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Indians in Afghanistan – Perils of Regional Politics
|by Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle|
Indian presence in Afghanistan came under pressure during April on many fronts. The first was an attack on the Indian road construction team in Nimroz province on 12 April killing two Border Roads Organization personnel, while an Indian citizen, Sarang Mohammed Naeem, working for Dubai-based HEB International Logistics was kidnapped in Herat on 21 April. These attacks follow an ambush on 3 January this year which killed two Indo Tibetan Border Police personnel in Nimroz. Two Indian engineers ' M P Singh and C Govindaswamy ' were killed and five injured when the Indian road construction team convoy was attacked in Minar area in the Nimroz province late in the evening on 12 April.
These incidents may or may not be related, though the attack in Nimroz was definitely a part of the larger Taliban strategy of coercing governments to leave the country. With 4000 Indians working in Afghanistan on various public and private projects, the Indian government is concerned about their security. Simultaneously on another front, the much touted soft power one, ironically it was the Afghan government which was forcing television channels Tolo and Afghan TV to stop broadcasting five Indian soaps named "Tulsi" and "Kasauti Zindagi Kay" (Test of Life). While President Hamid Karzai stated that all programs should be, "be in line with our culture, based on our society moral standards." Tolo director, Jahid Mohseni was defiant and was also willing to seek legal recourse, "We won't ban our programmes. If there is more pressure from the government, we will seek legal advice," he said.
This move by the Afghan government is seen even as the strategic engagement in the field of higher education with India continued with the visit of Vice Chancellor, University of Jammu, Professor Amitabh Mattoo to Kabul University.
External Affairs Minister Mr. Pranab Mukherjee was categorical in stating, "We cannot succumb to the pressure of Taliban or any extremist group. Our approach is of zero tolerance. This is exactly what the Taliban want. They do not want any development activity in Afghanistan. Almost everyday we are facing this problem. Threats and minor attacks are taking place on a daily basis'. Indian government's major projects in Afghanistan include, the 218-km Zaranj-Delaram road project, a hydel power project and a Parliament building. Given Afghanistan's strategic significance for India, it is unlikely that the Indian government will take precipitate action to withdraw elements from the country. There may be a case however of increasing presence of security forces, thereby providing greater security to the road construction team which will continue to be targeted. Pakistan is certainly uncomfortable if not downright hostile to Indian presence in Afghanistan. The large number of terrorist groups and criminal gangs operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan would be ideal foil for Islamabad to continue with such low cost high value strikes in the future.
A bigger set back however is seen to soft power tools, movies and television serials which are being banned in the country, for this was a persuasive tool for rebuilding Indo Afghan cultural relations. Thus there are grounds to believe that even soft power has limitations.
The objective of International forces in Afghanistan is to transfer power to the Afghan people, this would be viewed in many different ways as is evident from the statement of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper "I think it depends what you mean by `success.' If you took the definition of success which could be Afghan forces able to ensure a Western equivalent security environment, maybe that's a 20-25-year task. If you're saying Afghan forces able to manage the day-to-day security in most of the country, we think that's an objective that, if we put our focus and determination towards, is achievable in a much shorter timeframe'. With long term commitment of the United States in the region, not just for stability in Afghanistan but also due to US geo-strategic needs such as Iran and Central Asia, Kabul will continue to be a high priority for Washington. Concomitantly western forces will continue to be based in the area for many more years to come, what ever be the bickering within the NATO alliance.
The NATO vision at the Bucharest summit called for a firm and shared long-term commitment; support for enhanced Afghan leadership and responsibility; a comprehensive approach by the international community, bringing together civilian and military efforts; and increased cooperation and engagement with Afghanistan's neighbors, especially Pakistan. To realize this vision, there is increased focus on assistance from regional states. Thus Russia, Central Asian States, Iran and India apart from Pakistan will remain engaged in the months ahead.
Infra structure developments such as the Delaram- Zaranj highway and the proposed road in South East Afghanistan will have far reaching positive consequences for the country. South East Afghanistan has traditionally being more closely linked with Pakistan than Kabul. The project of linking Khost and Paktia to Kabul would have major implications not just economically but politically as there would be a subtle break in the linkage between Pashtun territory on both sides of the Durand Line. So would the Kajaki Dam bring in great joy by providing electricity to the most intensely troubled Helmand province, the global hub of poppy cultivation.
India can ill afford to stay away from Afghanistan given the global presence in the region. What is however essential is to ensure the safety and security of the 4000 plus Indian citizens in the country by generating greater awareness of the security hazards and undertaking mitigating measures.
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02/19/2013 12:40 PM