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Guest Post: Flavours of the season

[Guest blogger, BeeCee weighs in with his observations on the Indian options in Afghanistan.]

Till Obama’s Nobel Prize, Af-Pak strategy of US was definitely the flavour of the season. The theatrics over the Kerry-Lugar bill is merely part strategy and part consequence of the strategy. The trouble with strategic analysis and analysts is that it is more often a case of situating the appreciation rather than the other way around. There has been no dearth of opinions on how to tackle the diminishing US reach in Afghanistan. But what has caught one completely by surprise is the reported support from India for dialogue with the ‘moderate’ Taliban.

I shall not go into an analysis of why the MEA suddenly thinks that US –Pak interests are more important than Indian interests. That is for those who support the move, but I will just try to recapture some of what happened in the past that could be a guide to the future.

  1. Afghanistan now as Vietnam then or Soviet occupied Afghanistan – In Vietnam, as well as in Afghanistan in the 1980s, North Vietnam and Taliban were backed materially and financially by outside powers. Comparing the present situation with those days and an even stronger US/ NATO with an isolated Taliban (even with support from some elements in Pakistan) is merely looking for an excuse to vacate the scene of action.
  2. American difficulties on ground – Nothing new about this. Public memory may be short, but weren’t they in a worse situation when ‘Enduring Freedom’ commenced and it was the Northern Alliance that came to the rescue and overran Afghanistan for them. There was also a lot of pressure from this side of the Durand Line to prevent the NA from taking Kabul and marching on to what they regarded as the ‘real’ Afghan – Pakistan border. If they were not prevented then, we probably wouldn’t be stuck with the present situation. Anybody remembers the panic to evacuate Pakistani military personnel from the cities when the NA marched south?
  3. Co-opting Moderate Taliban – Admittedly, Taliban may be a misnomer for some of the groups who have their own local identity and may have joined up to fight ‘outsiders’. But to call them good or moderate is stretching it a bit too far. Shouldn’t the obvious candidates for co-option be elements in the NA who may be holding back? I may be wrong, but co-opting is done by the stronger of two parties and US/ NATO could have done it when the Taliban was in disarray. Now that the Taliban are on the ascendant, if the two work together, who’s co-opting whom? Most importantly, moderate to US-Pak need not necessarily mean moderate in India’s lexicon.
  4. Indian boots on the ground – In addition to the difficulties in logistics pointed out by comments in PE, proponents may do well to remember Gen. Mathew Ridgeway’s advice to President Eisenhower, “It’s easy getting in, the problem will be getting out”. And would this be a military operation or a MEA and MOD side-show? The Yanks and almost everyone else look at expeditionary operations in a different manner. Even the Japanese changed their defence set up in the recent past to enable overseas operations.
  5. India Training Afghan Army – Aren’t they in greater need of armed local police than an army? An Uzbek in Pashtun territory may be of limited utilty in an insurgency.
  6. Afghan Election Fraud – While not contesting the fraud, isn’t Peter Galbraith getting a little shrill. I admire his father’s (JK Galbraith) writings on economics and other subjects, but didn’t someone in India point out years ago that his close connections to the Bhutto family precluded his being a dispassionate observer in South Asia. While not holding any brief for Karzai, is this part of the build up to co-opt ‘moderate’ Taliban. For India, it may be far better to persuade Karzai and Abdullah to work together than get the Taliban in.

The bottom line is that the US and Pakistan are looking out for their own interests. Who is looking out for India’s interests? The PM seems to have come around to the view that professionals are needed in economic matters because that is a field he understands. Maybe it is time a similar yardstick is applied for matters of national security.

Afterthought – Was it the Nobel Committee’s way of getting back at Obama for refusing to see the Dalai Lama… the only recipient to have added prestige to the prize, rather than the other way around?

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