West outsourcing Afghanistan to Pak

Interview

He was the main negotiator when the then NDA government reached a settlement with terrorists at Kandahar, Afghanistan, to set free passengers of a hijacked Indian Airlines plane in 1999. Excerpts of an interview with B S Arun for Sunday Spotlight:

Does the latest terror attack in Kabul, apparently aimed at Indian nationals, warrant India’s pull-out from Afghanistan and stoppage of aid.

Pull-out is a security-related construct normally in the context of military presence or existence of military linked facilities. India has none of these in Afghanistan. What exists is a normal nation to nation civilian cooperation under which India has been extending to Afghanistan economic and humanitarian assistance. Except during the Taliban rule – a regime that was not recognised by India, India consistently maintained friendly relations with different governments that existed there. Following the Taliban rule, Afghanistan was in need of support and assistance to rebuild its degraded economy and social infrastructure. India, realising that socio-economic uplift was necessary for stability, security and development that would enable a democratic government to subdue the extremist forces, responded.

Just because the Indian Embassy in Kabul has been attacked twice, we won’t be ending our diplomatic presence there. It holds true for our other activities as well. Security threats have to be met by providing enhanced security cover and not abandonment or appeasement. Of course, the security element has also to be factored in.         

Is Indian intervention in Afghanistan a means of curbing Pak terrorism within India? Will the attacks vitiate  Indo-Pak peace talks?

Af-Pak region as an epicenter of jihadi terrorism is a matter of global concern. For India, it assumes very special import as India has been its victim for nearly two decades. Pakistan which has integrated use of covert action as a low cost instrument of state policy against India, its asymmetric adversary, has been maintaining a collaborative relationship with many terrorist groups, particularly those targeting India. In Afghanistan, Pakistan wants to exercise its control by leveraging terrorist groups like that of Jalaluddin Haqqani,    Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Hafiz Gulbahadur etc., that are amenable to it  by branding them as soft Talibans. It is these so-called soft Talibans that have been used by Pakistan to target Indian interests. Problem for India is compounded when ideological, infrastructural and operational linkages start developing between these two sets of terrorist groups on account of Pak intelligence operating as common centre of command, control, motivation and infrastructural support.  As proximity of these groups with Pak establishment have not only been reported by Afghan authorities but widely commented internationally, any incident of terror perpetrated by them are bound to cast their shadow on Indo-Pak talks. Pakistan government cannot expect India to pursue a peace initiative in the face of continued hostile activities against India in India.

Is India biting off more than it can chew when it has failed to curb the LeT in India? Is Let behind the attacks in Afghanistan?

I think India is not being as hard as it should be, both in dealing with Pakistan and handling terrorism within. The pressure built against Lashkar-e-Toiba following 26/11, which at one time was being trumpted as a major diplomatic victory, has proved to be short-lived. LeT linkages in Afghanistan with pro-Pak terrorist groups are known.

Pakistan is opposed to India’s role in Afghanistan and reiterated it at the recent London conference.

Pakistan is quite disturbed by the goodwill that has developed for India in Afghanistan, that it considers to be an area of its strategic depth. Since 2001, Indian has offered $1.2 billion for Afghan reconstruction making it the biggest donor in the region. Its successful completion of Zaranj-Delaram Highway in  Afghanistan near the Iranian border and the progress on Chahbahar port in Iran that eventually may be linked to Afghanistan through road is seen adversely by Pakistan. It will reduce Afghanistan’s total dependency on Pakistan, which desires to give Afghanistan, a land-locked country, access to the outside world only through it. 

Pakistan has been assiduously trying to keep India out of Afghanistan and has been black-mailing the Western powers that any foot hold given to India would adversely affect their capability to take on the jihadi elements in the disturbed Af-Pak region. It is unfortunate that India could not use its political clout and diplomatic skills first during Istanbul meeting and later during the London conference to assert that India was an important stakeholder and developments there had a bearing on its security interests. The current developments in the backdrop of Obama’s declaration to pull-out from Afghanistan and the policy of ‘strategic calibration’ implies West largely out-sourcing management of Afghanistan to Pakistan. It may hurt India’s security interests.

How do you view US pull-out of Afghanistan? What will be its implications to the region and to India?

I feel the US pulling out of Afghanistan is premature as they have not yet achieved the objective for which they came there. In recent years not only the situation in Afghanistan has become highly volatile but now the menace of jihadi terrorism has engulfed large areas in Pakistan. If the past experience is any indicator, Pakistan cannot be trusted in carrying forward the battle against terrorism that will serve the regional or global interests. It would try to manipulate the situation to maximise its own gains. Further, it will extract a formidable price not only in terms of economic aid but also military hardware and funds for augmenting its military capability on the pretext of fighting terrorism. These enhanced capabilities will pose direct threat to India. As is evidenced by Pak Army chief Gen A P Kayani’s assertion in February last, just before India offered peace talks, that India was “our natural and long term enemy”.

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