India: Leveraging Afghan Policy

The third major attack in Kabul targeting Indians on 26 February once again brought into sharp focus India’s Afghan policy. What is evident is the inability of New Delhi to leverage the same to advantage despite the sacrifice of many lives and millions of dollars worth aid and harvesting tremendous goodwill with the Afghan people.

India needs to recognize that as a liberal state living in a violent neighborhood, it cannot survive by projecting itself as soft power alone. While it should not commit military resources, New Delhi will have to stand up in the region as well as in the international community for interests of its citizens by leveraging its Afghan policy to advantage.

On the other hand Indian response to the attack on its citizens in Kabul has been stereo type. While it is clear that groups which have been consistently supported by Pakistani intelligence agency have carried out the strike, there is considerable hesitation seen in Indian officials to point out the actual culprit and take it to task.

The Prime Minister who received a call of sympathy from President Karzai should have phoned the Pakistani President or the US President Barack Obama who has the leverages with Pakistan to stop these reprehensible attacks directly targeted at its citizens.

The level of cooperation between US and Pakistan is steadily going up as Pakistan seems to have calibrated the same in a finely tuned package which links developments on the anti terror front with US aid. There is also greater cooperation between the ISAF and the Pakistan Army with coordination of intelligence operations and drone strikes.

This has resulted in some seminal strikes on Taliban fighters particularly those that were not the so called strategic assets of Islamabad. Thought there was a report that one of the sons of the Haqqani patron, Jalaluddin Haqqani has been killed in the drone attack, this and the Hekmatyar faction has not been engaged so far thereby indicating Pakistani reservations of such cooperation. With both the Haqqani network and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar suspects in the attack on Indians in Kabul, it is evident these would be sheltered by the Pakistani intelligence community led by the ISI.

What is obvious is that the US is gaining greater leverages with Pakistan through its aid package supported by a developing relationship with the military. Almost every week a US military commander is in Islamabad to meet General Kiyani. This relationship would have to be used to advantage to convince the Pakistani military that Indian presence in Afghanistan is in its larger interest and has no bearing on the so called concerns of surrender of strategic depth. In today’s globalised World strategic depth lies in trans border linkages rather than contests. Sadly even the US military has been singing Pakistani tunes. A call by Prime Minster Man Mohan Singh to President Obama would have at least put the US military on the right track of fostering regional cooperation.

At another level Indian security has certainly been lax in Kabul despite clear warnings from the intelligence community both Indian and the US there has been no up gradation of cover provided to Indian citizens particularly Army officers who were clear targets of the attack. Given the antipathy of Pakistan towards Indian involvement in Afghanistan, such an attack on Indian aid workers particularly when two of them were Army officers was expected. It is surprising that more security was not provided to the campus which is fairly close to the Indian Embassy either from the Indian sources or by the Afghan security forces given the high probability of such an attack.

In case RAW had also given a warning of such attacks as a Times of India report have us believe then the lapse is particularly alarming. While the Embassy was attacked twice, the strike on the Kabul hotels where Indians were staying was not unanticipated and this should have been strengthened. Now it would act as a dampener for Indians to go to Afghanistan thereby impacting the relationship exactly the reaction that was desired by the ISI.

It is important thus to evolve a multi pronged strategy to provide greater security to the Indian citizens in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan while taking up such issues with the higher authorities in both Islamabad and Washington.

It is time India exercises its diplomatic muscle more effectively particularly when the lives of its own citizens is at stake. 


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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