greater collaboration with India serve as a cure-all for Afghanistan’s myriad challenges. India’s utility is ultimately limited by its geographic proximity to Afghanistan (or lack thereof). Save for diplomatic security forces, India has no military presence in Afghanistan. But the greatest challenge undoubtedly remains Pakistan, whose support to the Taliban is in part based on an inflated fear of Indian encirclement. This renders any Indian military presence in Afghanistan particularly problematic.Pakistan holds the geographic and strategic trump cards in Afghanistan and has demonstrated a willingness to use them, as evidenced by the massive attack on the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan linked to Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency in 2008. Islamabad’s proxies are likely to show even less restraint when the coalition withdraws.

    Instead, Washington and New Delhi should seek to influence Afghanistan’s post-2014 trajectory by outlining a common set of objectives and “red lines” for the Afghan government. As two of the country’s largest donors, they should jointly wield their considerable financial and political clout to ensure Kabul upholds the Afghan constitution and protections on women and minorities, conducts free and fair elections and, above all, prevents its territory from being used a base by militants. India in particular has room to more aggressively wield its cultural and political influence in Afghanistan to promote liberal ideas and progressive leaders in education, the media, and politics.

    The two should then focus their joint efforts on Pakistan.Ironically, India and Pakistan share some fundamental interests in the region: neither benefits from chaos and instability in Afghanistan (contrary to the belief of some misguided Pakistani strategists), and both could reap tremendous benefits from Afghanistan evolving into a stable economic and energy bridge to Central Asia. Those shared interests were on display on May 23, when India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan joined hands with Turkmenistan to ink an agreement on the TAPI natural gas pipeline. Leveraging the broader thaw in Indo-Pakistan ties over the past year, the U.S. and India must work in tandem to unravel Islamabad’s encirclement complex and expose the folly of its zero-sum approach to Afghanistan. The creation of an India-Pakistan (or U.S.-India-Pakistan) dialogue on Afghanistan could provide a forum to dispel misconceptions about each other’s intentions in Afghanistan, if Islamabad proves willing.

    In the event these efforts fail to alter Islamabad’s calculus or stem the tide of the Taliban insurgency, the U.S. and India must prepare to protect their respective and in many cases overlapping allies and investments in Afghanistan. In this eventuality, coordinating financial, political, and military assistance to anti-Taliban elements may be a necessity for both countries, and could preclude India from turning to Iran to promote its interests in Afghanistan, as it did in the 1990s. While unpalatable, such contingency planning requires effective coordination before any rapid deterioration in the Afghan security situation.

    The logic is clear. India enjoys a degree of “soft power” in Afghanistan and a natural affinity among the Afghan people that the United States could only dream of. For years to come, the United States will retain a “hard power” military capability in Afghanistan that’s denied to India by geography and Pakistani sensitivities. If they hope to secure their vital interests in Afghanistan and aid that country’s uphill struggle to survive as a modern nation-state, India and the U.S. will have to harness their respective strengths for a new kind of strategic collaboration.

    India Key to U.S. Afghan Success — — Readability
    mki and ejazr like this.
  3. sob

    sob Moderator Moderator

    May 4, 2009
    Likes Received:
    New Delhi
    Excellent article, but this IMO is a very important fact that both the US and India have to be prepared and the work should begin now.

    The Iran angle, will come to the fore and India has been keeping channels open with the Iran. Here the US will have to scale back a little and give India more elbow room, because if Pakistan will continue to be the source of instability then Iran is the only option through which India could work on Afganistan. Tajikistan is another option, but logistically Iran has many obvious advantages which cannot be ignored.
  4. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

    Oct 8, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Hyderabad and Sydney
    Some people might have seen this earlier, but here is an MEA documentary on Indo-Afghan relations and what India is doing there.
    Notice the locals on what they say about India.

    The fact remains that India has a dispropotionatly higher good will as compared to its aid and developmental efforts. Also in part IMO, because India can deliver a culturally more relevant development framework than EU or US.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 10, 2015
    Zebra likes this.
  5. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

    Apr 17, 2009
    Likes Received:
    While there is no doubt that Indians are rated high in Afghanistan, but I don't go much for MEA stuff.

    Though this documentary was good.

    One should not forget the excellent work done by individuals like Bunker Roy and his Barefoot College that has empowered villagers, especially women, to undertake engineering marvels like construction of buildings, solar electricity, bore holes for tube wells and so on.

    Or the excellent work done by GREF to build the Zaranj-Delaram highway.

    Though I miss the News Documentaries that used to be played in cinema halls before the actual film was screened.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2012
    Nagraj likes this.
  6. civfanatic

    civfanatic Retired Moderator

    Sep 8, 2009
    Likes Received:
    What a joke, we have no real soft power in that region. High ratings in public polls are the result of successful foreign policy on India's part, not "soft power". The U.S. could have easily done the same if it wasn't for their military deployment in Afghanistan. The only countries that have the potential for real soft power in Afghanistan are Iran and Saudi Arabia, and of the two it seems that Iran is silently but surely gaining prominence over the Wahhabis.

Share This Page