By Yasmeen Aftab Ali
After recent developments on the Afghan front, India is apparently not happy with importance given to Pakistan in the Afghan peace process. Hence, the consequences for India in the emerging political situation in Afghanistan are not pleasant. Though funds that India has spent in Afghanistan have created good will for her, the fact remains that India is no position to influence the political future of Afghanistan.
India cannot logistically have boots on ground in Afghanistan and can only restrict to providing development assistance. New Delhi understands this too well and hence supports a peace process ‘led and controlled’ by the Afghans, aimed at leaving Pakistan out in limbo; thereby restricting Islamabad’s influence.
The countries involved in the peace initiative have gone ahead with the peace process with Pakistan irrespective of India’s reservations. With China, Iran, U.S, Pakistan and Russia opening direct channels of communications with the Taliban, the government in Kabul, which is also a partner of India, is facing a policy crisis in the country.
India, in the past, had also chosen a weaker partner in Afghanistan by supporting Mohammad Najibullah, once the Soviets withdrew. Rajiv Gandhi in 1988 was told (by External Intelligence Chief, A.K. Verma) that Najibullah will last a very long time as the Soviets supported him. The inglorious end of Najibullah exposed the failure of India and the U.N to bring about a desired change on ground. India’s reluctance to protect him, their ally, left India with an undesirable tag of being an opportunistic partner, unreliable and willing to ditch allies for better gains.
India’s concern is about the incoming political dispensation in Afghanistan, whenever that happens. India is also worried about a Taliban government in place. Her hostility towards Taliban is not exactly a secret.
Their concern is not limited to a hostile Afghan Taliban-led government but also what negative cascading effect it may have in the Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, where opposing elements may well feel stronger with an anti-Indian set up in place in Afghanistan as a result of their “victory.”
India’s Major-General (R) Harsha Kakar wrote an article for The Statesman, that reflects his country’s deep concern. In his article, he writes,
Pakistan is aware that by pushing the Taliban for talks (it is not responsible for what happens in the talks), it would gain US goodwill. It may also obtain US largesse, have doors for IMF loans opened and pressure may be applied on India to pull out of Afghanistan. In sum, the US is simply playing into Pakistani hands as it has indicated its desperation to pull out. It is now heeding to requests of the same nation which housed Bin Laden and till recently denied the presence of the Taliban.” (February 5, 2019)
Kakar laments that the U.N is not involved in the peace keeping process in Afghanistan, leaving only the U.S to make decisions which, upon withdrawal from Afghanistan, cannot ensure terms of implementation.
Moreover, India can certainly be a spoiler in the Afghan peace process. A full blown crisis with Pakistan can impact Islamabad’s ability to support the Afghan peace process as per the Pakistani officials.
This gives rise to an important question: Can there be a false flag operation by India, placing blame on Pakistan?
In short, such a possibility cannot be ruled out.
Such steps can divert attention on the ‘negative traits’ of Pakistan’s policies, creating diversions and slowing down, if not scuttling, the peace process entirely.
Modi’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s methods of operations must be viewed closely by those following the regional politics. Quoting The Hindu, “Mr Doval has talked of the importance of covert action. In a 2012 article, he defines these as “a low cost sustainable offensive with high deniability aimed to bleed the enemy to submission.” In his view, “the most effective way of dealing with terrorism would be to identify boys who have got the courage of conviction to match that of the fidayeens and who are capable of taking risks. Identify them and put them in action.” He notes, ominously, that “Pakistan has its own vulnerabilities many times higher than India.” (Published June 23, 2014)
Not to be overlooked is the fact that Afghanistan is a transit to Central Asia through the Port of Chabahar. Also not to be overlooked is the fact that Modi saw little, if any, value in developing any channel of communication with the Afghan Taliban, leaving India out in the cold without engaging powers with the new government in Afghanistan.
It is also a fact that reintegrating the Taliban in the Afghan social fabric, as desired by the U.S, will also be a huge challenge which can create hurdles for India in trying to initiate a working relationship with “new” Kabul. It is also a fact that once the U.S exits from Afghanistan, there will be no guarantees for Indian interests there.
It is therefore not surprising that a hue and cry was raised when PM Khan publicly talked about the Afghan “interim government” on a pattern followed by Pakistan conducting its general elections under a caretaker setup. Imran Khan’s words were certainly twisted out of context. With an alliance between India and Kabul, this theatrical performance should not raise eyebrows.
One cannot but recall words of Sharat Shabharwal, former High Commissioner to Pakistan,who correctly summed up India’s path in case of power struggle ensuing post-U.S/ NATO exit: He argued, “As is more likely, there is a renewed power struggle, we will have to be nimble-footed in choosing our partners within and outside Afghanistan in the light of the changing equations.”
Right now, it’s the Kabul government!
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets at @yasmeen_9