India has limited Afghan options

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by ejazr, Jul 26, 2010.

  1. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

    Oct 8, 2009
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    Hyderabad and Sydney

    The Greeks have a saying that the past is the vista that lies ahead while the future lurks furtively. The improbable symbolism sums up the Indian perspective on the announcement by the Pakistani civilian leadership last Thursday to extend the term of army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani for another three years.

    Quite clearly, the Barack Obama administration is pleased with the work Kiani is doing and he is now assured of a term lasting until November 2013 - until the date Afghan President Hamid Karzai has penciled in for the foreign military occupation of his country to end.

    In the late 1950s, when General Ayub Khan got a similar extension, the geopolitics of the region were at a turning point. The United States pinned hopes on Ayub to be the PraetorianGuard of its Cold War regional strategies in Southwestern Asia and the Persian Gulf, and he did acquit himself.

    New Delhi senses that the Pakistani military has regained its pre-eminence in that country's political economy after a three-year interregnum, and that Kiani will now call the shots on Pakistan's ties with the US, India and Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. The US already acknowledges Kiani as its point person in Pakistan.

    No US dignitary visiting Islamabad will want to fail to meet with him, lest it detract from the seriousness of their mission. The US would dearly want its Indian "strategic partner" to also get along with Kiani - or at the very least, leave him alone to focus on the important task ahead in Afghanistan. But in a full-page feature on Sunday, a leading Delhi daily caricatured Kiani as a Moghul conqueror capable of raining death and destruction. It just about captures the mood in Delhi.

    The Indians simply cannot forget that Kiani was the first army chief to have headed the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). David Headley, who was closely associated with the planning of the terrorist strike on Mumbai in November 2008 and is at present in detention in a Chicago prison, recently reportedly told Indian and US interrogators that serving Pakistani army officers and the ISI were directly involved in the terrorist attack.

    Calming Indian nerves
    A dark horizon is enveloping India-Pakistan relations. Against this backdrop, two senior US officials - special representative for AfPak Richard Holbrooke and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - descended on Delhi last week to ensure that the announcement of Kiani's extension had a "soft landing" in the Indian capital.

    For the Americans, the apple cart is delicately poised. The urgency of an AfPak exit policy subsumes all other thoughts, and in that regard Kiani can help a lot. In Holbrooke's estimation, as Taliban reconciliation still remains a distant prospect, the US's counter-insurgency operations will continue, and India shouldn't, therefore, worry unduly about the specter of the powerful Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani network grabbing power in Kabul. He spoke of signs of a positive shift in the Pakistani approach to fighting terrorism and suggested that it deserves to be encouraged.

    Holbrooke tried to impress on the Indians that Pakistan is a crucial player in any strategy aimed at stabilizing the Afghan situation and India should not see the US's expanding involvement with the Pakistani military in zero-sum terms. Pakistan has legitimate interests in Afghanistan, but he gave his assurances that India also would continue to have a role in economic investment in Afghanistan. Holbrooke tried to be persuasive that the US's influence with the Pakistani military leadership is a positive thing for Indian interests.

    In essence, Holbrooke advised the Indians to calm their nerves and apply themselves diligently instead to easing tensions with Pakistan through dialogue. He gave a wide berth to the Kashmir problem.

    On a parallel mission, Mullen drew attention away from the badlands of Southwest Asia and harped on the strategic challenge posed by an increasingly "active" and "assertive" China.
    He underlined that the US and India should work shoulder to shoulder to counter the Chinese challenge in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Mullen's thesis was that India is being needlessly obsessive about US arms supplies to Pakistan. The running theme was that India is neglecting the real strategic challenge facing it in the medium term - China's expansionist intentions.

    Mullen went public with an extraordinary statement during a TV interview that in the event of any "crisis" in Sino-Indian relations (meaning an outbreak of hostilities on the disputed border), Washington will always be supportive of Delhi. He claimed that Indian officials shared the US's concern regarding an "assertive" China.

    Mullen's public diplomacy was brilliantly executed.

    On the one hand, he tried to rev up latent unease in Indian opinion regarding China's long-term intentions and the future trajectory of Sino-Indian relations pending their unresolved border dispute. In the process, he renewed the demarche that the US arms manufacturers are genuinely interested in securing the lucrative US$10 billion contract for India's planned acquisition of 126 multipurpose aircraft.

    On the other hand, Mullen pitched hard to create misgivings in the Chinese mind regarding the recent Indian diplomatic and political overtures to Beijing for chartering a "new stage" in the bilateral relationship.

    Reaching out to Russia
    A lot of shadow-boxing is indeed going on as the geopolitics of the region shifts gear, and the Indians would probably choose to remain skeptical about the Holbrooke-Mullen mission. They cannot be unaware that within Obama's AfPak team Holbrooke has been one of the most fervent advocates of accommodating the Taliban in the Kabul power structure.

    The Indians estimate that the US regards the Pakistani military as an irreplaceable ally today, and the latter is seeking parity for Pakistan with the US-India strategic partnership. They couldn't have missed the point, either, that Mullen came to Delhi with the express intent of integrating India into the US's current acrimonies with China.

    Neither can the Indians afford to agree with Holbrooke and Mullen's sanguine assessments regarding the Pakistani military leadership, or afford to accept Washington's assurance regarding the US's capacity to restrain the Pakistani military. Equally, it seems highly unlikely that Delhi will want to partake of the US's needling of China.

    However, the US is negotiating with India from a position of advantage. Washington expects Kiani to be beholden to it for using its good offices with the Pakistani civilian leadership to formalize his extension of tenure, which can translate as greater US clout in Pakistan. While in Delhi, neither Holbrooke nor Mullen would be drawn into any criticism of Pakistan - not even obliquely.
    India's diplomatic options in the region today, including its relationship with Iran, are fairly limited. In recent years, US diplomacy has virtually wrecked Delhi's strategic understanding with Tehran, and its ties with China do not yet allow scope for forging a mutual understanding, although the two countries have shared interests with regard to regional security issues such as terrorism and religious extremism emanating from the AfPak region.

    Add in the fact that Obama's "reset" with Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev has thrown into disarray Moscow's equations with Tehran and, in short, it can be seen that the US has succeeded in ensuring a Russian-Indian-Iranian axis, or any joint regional initiative by them over the Afghan problem, remains a long shot.

    Delhi seems to belatedly realize, though, that its regional diplomacy has been weak and there is an awful lot to catch up with now. Close on the heels of the departure of the two US officials from Delhi, India's Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao is proceeding to Moscow.

    Recent statements by Moscow - the Foreign Ministry on July 1 and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Kabul conference on July 20 - regarding the Afghan situation are indicative of thinking similar to India's, especially as regards the extreme caution needed in proceeding with the reconciliation with the Taliban. Rao can be expected to probe the scope for India-Russia cooperation over Afghanistan.

    The Kremlin views Afghanistan also through the prism of Medvedev's "reset" with Obama. Meanwhile, Medvedev has invited his Pakistani, Afghan and Tajik counterparts to a summit meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in August. Russia is also expanding its cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) by supplying military hardware such as helicopters for the Afghan operations and facilitating the so-called northern supply route by land and air.

    All this while Lavrov in his intervention at the Kabul conference demanded a "neutral" Afghanistan and severely questioned the feasibility of reconciliation with the Taliban. In essence, the Russians are working on multiple tracks.

    A recent article in the Foreign Ministry's journal criticized India's US-centric diplomacy and hinted at the growing need for Moscow to "de-hyphenate" its ties with Delhi and Islamabad. There seems to be some heartburn in Moscow especially that the US is poised to overtake Russia
    as India's biggest arms supplier. Moscow wouldn't like cooperation over Afghanistan to be a stand-alone enterprise limited to mitigating Delhi's current regional isolation
  3. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    ^^MK bhadrakumar has been repeating the same article with new title since dec 2009 either in asia times or the hindu.
  4. neo29

    neo29 Senior Member Senior Member

    Dec 1, 2009
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    Pakistan does not want India in Afghan. Afghanistan listens to US since it depends on its money. Pakistan puts pressure US to make sure India not involved much with Afghanistan. So basically some want india and some dont want. In such cases India does not have much support to present a strong case of involvement in afghanistan .

    The only think India can do is have a long term policy on Afghan. Since India is investing money in afghan, in the long run India must make sure than afghan is dependent on India for many things. Since we are training their army, in the long run their top military commanders favor India. Lots more strategy that India needs to do in Afghanistan but for the short term is best to keep quiet and keep the plans in motions as not many support India's presence in Afghanistan.
  5. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

    Apr 17, 2009
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    It is not that India does not have options in Afghanistan.

    More than the government, if the people's opinion is positive towards a country, then even a govt that is non responsive will be wary of enacting too aggressive a policy toward the country that the people are positive about.

    India can undertake soft diplomacy wherein it 'exports' India to Afghanistan via massive and yet unobtrusive social and infrastructural assistance in the form of schools, universities, world class hospitals and veterinary centres, scientific and engineering assistance to the rural sector (wherever welcomed and without threat to life and limb) and so on.

    The US does that too. However, they ruin it with an underlining 'us or them' attitude/message. One has to give assistance without the 'us or them' message as the Soviets did in India and elsewhere in Asia and Africa and which the Chinese are successfully pursuing to their advantage. By the end of 2000, the total number of international students in China has increased to 407,000. They are from more than 160 different countries. Among them, Chinese Government Scholarship students numbered 88,000, whereas self-financed students reached 317,000. Since 1997, the Chinese Scholarships Council (CSC) has been entrusted by the Ministry of Education with the enrollment and administration of daily operations concerning international students in China sponsored by Chinese Government Scholarships.

    We should have Universities in India solely aimed at students from countries that we want to have good relationships with for strategic and economic reasons on the lines of the Patrice Lumumba (earlier the Lomonosov University). This will earn goodwill and would go a long way to make it easier for India to follow her foreign policy as leaders of the other countries would have been educated in India and would have a streak of goodwill towards India.

    Lomonosov University Moscow

    Last edited: Jul 26, 2010

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