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Indian influence wanes in Afghanistan

August 05, 2010 14:33 IST

Harsh V Pant says if India stands on the verge of a catastrophe in Af-Pak, it has only itself to blame.

In one of the largest single disclosures of such information in US history, WikiLeaks, a self-described whistleblower organisation, released more than 91,000 classified documents last week, largely consisting of low-level field reports. The documents revealed by WikiLeaks only confirm the long-held belief that Pakistani intelligence agency continues to guide the Afghan insurgency even as it continues to receive more than $1 billion a year from Washington to combat the extremists.

The Inter Services Intelligence has been helping Afghan insurgents plan and carry out attacks on US forces in Afghanistan and their Afghan government allies. The efforts by the ISI to run the networks of suicide bombers and its help in organising Taliban offensives at crucial periods in the Afghan war have also been underlined.

Though the Barack Obama administration has refuted suggestions that the leaked documents should force a rethinking of the US commitment to the war in Afghanistan, the fractures in the Democratic Party came rapidly to the fore. The disclosure of classified documents showing that the conflict was not going as well as portrayed has deepened divisions within the Democratic Party that is already complaining about scarce resources being spent on Afghanistan at the expense of critical needs at home.

In his defence, Obama has continued to rely on his standard critique that the Afghanistan effort suffered for years as the US shifted its focus to the war in Iraq but underlined that his new approach is changing that. Pakistan's double game of appeasing certain American demands for cooperation while striving to exert influence in Afghanistan through many of the same insurgent networks that the Americans are fighting to eliminate has long been evident to the US military and political  leadership.

After all it was Pervez Musharraf who was forced to acknowledge the possibility that former ISI officials were assisting the Afghan insurgency. Obama has failed to make a strong case to the American public that Afghanistan is worth the cost. This is important to sustain support over the long-term for his counterinsurgency strategy.

The revelations came days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced $500 million assistance to Pakistan and described the US and Pakistan 'partners joined in common cause'. Meanwhile, Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, tried to rally support last week for NATO attacks on Taliban based in Pakistan, asking why they had not attacked guerrilla sanctuaries on Pakistani soil.

The report makes it clear that India has been targeted by the ISI. The bombing of the Indian embassy was at the behest of the ISI and the Haqqani network sent bombers to strike Indian officials, development workers and engineers in Afghanistan. The ISI paid the Haqqani network to eliminate Indians working in Afghanistan as well as gave orders to orchestrate attacks on Indian consulates in Afghanistan.

That the Pakistani security complex has engendered targeting of Indian interests in Afghanistan is not news. The question is: what has Indian government done about it? While the British Prime Minister, David Cameron can openly challenge Pakistan about its double dealings, the Indian government continues to be shy of articulating its anger. Moreover, it is India that gets blamed for the breakdown of talks with Pakistan. No other government would have even started negotiations with a gun being held to its head.

When Cameron criticised Pakistan's 'export of terror,' he was merely saying aloud what the US officials also believe to be true but can't say aloud because of their dependence on Pakistan for aerial drone strikes on Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. Almost 70 percent of terrorist plans to wreak havoc in Britain have originated from Pakistan in recent years and so it was important for Cameron to send the message to Islamabad that Britain has had enough. And he did it convincingly. But it is not clear if Britain has the clout to make Pakistan take action against the terror infrastructure directed at India, especially as Washington continues to be lackadaisical on this issue.

Pakistan's weak democracy and powerful military and intelligence apparatus has failed to get a grip on the problem that now threatens to overwhelm the Pakistani state itself. The three year extension granted to the Pakistani army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani will ensure that a return to meaningful democracy will continue to elude Pakistan and the inflexible India-centric security perception of the army will make a rapprochement with India a non-starter. Kayani is clear that he wants to call the shots in Kabul. He remains wedded to the notion of 'strategic depth' -- that is, to making Afghanistan the kind of proprietary hinterland for Pakistan, free of Indian or other outside influence, which it was from 1992 to 2001.

Indian influence in Afghanistan rose significantly as American support for Pakistan shifted and Washington demanded that Pakistan adopt policies that India had long wanted in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Moreover, India emerged as a major economic actor in Afghanistan trying to bolster the Afghan state's capacity in various measures. But by refusing to use hard power India soon made itself irrelevant as the ground realities changed and a divergence emerged between the strategic interests of India and Washington.

The Obama administration intent on moving out of Afghanistan managed to signal to Indian adversaries that they can shape the post-American ground realities to serve their own ends. India lost the confidence of its own allies in Afghanistan. If India was unwilling to stand up for its own interests, what was the benefit of aligning with India?

Today, as India stands on the verge of a catastrophe in Af-Pak, it has only itself to blame.

Harsh V Pant