Afghanistan: Converging Indo-US interests and Pakistan
By Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan
In their collaboration over Afghanistan, India and United States have joined hands since the beginning of the new millennium. Apart from current Indian engagements, United States wants a major Indian role in Afghanistan in the post 2014 scenario. In order to implement their long-term agendas, these strategic partners are trying to undermine Pakistani role and its intrinsic commitment with the people of Afghanistan. On its part, Pakistan has always emphasised U.S and its NATO allies that, tackling Afghanistan needs altogether a different approach. Being a U.S ally, it sincerely suggested US to have a political engagement with the Taliban and other militant groups fighting against the US invasion in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, US consider the military operation, as the only option for the solution of Afghan crisis. Not only Pakistan, but also some of US military commanders like General McChrystal proposed a similar recipe to overcome the Afghan crisis.
In this regard, it is worth mentioning that, in 2009, Commander ISAF, US General Stanly McChrystal, made an assessment of situation in Afghanistan and sent a confidential report to Pentagon. In his assessment report, McChrystal, declared the then US strategy of dealing with Taliban and other militants groups as failing. He said in his assessment that, “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term [next 12 months]… risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.” He emphasized US for a renewed strategy to deal Afghanistan. At that time McChrystal realized that, while fighting insurgents, civilians of the area need protection and there was a need to have close interaction between ISAF and local populace in Afghanistan. He also recommended the Pentagon and State Department for a “More constructive engagement with Taliban fighters willing to talk.” In his opinion, the military operation are indeed creating more enemies, rather reducing them. In the same report, his assessment was that, “Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us – physically and psychologically – from the people we seek to protect.”
Somehow, Pakistan identified same shortcomings in US strategy of dealing with Afghan affairs right from its invasion in that country. However, US did not bother to listen this sincere Pakistani counsel. The super power rather sacked its own military commander (General McChrystal) for giving a realistic ground assessment. Now we can see that, US authorities are dying for the negotiations with the Taliban, Haqqanis and other warlords. Another irritant for Pakistan is disproportionately sponsoring India in Afghanistan. Ever since the start of Indo-US collaboration, Pakistan considers that, Indian engagement in Afghanistan has no rational. Pakistan conveyed its feelings to US. Pakistani apprehensions and logics as expressed by former Pakistani Foreign Minister, Qureshi are that Indian, “level of engagement [in Kabul] has to be commensurate with [the fact that] they do not share a border with Afghanistan, whereas we do … If there is no massive reconstruction [in Afghanistan], if there are not long queues in Delhi waiting for visas to travel to Kabul, why do you have such a large [Indian] presence in Afghanistan? At times, it concerns us.”
Incidentally, McChrystal highlighted the same aspect in his assessment report to Pentagon. He identified to US Government that, “Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan…is likely to exacerbate regional tensions.” Again, both Pentagon and White House rejected McChrystal’s realistic assessment. Nevertheless, it is a reality that, unwarranted Indian role in Afghanistan was and is a cause of concern for Pakistan and later for the Afghan society. Contrary to the assessments and ground realities, United States is continuously encouraging India to play a greater role in Afghanistan. US State Department as well as Pentagon feel that, the current Indian role is not enough, therefore, United States would “welcome India playing a more active role in Afghanistan, a more active political and economic role.” In this regard, Mr Leon Panetta, US Defence Secretary is on record saying that, “India to take a more active role in Afghanistan as most foreign combat troops leave in 2014.” India has so far invested over $2 billion dollars in Afghanistan. It has also signed a strategic agreement with Afghanistan in October 2011, covering wide-ranging areas of cooperation.
It is worth mentioning that, former Indian Army Chief, General (retired), Shankar Roy Chowdhury, who has been member of Indian Parliament too, visualizes that, Afghan war, indeed is a “war of necessity” for India. He is a strong advocate of the fact that, Indian Army should contribute in the building of Afghan National Army (ANA). In his opinion, this is “the obvious area on which India should focus in its own long-term interests.” This vision of a former Indian Army Chief and a Parliamentarian indeed depicts the Indian mind set. The question arises, as to why a military strategist of a country having no geographical contiguity declares Afghan war as the ‘war of necessity’ for its country.
Surely, he anticipates some benefits for India from this war. Certainly, he is not looking for the benefits; Afghan people are going to accrue from this over thirty years of foreign invasions and in fighting. After all war and instability in Afghanistan has brought miseries for the Afghans, whereas, others, particularly US and India, have achieved their strategic objectives. General Shankar Roy chowdhury, is interested that, India should play a part in the building of ANA. The question mark is; why India should invest on ANA. The simple reason is, to create an adversarial army along the western frontiers of Pakistan, where traditionally, Pakistan never deployed its Army. An Indian trained ANA will always be problematical for Pakistan, thus causing thinning out along Pakistan’s eastern borders with India.
Whereas there is a convergence of U.S and Indian interests in Afghanistan, both consider Pakistan as an irritant for persuading their strategic objectives. Pakistan has contributed a lot for the people of Afghanistan. These contributions include; financial support, facilitation in Afghan transit, housing millions of Afghan refuges ever since 1979, political and moral support. Indeed, in housing millions of Afghan refuges, Pakistan badly suffered internally. Through their investment after 2001, both India and United States are now trying to overshadow the Pakistani contributions and sacrifices, which are spread over the decades.
An economically impoverish Pakistan of today, cannot match this heavy US and Indian investment in Afghanistan. However, Pakistani financial assistance and other supportive activities are dedicated for its Afghan brethrens, whereas the Indian and US investment is not for the people of Afghanistan. Their long-term investment in Afghanistan is for their vested strategic interests, which they are pursuing while being in that country. Just for example, over 80% expenditures of US in Afghanistan are on the construction of its military bases and in the development of their related infrastructure needed for US and NATO forces. Analysts believe that, in the post 2014 scenario, “US has decided to maintain its six military bases in Afghanistan.” They also believe that, U.S not only seeks to protect Indian influence in Afghanistan, but would also “control the energy resources of Central Asia as part of secret agenda against Pakistan, China, Iran and Russia.”
There has been no positive change in the living standard of a common Afghan, even after almost eleven years of US invasion. Through Afghan territory, India is further deepening its ties with Central Asia and Caucasus. Its investment on ANA is strategic in nature. Its other investments in Afghanistan are through its companies, who will get reimbursement for a long-term. Indeed, both partners have concluded strategic partnership agreements with Afghanistan. In a way, Afghan soil has been leased to US and India for a foreseeable future and Afghan masses are practically their hostage. As a brother country, Pakistan can neither follow such an agenda nor allow others to exploit the current state of Afghan’s helplessness. Thus, in order to subdue Pakistan, both partners are resorting to well orchestrated propaganda campaign against Pakistan of supporting Afghan militants. As the propaganda was not enough, under the tight security of NATO and U.S forces, ANA troops along with Afghan militant groups, are physically attacking the Pakistani military positions along Pak-Afghan border. These Afghan troops and militants are also targeting the innocent civilian population of FATA.
Very recently, US Senator of the Republican Party, Mr John McCain has emphasized President Obama to remain careful in promoting the Indian cause in Afghanistan. The Senator believes that, “encouraging India to take a more active role in Afghanistan, while simultaneously criticising Pakistan could be a recipe for disaster.” Nevertheless, US must realize that its well-orchestrated propaganda campaign against Pakistan would not only be perilous for Pakistan but would also become detrimental to US interests in Afghanistan. U.S has experienced this during the suspension of its logistic supply via Pakistan. Furthermore, demonizing Pakistan for U.S policy failures in Afghanistan is also unfair and unjustifiable, thus must stop it forthwith. Pakistan’s unprecedented sacrifices in GWOT need fair recognition and suitable media projection. U.S and India must stop their discriminatory approach and negative projection of Pakistani role in Afghanistan. Rather, being an immediate and intimate neighbour, Pakistan should be encouraged to play a more leading and active role for bringing stability in Afghanistan. Such an approach will provide US a face saving for an honourable exit from Afghanistan, rather repeating its experience of Vietnam War of 1970s.