Why India lost the Afghan plot...

Sanjay Kapoor

How do you account for this contradiction? India is the most popular country among the people of Afghanistan. This is the finding of the Pew survey conducted a few months ago. India has already spent $1.2 billion in humanitarian assistance. Roads, bridges, hospitals and Parliament building are some of the public structures that it has built after the Taliban were thrown out by US-based international forces from Afghanistan in 2001.

Indians are into education and doing a hundred things that are useful for rebuilding a war-ravaged economy. Songs from Bollywood and TV serials have been serving as salve to the bruised psyche of Afghans who are well conversant in Hindustani. Many a time cabinet meetings in Kabul are delayed as some minister is reluctant to miss his favourite serial.

India's soft power is formidable and is making the Pakistani top brass, desperate to acquire 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan, quake in their boots. Then why is everything going wrong for India in Afghanistan? What has happened to the much vaunted Indian popularity in this war-torn country? Can terrorist violence change the objective reality about Afghans loving Indian things?

What about President Hamid Karzai's close proximity to India and the fact that all these years this was driving India's Afghan policy? Does the US have no use for India in Afghanistan any longer? What about all the big investments that we made there on their assurance?
 
From a distance, Afghanistan for India looks like a failed investment. All the dividends that New Delhi expected have failed to show up. The expectations were amplified by some clueless members of the strategic crowd who kept on repeating that a failed State like Pakistan would split up with one part going to Afghanistan.

What they had not factored is the control that Pakistani army and the ISI had exercised over many of the Mujahideen outfits all along the Afghan border. So, when the pressure came from the US to deliver, Pakistan mounted a formidable 'Potemkin' war to clean out the Swat valley, Waziristan and other areas off the extremists.

Little wonder that they attained amazing success against what was considered as a 'fierce' enemy. The Pakistani army put up a wonderful show for the benefit of the Americans and their special envoy Richard Holbrooke to convince them that Islamabad was their true ally. A few thousand lives that Pakistan may have lost in car bombs and militant strikes in different parts of the country, was a small price that the Pakistani State was paying to win US love and strategic depth in Afghanistan.

IT IS CLEAR that the Indian strategic establishment failed to see beyond the smoke created by the Pakistanis -- adapt as they were in hoodwinking their American patrons. Pakistan army's control over the opium trade and the manner in which heroin proceeds helped not only in bolstering the recession hit global economy but also boosted their claim for a larger role in the western scheme of things. No wonder what happened in the London Conference stumped Indians and the way the UK formalised the contours of the end game that would be witnessed when the draw down of the American troops takes place 16 months from now.
 
To the discomfiture of the Indians, Pakistanis are muscling into Kabul. Jobs which would not usually go to them are going their way. Similarly, Islamabad would have a say in the award of contracts in Afghanistan. Interestingly, Karzai is not cribbing. Indians sense the growing frostiness towards them.
 
The Indian establishment is losing in the great game as it got the power play wrong. They thought they will ride on the US and de-legitimise Pakistan. They forgot that the US establishment is more comfortable dealing with a country where there is little democracy and army calls the shots. Otherwise, which self-respecting country would have allowed the Americans to have a free run on their land and to sanction killings of their own people in the name of fighting terror? Any Indian government would be booted out and be spat upon if the happenings in Pakistan were repeated in this country.
 
India should not worry too much with what is happening to them in Afghanistan. There are too many poor people in our country that can do with more hospitals, schools, roads and funds for education. Why spend money outside when we need it so desperately ourselves? Indeed, if Afghans really want us to stay there then they should demand it with their hands and feet.

 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: APRIL 2010

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