By Indranil Banerjie
These are testing times in Afghanistan: Both for the United States and for India, although for entirely different reasons. The war, as every Afghan watcher knows, is going badly for the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) forces. June was the worst month for foreign troops in that country with 102 combat deaths, which is the highest level of monthly casualties since the beginning of the war. Also, the Afghan war by end June had officially become America’s longest war in history, longer than even Vietnam.
General Petraeus takes charge at a bad time. His predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal, was sacked unceremoniously at a time when it is believed that Washington bigwigs are looking to political solutions that would exclude Afghan President Hamid Karzai and make dodgy deals with the enemy to forge peace.
If anybody is exulting, it is Pakistan’s military establishment. The Afghanistan endgame is going their way and the hope is that the summer of 2010 will demonstrate this conclusively. If that happens, they would have effected a remarkable turnaround. For, nine years ago, the Pakistani military establishment was in the dog house. It had been threatened with extinction, humiliated and told to get lost from Afghanistan.
Today, the jihadi protégés of the Pakistan Army, the Taliban as well as fighters led by the elusive Jalaluddin Haqqani, are calling the shots. The Pathan tribes of Pakistan’s frontier agencies are also back in action. Fighters from Waziristan in the south to Bajaur and Swat in the north regularly cross over to give battle to Nato troops in Afghanistan. This is like the old times of the Soviet jihad. Today, Pakistani security experts and retired military officers are openly saying that the US has lost the war in Afghanistan. One commentator on a Pakistani television programme gleefully proclaimed: “We will bury India and the US in Afghanistan”.
American intelligence agencies and its military are fully aware of the Pakistan Army’s close links with the Afghan Taliban and fighters like Jalaluddin Haqqani. New York Times correspondent David Sanger, in his book The Inheritance, has written how US military intelligence overheard General Ashfaq Kayani referring to Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani as “a strategic asset”. Two weeks later, India’s embassy in Kabul was bombed by Haqqani’s men acting in collusion with the Inter-Services Intelligence. All this is old hat by now. Yet, Gen. Kayani refuses to attack north Waziristan where Haqqani and his men are based. The US with all its cash incentives and drone disincentives can do little about it.
The problem is that with Gen. McChrystal’s exit and the entry of Gen. Petraeus, the US might be on the verge of making a deal with Pakistan’s generals on Afghanistan. Gen. Petraeus is somewhat of a “political” general and had turned the military tide in Iraq not through any new war fighting strategy but through political manipulations. Gen. Petraeus is fully aware of the Pakistan Army’s links with the Taliban and people like Haqqani. Only, thus far he has chosen to be diplomatic about the whole thing. Gen. Petraeus knows that today, it is Gen. Kayani who has them in a meat grinder and only he can stop the fighters shooting at US soldiers in Afghanistan. A deal with the enemy would have many supporters in Washington, who believe the Afghan war is a lost cause.
This leaves India in a difficult position. For, any such deal would have to address the Pakistan Army’s main demand of being allowed to dominate Afghanistan. Gen. Kayani was the first Pakistan Army Chief to openly declare that their legitimate aim was to secure “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. “We want a strategic depth in Afghanistan but do not want to control it”, he had declared at a press conference in February this year.
He was clearly addressing the Americans and had added that Pakistan’s “strategic paradigm needs to be fully realised”, meaning that India had to be kept out or restrained in Afghanistan. He had warned that an environment hostile to Pakistan could strain its battle against militancy and extremism. In other words, Kayani wants to regain what his Army had lost in 2001: dominance in Afghanistan.
Such a denouement is completely unacceptable to India. India’s new ambassador to Kabul, Gautam Mukhopadhaya, who must have had an inkling of what is brewing in Af-Pak, had warned of preciselt such a scenario in a recent paper published by the Washington thinktank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. India, he wrote, “does not see the Afghan problem as a derivative of India-Pakistan problems that has to be addressed from that angle (as Pakistan tries to project it). It considers it a serious violation of the norms of inter-state conduct that Afghanistan should be made to pay the price for Pakistan’s bilateral problems with India in the form of destabilisation and a desire for ‘strategic depth’, or that Pakistani state institutions should use terrorism to fight a proxy war against India in India or a third country. Nor does it believe that the Pakistani military will sever its links with or fully cooperate with the coalition over the Afghan Taliban, even if India were to reduce troops across Pakistan’s eastern border, and views any cooperation by Pakistan in this regard as selective and aimed only at securing concessions from India. India also does not accept that Pakistan should be rewarded for its cooperation with the coalition by political concessions from India, when it is, in fact, the Taliban’s prime backer. Given these almost diametrically opposed impulses, interests, strategies, and positions, it is difficult to see how Indian and Pakistani positions on Afghanistan can be reconciled”.
Now that Mr Mukhopadhaya is in Kabul, he will have to face considerable pressure to reconcile the very contradictions he has written about. His success or failure will not only determine the history of India’s relations with Afghanistan but also that of the Afghan people, who have experienced the Pakistani scourge once before.
Source: Deccan Chronicle, India
Indranil Banerjie is a defence and security analyst based in New Delhi