Growing Indian Influence in Afghanistan Alarms Pakistan – March 18, 2010

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Growing Indian influence in Afghanistan alarms Pakistan The India-Pakistan border at Wagah. Photo: Dharmesh on Flickr Ambassador S. Azmat Hassan is a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Malaysia, Syria and Morocco and Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. U.S. policymakers probably rue the day when the Bush Administration decided to broaden its intervention in Afghanistan. Eight and a half years after evicting the Taliban and installing the ineffectual Hamid Karzai as President, the U.S. finds itself bogged down in Afghanistan. The Karzai government has failed to provide its war-weary countrymen a reasonable measure of peace or security. Suicide bombs kill foreigners and Afghans alike with disturbing frequency in the bigger cities, while guerrilla attacks by a resilient Taliban insurgency continues to take a toll of U.S. and NATO troops. Corruption and drug-running is rampant. To remain in power, Karzai has had to consort with a number of unsavory warlords who are masters in their fiefdoms. Karzai’s brother, the overlord at Kandahar, has the reputation of being both a CIA agent and the province’s biggest drug dealer. In the witches’ brew that is Afghanistan today, India and Pakistan are both jockeying for influence. The poor Afghans are caught in the middle of this zero-sum game. India, seizing on Afghanistan’s travails, has pumped in over a billion dollars toward improving Afghanistan’s economic and social infrastructure. On the face of it, this magnanimity should be considered a praiseworthy gesture. But the Pakistani ruling circles and especially its Armed Forces are alarmed at India’s burgeoning influence in Afghanistan. India’s economic largesse coupled with the opening of its consulates in Afghan provinces close to Pakistan’s border, have rung alarm bells in Islamabad. Pakistan’s fears of Indian encirclement both from its eastern and now increasingly its western borders, would prevent regional cooperation in pacifying Afghanistan. General McChrystal has alerted his superiors in Washington that Karzai’s pro-India orientation — plus India’s forward posture in Afghanistan by alienating Pakistan, a crucial ally — would adversely affect U.S. interests in Afghanistan. It is not known whether McChrystal’s advice has been heeded by the Obama administration. However, a recent statement by General Petraeus suggests that he understands and perhaps supports Pakistan’s quest for gaining strategic depth in a friendly Afghanistan. While the war in Afghanistan drags on, U.S.-Pakistani relations are currently facing a downward trajectory. The U.S. is unhappy that Pakistan is not going all out against some Afghan Taliban factions based in Pakistan who are battling U.S. and NATO troops. The Pakistanis are unhappy about U.S. foot dragging on meeting its financial commitments to the Pakistani Army, which has made a significant contribution in the “war on terror” against the Taliban. This level of mistrust between the two allies is troubling. A continuous dialogue at the political and military level is the only antidote to prevent a further erosion of this crucial alliance. Hopefully, in his forthcoming visit to Washington, astute Pakistani Army Chief General Kayani will help clear the air. Both the U.S. and Pakistan need each other to get over the hump in Afghanistan. Pakistan needs U.S. assistance to appreciably increase its economic and social development indicators. Without Pakistan’s support and cooperation, it is difficult to envisage the U.S. achieving its objectives in Afghanistan. This in turn might affect the exit strategy of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. The U.S. needs to become much more proactive in nudging Pakistan and India to resolve their disputes — the principal one, from Pakistan’s perspective, being Kashmir. India does not want to engage Pakistan in a composite dialogue till Pakistan curbs terrorist attacks from its territory — like the Mumbai killings — by non-state actors. India thinks that some elements in Pakistan’s government encourage such attacks, to destabilize India. Better India-Pakistan relations could possibly help dampen their rivalry in Afghanistan. The truth of the matter is that both India and Pakistan have been victims of violent extremism. Both are facing multiple insurgencies within their borders. Instead of playing the blame game, both should be prodded to work together in curbing this common menace. The United States should pay much more attention to removing mutual mistrust between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. Being a neutral bystander issuing anodyne statements is not good enough in the current scenario. A coordinated regional approach between Pakistan, India and the Karzai regime with active U.S. encouragement could possibly ameliorate the situation in Afghanistan. Then the U.S. can depart with a semblance of dignity and honor. – S. Azmat Hassan

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