March 6, 2010

India Has To Restrict All This !

The Pune bombings once again raise the spectre of terrorism in India. While it’s as yet unclear who or which group perpetrated the attacks, one thing is for sure: it is time for India to review its policy priorities in Af-Pak. This is all the more necessary, since it is now being targeted in Afghanistan as well as shown by the recent terror attacks in Kabul that killed several Indians.
The Indian government has for far too long left the management of its neighbours to the United States. A case in point was India’s decision not to take any serious action against Pakistan in the aftermath of 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Instead, New Delhi continued to rely on American leverage to put pressure on Islamabad to bring the masterminds of those terror strikes to justice. In fact, ever since the US targeted Afghanistan in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, India has failed to evolve its own narrative on Af-Pak, allowing the West and more troublingly Pakistan to dictate the terms of Indian involvement in Afghanistan.
But the Indian diplomatic debacle at the recent London conference on Afghanistan that advocated talks with the Taliban is reportedly forcing a major rethink of New Delhi’s Af-Pak policy. The first step has been to restart talks with Pakistan. While these talks may fail to produce anything concrete in the near future, the hope is that it will stave off pressure from the US to engage Islamabad. India hopes that by talking it will be seen as a more productive player in the West’s efforts at stabilising Afghanistan. It is unlikely though that this is going to happen as the West’s sole concern right now is to find a face-saving exit formula in Afghanistan, and Pakistan remains central to achieving that goal.
It is, therefore..........
important that India should start reconsidering the terms of its involvement in Afghanistan. Until now, India has relied on its “soft power” in wooing Kabul. It is one of the largest aid donors to Afghanistan and is delivering humanitarian assistance as well as helping in nation-building projects in myriad ways. India is building roads, providing medical facilities, helping with educational programmes in an effort to develop and enhance long-term local Afghan capabilities. Pakistan’s paranoia about Indian presence in Afghanistan has led the West to underplay India’s largely beneficial role in the country even as Pakistan’s every claim about Indian intentions is taken at face value. The Taliban militants who blew up the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008 and tried again in 2009 have sent a strong signal that India is part of the evolving security dynamic in Afghanistan despite its reluctance to take on a more active role in the military operations.
Anxious for some kind of victory, the West decided in London that time had come to woo the “moderate” section of the Taliban back to share power in Kabul. Pakistan seems to have convinced the West that it can play the role of mediator in negotiations with the Taliban, thereby underlining its centrality in the unfolding strategic dynamic in the region. By pursuing a strategy that will give Pakistan the leading role in the state structures in Afghanistan, the West, however, is only sowing the seeds for future regional turmoil.
While the US may have no vital interest in determining who actually governs in Afghanistan so long as Afghan territory is not being used to launch attacks on US soil, India does. The Taliban – good or bad – are opposed to India in fundamental ways. The consequence of abandoning the goal to establish a functioning Afghan state and a moderate Pakistan will be greater pressure on Indian security. To preserve its interests in such a strategic milieu, India should, therefore, step up the training of Afghan forces, coordinate with states like Russia and Iran, and reach out to all sections of the Afghan society. Though problematic for the West, India should not hesitate in taking a more militarily active role in Afghanistan, if only to support its developmental activities.
The US has actively discouraged India from assuming a higher profile in Afghanistan for fear of offending Pakistan. At the same time, it has failed in getting Pakistan to take Indian concerns more seriously. More damagingly, the Obama administration has systematically ignored India in crafting its Af-Pak policy. This has led to a rapid deterioration in the Indian security environment with New Delhi having little or no strategic space to manoeuvre.
The time has come for India to take a more aggressive and leading role in its neighbourhood. India’s strategic capacity to deal with instability in its own backyard will, in the ultimate analysis, determine this nation’s rise as a major power of global import. Instead of ignoring New Delhi, the West would also be better served if it takes Indian concerns into account. That’s the only way to ensure long-term sustainable peace in South Asia.

Source:TOI {H.V.Pant}

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