Post London Afghan Policy India
Almost two months after the London Conference, India’s options in Afghanistan are emerging clearly, that is of expanding engagement in all spheres, economy, development, politics and security for the consequences of not doing so will see the rise of fundamentalism in the region with transnational terrorism as its main tool extending across South Asia. Thus the choices before India are limited for the encouragement to forces of extremism after a pull out by NATO/ISAF will put the whole region at risk and New Delhi will have to lead the charge against these given the emerging contours of the overall Af-Pak strategy of the West after London.
More over India will be free from the self imposed restraint hither to fore to allow the international effort to succeed in Afghanistan given Pakistan’s objections to a larger Indian presence. With NATO/ISAF abandoning their design of establishing peace and stability with a long term presence though a small foot print will remain in the country, New Delhi will have greater freedom in shaping its policies in Afghanistan.
With trends of rise in fundamentalism in Pakistan, support of the Establishment in Rawalpindi to an extremist Taliban in Kabul in a post West pull out from the country will be an area of concern. The result will be to extend the influence of these fundamentalist forces from Pakistan to Afghanistan with scope for expansion in Central Asia and the Caucasus as well as Xinjiang Region of China. It is however important however to view this expanded role from the point of combating fundamentalism rather than challenging a state namely Pakistan.
India cannot remain oblivious to the grim portends of Talibanisation and would have to commence preparing for this eventuality by clearly stating the emerging dynamics of the situation to the main external stake holder in Afghanistan at present, the United States explaining the reason for expansion of its presence namely to ensure that a soft Islamist state in the mould of others as Indonesia, Turkey and even Bangladesh under the Awami League takes roots in Afghanistan rather than a fundamentalist one.
The contours of India’s policy thus would have to be manifold. First and foremost is supporting political forces in the country who are opposed to fundamentalism and these would include all ethnic communities the Pashtuns, the Tajiks, the Uzbeks and the Hazaras. While there would be resistance from those Pashtun elements who are supporters of the Taliban, 90 percent of the Afghans have indicated over the years that they are unwilling to see come back of the Taliban, it is these forces with which New Delhi will have to link up.
Supporting institutions of governance with greater resources and capacity building will have to be undertaken expanding the present foot print. This would invite reaction from Pakistan targeting India citizens however arranging activities as training, internship and exposure in India will obviate the security threat while increasing the capacity of the Afghans trained to take on the challenge of running a modern rather than a medieval state as it would become if the Taliban take over.
Development and aid assistance would have to be enhanced beyond the current levels where the total is said to exceed $ 1.5 billion or so. India can afford to give more and this will have to be expanded. Projects sponsored could be undertaken by third parties if required if Indian presence is not considered safe, but the commitment must increase.
In the security field training of the Afghan National Army and Police would remain a priority and for this more number of vacancies in India would be the answer for Afghanistan would require a strong Army and police if it is not to fall to the forces of fundamentalism as it happened after the Soviets left the country. At that point the Afghan army was far larger than it is today, therefore strengthening the same is necessary.
India will have to draw in the regional players, Russia, China, Central Asian Republics and Iran in this venture for each country will face far greater challenges in a Talibanised Afghanistan. Talking to Pakistan on this issue cannot be taboo for New Delhi to understand the concerns and fears of Indian involvement in the country and alleviate the same as much as possible. Islamabad is unlikely to be willing to do so but the offer has to be made.
The reaction from Islamabad to a resurgent Indian presence would be undoubtedly hostile, a back lash would be inevitable, strengthening the defences against the same would be necessary both within the country and also in Afghanistan.
The policy of expansion will have to be transparent and its contours explained to the international community to gain support, explaining the perils arising from allowing fundamentalism to return to Afghanistan.
While the challenges of a more vigorous Indian engagement in Afghanistan are many, there is limited choice as the alternative of a growth of fundamentalism in the region will be even worse leading to long term instability in South Asia.
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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