India’s dark shadow on Afghanistan

Moin Ansari

As the Obama administration faces tough choices in finding a way out of the Afghan morass, a 66-page report by General Stanley McChrystal plainly outlines the stark situation that now confronts the top military commander in Afghanistan. The ‘leaked’ report makes a case for sending additional troops to Afghanistan or else the conflict “will likely result in failure”; it says. Besides taking a candid stock of the obtaining environment, the assessment points out succinctly to the manner in which an unbridled Indian interference is pushing the chaos in Afghanistan to the extent of being intractable.

Expressing a rare understanding, the report tacitly acknowledges the Pakistani imperatives to counter the Indian moves on the Afghan chessboard in order to safeguard its vital national interests.

In a section of the report titled ‘External Influences’ McChrystal writes about the Indian role in Afghanistan and its fallout that is worrisome for the US military commanders. “Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment. In addition, the current Afghan Government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian. While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani counter measures,” asserts the report. In a clear acknowledgement of Pakistan’s genuine security concerns in Afghanistan, the report refers to the manner in which Indian subversive machinations seeking to destabilize Pakistan are cross grained to the US strategic interests in Afghanistan. “Stability in Pakistan is essential, not only in its own right, but also to enable progress in Afghanistan. While the existence of safe havens in Pakistan doesn’t guarantee ISAF failure, Afghanistan does require Pakistani cooperation and action against violent militancy, particularly against those groups active in Afghanistan”, the report says.

McChrystal’s objective assessment of the Indian presence in Afghanistan and its adverse impact on Pakistan’s security is the clearest statement made so far by a senior US military commander in vindicating the Pakistani concerns. To a much frustrated Pakistan, ever since the demise of the Taliban Government in 2001, Afghanistan has seen an unprecedented – and unnatural ascendance of Indian protégées in the corridors of power. This drive by India to gain dominance on Pakistan’s western flank has not only resulted into political upheaval feeding a largely Pushtun insurgency in Afghanistan but has also let loose a wave of disruptive incidents of terrorism in FATA and Baluchistan that bear the menace to destabilize Pakistan.

India, since the early nineties has been militarily supporting the ethnic Afghan minorities to challenge the traditional hold of the Pushtun political power. Its no holds barred support was what made it possible for the Northern Alliance comprising the Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks to cling on to last remaining toe hold in Afghanistan in the desperate days preceding the 9/11. As the Taliban were swept away by the might of the US response spearheaded by the Northern Alliance forces in Oct 2001, Indians found themselves in the driving seat of power in Afghanistan with a carte blanche. It is a measure of their good investment that both the presidential candidates in the just concluded discredited Afghan elections owe a heavy debt of gratitude to India. Abdullah Abdullah along with his family remained a guest of the Indian Government during nineties in Delhi and Hamid Karzai, a graduate of Himachal Pradesh University in India, has shown his allegiance through adopting a foreign policy agenda that is prominently pro – Indian.

In the period 2001-09, when the US military was focused on Iraq, India was busy consolidating gains in Afghanistan to realize the worst Pakistani nightmare of a strategic encirclement. The new Afghan Defence Minister, Marshal Faheem repaid India for its largesse by carrying out a witch hunt to purge the Afghan National Security Forces of nationalist Pashtun officers and replaced them with Northern Alliance diehards having staunch Indian leanings. Abdullah Abdullah, the new foreign minister, gained notoriety for his anti Pakistan rhetoric and pursued a foreign policy that was veritably pleasing to the Indians. Employing the ploy of reconstructing a largely destroyed communication infrastructure India inducted four thousand Indian workers with a large chunk comprising intelligence operators. To ‘protect’ this work force two hundred Indo-Tibetan Border police commandos made their appearance on the Afghan landscape. The four Indian consulates, particularly the ones located at Kandahar and Jalalabad became, and continue to remain the nodal points for Indian intelligence operators to reach out and stir terrorism in the FATA Region and Baluchistan. India’s Border Roads Organization (BRO), engaged in construction activities in Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan has become another cover for the Indian intelligence to operate from.

With Indian shadow intensifying over Afghanistan the wave of resultant terrorism has engulfed FATA and Baluchistan Regions bordering Afghanistan with its fingers searing into the Pakistani hinterland. Tehrik-e-Taleban-e-Pakistan (TPP), enjoying the Indian military, intelligence and financial support from across Pak-Afghan Border has only been stalled by a determined and resolute operation by Pakistan Army. It will be premature to say, though, that the outfit has been terminally defeated. In Baluchistan, it was the Indian patronage that suddenly stirred Nawab Bugti into a confrontational stance; triggering a chain reaction leading to his unfortunate death. All those elements who want to use the excuse of his death to launch a full fledged insurgency are now visibly harbored in Kabul enjoying the Indian patronage and Afghan hospitality; even as the pipelines are being blown up, rockets are being launched and the writ of the Government being challenged in Baluchistan.
Indian involvement in Afghan affairs remains a function of her anti-Pakistan policy. So far it has used the evolving strategic convergence with US to unleash its subversive agenda, emanating from her base in Afghanistan, to entangle Pak Army in insurgencies in FATA and Baluchistan. Inevitably, in doing so, it has triggered dynamics that are detrimental to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. General McChrystal objective assessment has adequately identified the Indian linkages that threaten US military mission and acknowledged genuine strategic interests necessitating “Pakistani Countermeasures”. These are positive developments at a time when US is mulling an exit strategy from the volatile Region, and Pakistan, in the post with drawl scenario,  would find itself on its own to fend off the Indian threat that has taken menacing form in Afghanistan.

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