Stability is key

India'soptions in Afghanistan

The manner in which the USmanaged to find and destroy Osama Bin Laden, the founder of the umbrellaterrorist organization Al Qaeda, it has changed the rules of engagement whichcould well have a salubrious effect on India'srole in Afghanistan.

A change in the rules of engagement would mean, first andforemost, that Pakistan must respect the sovereignty and integrity ofAfghanistan and not treat it as its "sixth province".


"Sixth province" is advisedly within quotes becausePakistan's original federating units are Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Paktunkhwa(former NWFP), Punjab and the former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).


Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (alias "Azad Kashmir") andAfghanistan are adjuncts by invasion and geopolitical skullduggery and illegaloccupation. "Strategic depth" is a concept that reeks of territorialaggrandizement by underhand means.


A change in the rules of engagement would mean that Pakistancannot impose its "strategic depth" concept on Afghans and Afghanistan and thatWashington will move away from its recent position of giving Islamabad primacyover Afghan affairs to the exclusion of all other neighbors because of itsmisfortune of being landlocked between Pakistan, Iran and the former CentralAsian Republics of the Soviet Union (now the Commonwealth of IndependentStates).


This Pakistan has sought to do by deception and the use ofterror as a tool of State policy and Washington has finally come to realizewhat is happening and has sought to reverse it by launching its attack on OsamaBin Laden in his mansion in Abbottabad in the heart of one of the mostimportant military cantonments in the country.


This was done whether Pakistan liked it or not and wascondign treatment for a nation that has become a rogue by any yardstick.


Pakistan needs to be told in no uncertain terms that itscries of violation of its "sovereignty" have no weight in the face of theblatant manner it has quashed that of Afghanistan and even so-called "AzadKashmir".


Afghans and Afghanistan have as much right as Pakistan todecide how they want to govern themselves.


Attempts to give Pakistan the controlling authority over thefuture of Afghanistan smacks of what was done at Yalta nearing the end of WorldWar-II - drawing up spheres of influence in Europe which led to the Cold War;the other Yalta agenda was packing the proposed UN with five Permanent Memberswith veto rights which, ironically, has become a 21st century dilemma forIndian aspirations to become a member of this exclusive club.


Improving situation


If the current geopolitics is any indication then India'sposition will tend to improve if the US under Barack Obama is resolute aboutcontinuing drone attacks against terrorist targets inside Pakistan.


Frankly it has little choice given that the Pakistan Armyand its Inter-Services Intelligence are demonstrably influenced by the jihadiideology shared by Al Qaeda and the myriad of terrorist groupings under itsumbrella.


Because of this linkage Pakistan will not abandon the pathof jihad in the near future. And, as far as narrow American interests areconcerned it must ensure that the Afghanistan-Pakistan salient does notre-emerge as the focal point for anti-US operations around the globe and,possibly, the homeland itself.


Whether it does it with boots on the ground as at presentwithin the ambiance of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) orwings in the air-the drone are options that can be used elastically by BarackObama.


The latter has the advantage that with a minimum of humanpresence on the ground in the Af-Pak belt to gather human intelligence thedrone can then deliver the coup de grace while operating from bases outside theregion.


Such a situation would suit India admirably in that if theTaliban-Al Qaeda-Mujahideen do not come to terms with the government in Kabulthey will leave themselves open to drone strikes be it inside Afghanistan orwithin Pakistan.


Politically, there is the possibility that whichever elementof the Taliban eventually manages to come to terms with the Hamid Karzaigovernment in Kabul the underlying ethos is very likely to be based on thefierce sense of independence and aversion to domination by foreigners.


At the height of the civil war while former PresidentNajibullah was living in the UN compound the various factions of the Mujahideenbattled among each other, India had backed the Northern Alliance led bycharismatic Ahmed Shah Mehsud (the "Lion of Panjshir").


After the assassination of Ahmed Shah Mehsud India founditself at the receiving end of Taliban ire that reached a crescendo during thehijacking of IC-814 to Kandahar. Osama Bin Laden's death has created a newambiance in the Af-Pak region.


For one the Pakistan Army and the Inter-ServicesIntelligence has emerged as an incompetent and untrustworthy ally among theterrorist groups that they have nurtured since the Soviet occupation ofAfghanistan.


As a consequence the potential for Hamid Karzai to strike adeal with the several stakeholders in Afghanistan has improved with thedemonstrated ability of the US to strike at the recalcitrant units within theTaliban-Al Qaeda conglomerate.


Hitherto Pakistan has refused to open its borders to Indiantrade with Afghanistan and has tried to discredit India with allegations thatits consulates in Afghanistan are involved in terrorism inside Pakistan.


Greater role for India


The US and the western allies position that was willing togive Pakistan exclusive sphere of influence in Afghanistan appears to haveveered away somewhat. Both Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron appear tobe amenable to a greater role for Indiain Afghanistan.


If the transition is to be smooth in Afghanistan postwithdrawal of ISAF the Afghan security system must be in place and capableenough to handle what appears to be a resurgent Taliban given its several boldstrikes at the Government targets and the massive jailbreak in Kandahar.


The jailbreak in which as many as 500 hardcore Afghan fightersincluding commanders managed to escape in a tunnel dug from half a kilometeraway from the jail perimeter fence has tended to improve the Talibans fightingcapabilities.


The ratio has changed dramatically in that the process ofcreating an Afghan Army and police setup will have to take into account theseadditional 500 fighters in the Taliban ranks.


Counter-insurgency calculations would mean that whatever hadbeen planned earlier to handle the situation on the ground there will now be arequirement of at least 10,000 additional security forces and possibly as manyas 25,000 more than the earlier projected requirement if the swiftstabilization that is desired is to be achieved.


It is in this that India can play a major role in theraising of the strength of the Afghan security forces. India has had along experience in counter-insurgency operations in all kinds of terrain andits training regimen is not as costly as is that of NATO.


Pakistan has been trying to undercut India's role in thetraining program as well as its ability to assist Afghanistan in itsdevelopmental projects but India has managed to break the stranglehold thatPakistan had on the landlocked Afghans by the creation of the road link betweenthe Afghan town of Delaram and  Zeranj onthe Afghan-Iranian border.


This link opens up the route to the Iranian port ofChahbahar not just to Afghanistan but the whole of the Central Asian Republicsto the north. It is this factor too that has forced Pakistan to giveAfghanistan trade and transit arrangements through Karachi even while denyingIndia access to Afghanistan through the Wagah-Attari route.


The possibility of strikes like Operation Geronimo that gotOsama Bin Laden and the continuation of the drone operations in spite of dire consequencespromised by the Pakistan Parliament at the military's behest will enablePresident Obama to graduate the withdrawal of US troops beginning July.


The drawdown could begin on time to enable the Democrats tomilk the Osama killing to full political advantage at home but it needs to bespaced out judiciously so that the Taliban resurgence is nipped in the bud.


An enhanced role for India in the development ofinfrastructure inside Afghanistan will also contribute to the promises made byObama during his election campaign to pacify and neutralize the Afghansituation.