Is Afghanistan ready? – Global Public Square - CNN.com Blogs Editor's Note: Shashi Tharoor, a former Indian Minister of State for External Affairs and UN Under-Secretary General, is a member of Indiaâ€™s parliament and the author of a dozen books, including India: From Midnight to the Millennium and Nehru: the Invention of India. For more from Tharoor, visit Project Syndicate's website, or check it out on Facebook and Twitter. By Shashi Tharoor NEW DELHI â€“ U.S. President Barack Obamaâ€™s announcement of the start of American troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, and his administrationâ€™s increasing emphasis on reconciliation with the Taliban, have been studied attentively in one capital that has a large stake in the outcome â€“ New Delhi. India has no troops in Afghanistan, but it has invested roughly $1.5 billion to help reconstruct the country, with projects ranging from maternity hospitals to Kabulâ€™s electricity grid. During his visit to Afghanistan in May, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced additional assistance of $500 million, over and above Indiaâ€™s existing commitments. This is by far Indiaâ€™s largest foreign-aid program, because Afghanistan â€“ separated from India only by its hostile neighbor Pakistan â€“ remains a country of vital strategic significance for India. So, what does the looming U.S. withdrawal mean for Indiaâ€™s role in Afghanistan? India has largely focused its aid efforts on building institutional capacity and developing human resources, so that Afghans can stand on their own feet before long. One ongoing project is the construction of a new parliament building in Kabul, a symbol of Indiaâ€™s desire to see representative institutions flourish. But it is no secret that India does not believe that Afghanistan is ready to dispense with the foreign forces that have been shoring up domestic peace. India is not a member of the United States-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a largely NATO operation to which it was not invited to contribute, given Pakistani sensitivities about a possible Indian military presence in Afghanistan. But India regards the foreign military presence as indispensable to promoting political stability and economic reconstruction. Without the security provided by a serious troop presence, the kind of development projects in which India is engaged would become impossible. No one in Indiaâ€™s government really expects U.S. forces to disappear overnight from Afghanistan, despite the elimination of Osama bin Laden. The plan is to withdraw only 10,000 U.S. troops by yearâ€™s end. Later, when winter sets in (traditionally the season when military activity declines), America will withdraw another 5,000. But Obama says that he intends to bring the 30,000 â€œsurgeâ€ troops back home by next summer, after the Afghan snows melt and the U.S. election season starts heating up. Even if he does (a decision that surely will have to take into account realities on the ground), 68,000 U.S. troops would remain â€“ twice the number deployed in Afghanistan when he became President. By 2014, the U.S. intends to reduce its operational presence to a role largely confined to supporting Afghan forces. Even that does not imply full withdrawal. Bases are being fortified to house U.S. forces beyond that date. Read: Navigating the road to riches. Several NATO allies hope to be home by then, but a residual ISAF seems very likely. After all, the rationale for the original US intervention was to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for the next Bin Laden. Indications are that the U.S. will maintain about 20,000 troops in Afghanistan, even in the most modest scenario. Indians have every reason to be relieved. An Afghanistan without ISAF will be prey to the machinations of Pakistanâ€™s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which created, trained, financed, and directed the Afghan Taliban in the 1990â€™s. This would be a proven security threat to India: the Taliban regime of the day, functioning as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ISI, was complicit in the hijacking of an Indian airliner in 1999. That incident resulted in the release (in Kandahar) of three diehard Pakistani terrorists from Indian custody, one of whom then kidnapped and killed the American reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. As a result, Americaâ€™s interest in reconciliation with the Taliban is viewed with concern in India. After long rejecting this approach (on the reasonable grounds that there can be no such thing as a good terrorist), India has come around to accepting dialogue with those Taliban elements that are prepared to renounce violence. Read: Learning from crisis. Obama speaks of dealing with Taliban members who agree to break with Al Qaeda and abide by the Afghan Constitution. But India is wary of those who, under Pakistani tutelage, might pretend to be reborn constitutionalists, but seize the first opportunity after a US withdrawal to devour the regime that compromises with them. This is why India stresses the importance of improving the Afghan governmentâ€™s capacity to fight and overcome terrorism. Without this capacity, the government will again be vulnerable to an extremist takeover. The role of Pakistan â€“ whose over-ambitious military has made no secret of its desire to control the government in Kabul in order to gain â€œstrategic depthâ€ â€“ remains of serious concern, particularly given Chinaâ€™s recent progress in making Pakistan its own zone of â€œstrategic depth,â€ with access from the Karakoram Mountains to the Arabian Sea. Read: India gives. India shares Americaâ€™s commitment to what Obama described last December as the â€œlong-term security and development of the Afghan people.â€ But, for India, any process of reconciliation should be Afghan-led, inclusive, and transparent. India fully supports the â€œred linesâ€ affirming Afghan leadership and ownership of the negotiating process laid down by President Hamid Karzaiâ€™s government in its London and Kabul communiquÃ©s, and believes that his government should not be forced to cross them. The bottom line for India remains the Afghan peopleâ€™s right to decide their own destiny. It views the international communityâ€™s role as being to help Afghans accomplish that. And it doesnâ€™t believe that Afghanistan is ready for the world to give up on it yet.