Delhi fears UK, US, pullout from Afghanistan


* Islamabad, New Delhi tell UK special envoy both countries unlikely to support plans if ‘genuine security interests’ are not addressed

NEW DELHI: Ahead of the London conference on Afghanistan, the British roadmap for an exit strategy has unnerved policymakers both in India and Pakistan: while New Delhi considers the return of the Taliban inimical to its interests, Pakistan does not want a repeat of the 1988 Geneva agreement that allowed Soviet troops to withdraw without addressing Islamabad’s security interests.

British Special Envoy on Afghanistan Sherard Cowper-Coles, who was in the region last week, was told by both Indians and Pakistanis that they would not support an exit strategy until their “genuine security interests” had been addressed.

India has panicked to the extent that New Delhi sent its Military Intelligence chief to Kabul last week to assure the Karzai regime of support in the event of foreign troops’ disengagement.

While India has so far refused to send troops to Afghanistan, it remains committed to rebuilding the war-torn country. New Delhi is also working on a strategy to strengthen the Afghan Army.

The British plan – which will be tabled at the London conference – calls for the Taliban to share power in the next 18 months with the current regime and the group’s members to be integrated into the Afghan Army. With British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s own future hanging in the balance, he must explain the continuing British involvement in Afghanistan. Brown may be pushing the Afghan plan for his own sake, but it could have the secret approval of the US president.

But India fears the British plan would not only translate into heightened militant activity in Jammu and Kashmir, but would also amount to “amending” the Afghan constitution and revising the UN Security Council terrorist list. If the British plan is put into operation, Indian officials also fear it would lead to control of Afghanistan falling into the hands of the Taliban, Pakistan and the ISI.

Fearing that India may oppose their plan, major powers involved in the conference are apparently making it a point to take New Delhi on board – the UK’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan was here this week to explore where India would fit into the plan to be discussed in London; US special envoy Richard Holbrooke is scheduled for consultations here on Monday; the Russian security secretary is expected early next month to specifically discuss Afghanistan; and the US defence secretary is also arriving here next week for talks on Afghanistan.

Pakistan has been resisting the plan primarily because it envisages India joining a regional council on Afghanistan, to be set up after the London conference. It also believes that once the West exits Afghanistan, the Kashmir. Pakistan, India wary of UK’s Afghan exit plan By Iftikhar Gilani

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