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How Obama's AfPak strategy benefits India

July 13, 2009 14:57 IST

In the last year since the Indian embassy in Kabul was bombed on July 7, allegedly by the Sirajuddin Haqqani faction of the Taliban based in Pakistan's North Waziristan province, India has well and truly joined in United States president Barack Obama's 'AfPak strategy' that is aimed at jointly looking at Afghanistan and Pakistan as the expanded theatre of war against the Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The first manifestation of Obama's concession to India came when the US agreed to Delhi's demand that it not be made part of the 'AfPak' formulation, thereby rejecting Pakistan's desire that Kashmir be included in the triangulated regional strategy.

Then, in May, as the world saw Obama and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in Washington DC talk to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai at the same table, persuading them to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on a bilateral trade and transit deal that should be concluded by the end of 2009, it began to emerge that one of the beneficiaries of this Pak-Afghan deal would be India.

While India is not mentioned anywhere in the pact, analysts in Pakistan believe that references to the "need to improve conditions for international and cross-border trade and transit" mean that Pakistan will now have to allow the Wagah border to be used for land trade between Afghanistan and India.

Officials in Kabul and in New Delhi confirmed that once the agreement became operational, Afghan trucks would be able to travel all the way to India, crossing both the Durand Line and the Wagah border, where they will offload their goods onto Indian trucks.

Indian goods, meanwhile, can be loaded on the same trucks back to Afghanistan, thereby avoiding expensive air freight, as well as the circuitous sea route to Bandar Abbas port in Iran, and thence onwards via road into Afghanistan.

As the region prepares for the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later this month, the Pak-Afghan trade and transit agreement is already being seen as yet another 'concession' to India by the Obama administration. At the same time, Pakistani analysts say, the US is tightening the noose around Pakistan to deliver on Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents, who are using the tribal frontier areas of Pakistan as a safe haven, even as it promises a meager $1.5 billion in annual aid for the next five years.

Speaking on Pakistan's privately-owned Dunya TV soon after the MOU was signed in May, Pakistan's former foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar said: "This (trade) agreement has serious implications for Pakistan. A fire (is raging) in Balochistan, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, while things are getting a little hot even in (Pakistan's) Punjab. Giving India transit facilities means opening yourself to subversionÂ…Hundreds of trucks will go across, arms will be carriedÂ…I am very surprised the government has agreed to this."

But western diplomats in Kabul also believed that India will, sooner than later, have to pay a price for Obama's generosity.

"A serious discussion on Kashmir with Pakistan will have to start," one western diplomat said.

"Pakistan, which is crucial in the fight against terror, should also feel that it is getting something out of this. Even though the world understands what India has gone through with the Mumbai terror attacks, Delhi should also try and understand what Pakistan is going through internally, including on the terrorism front," the diplomat added.

Jyoti Malhotra in Kabul
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