Focus on Afghanistan

Having spent billions of dollars on development of Afghanistan and garnering goodwill there, we just cannot let go all the gains.

Let there be no doubt that the jehadi terror attack on Indian consulate in Herat on May 23, days before the swearing in ceremony of the Narendra Modi government in India  was the handiwork of the Pakistan based terror organisation Lashkar-e-Toiba. This was conducted at the behest of ISI with an express aim of taking hostages, thereby embarrassing the Modi government and putting a spanner in Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s proposed visit to India for this swearing in ceremony. This fact has been confirmed by Afghan president Hamid Karzai. On June 3, an Indian origin aid worker, Father Kumar Alex has been abducted in Herat only. This should give us an idea of things to come against our assets in Afghanistan.

American and Nato forces have commenced their withdrawal from Afghanistan from May this year. By the year end they will leave Afghanistan leaving behind a residual force of about 9,800 troops. This too will withdraw by 2016. It is a truism that after leaving aside some western countries, India is the only country in the world which has invested $ 2.3 billion for development of Afghanistan. This soft diplomacy of building roads, schools, agricultural infrastructure and parliament building and all has earned India tremendous goodwill even among Pashtuns who earlier were not supporters of India. 

In Afghanistan, India traditionally enjoys support in areas north of Kabul where Hazara, Tajik and Uzbeck tribes are housed. These tribes form 48 per cent of Afghan population. From South of Kabul to the Durand line which is the 2200 km long Afghan-Pakistan border and further south in areas including North West Baluchistan, Khaibar- Pakhtoonwala Province of Pakistan and Tribal Areas of Pakistan are all Pushtun dominated areas. In Afghanistan the Pashtun population is 52 per cent while in Pakistan it is about 30 per cent. Durand line maybe the Pakistan-Afghanistan border but with same set of people living on either sides of the border the daily movements across just cannot be stopped. Sometime back there was a demand that these areas falling in Afghanistan and Pakistan may be joined together to form a separate country called “greater Pakhtoonistan”.

In 2001 when America attacked the Taliban regime of Afghanistan, Pakistan quietly facilitated the Afghan Taliban government of Mullah Omar to hide in Quetta town of its Baluchistan province. ISI created the Haqqani network from this Afghan Taliban which is the fighting arm of Mullah Omar. They hide on own side of Pakistan border and sally across to launch terror strikes in Afghanistan and against American and Nato troops. Of late L-e-T, the India specific Punjab based jehadi organisation created by ISI to operate against India has also become active in Afghanistan. Pakistan is very confident that once American troops leave Afghanistan it will be able to again install the Afghan Taliban on the throne of Afghanistan. Pakistan just does not want Indian presence in Afghanistan.

Terror decline

We in India must understand that for the last two years or so the decline that we have seen in Pakistan sponsored terror attacks in India including perceptible reduction on cease fire violations on LOC in Kashmir after the retirement of General Parvez Kayani the erstwhile Pakistani army chief. The main reason for this decline was the involvement of Pakistani army in a no holds barred insurgency operations against Tehrik-e-Pakistan Taliban. This Taliban which is of Pakistani origin pashtuns is fighting Pakistani army to gain control of Pakistani territory itself. These people have created havoc in Pakistan by their terror and human bomb attacks. In addition Pakistan army was also involved in providing logistical and other help to haqqani network against American troops operating in Afghanistan. So the Pakistani army kept its border with India comparatively cool. 

Afghan president Hamid Karzai is a friend of India and for his entire ten years in power he has been pro India. The new Afghan president elect Dr Abdulla Abdulla is again a staunch friend of India. However the presidential poll results have yet not been declared in Afghanistan. In 2012 president Karzai had concluded a defence and strategic treaty with India. In 2013 he had asked from Indian government the supply of heavy weapons and helicopters for Afghan army and its training. While India is imparting training in a limited way to the officers and men of Afghan army on Indian soil in Indian military training institutions, it is not enough. As for heavy weapons were concerned the previous Manmohan Singh government was procrastinating and undecided.

Now the Modi government is in place and the time for Afghanistan is ticking away. After having spent billions of dollars on development of Afghanistan and garnering tremendous goodwill there, we just cannot let go all the gains that we have made in last decade plus. Afghanistan is strategically very important to us. Till we have a friendly government in Afghanistan the Pakistan army will be forced to look after its front with India and its front with Afghanistan. In other words, it gets squeezed between the two with limited space for manoeuvre. Our Afghan policy must be bold, proactive and for long haul. 

We must quickly decide how we want to train and equip Afghan army. We must send our military training teams to Afghanistan. We also must isolate Pakistan by striking an understanding with Iran and Russia to once again revive the Northern Alliance. We must keep Pakistan army continued to be in involved with Tehrik-e-Pakistan Taliban by following the basic principal of war that an enemy of our enemy is our friend. If we do not take early steps now and Pakistan gets hold of Afghanistan then the next target of Jehad will be India with very difficult consequences for us.

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