Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Keeping India out of Afghanistan
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in the United States for the first official state visit by any foreign leader since President Barack Obama took office this year. While the atmospherics are right, and the two leaders probably won’t be looking as stilted as Obama and China’s President Hu Jintao appeared to be during Obama’s trip last week (for the Indians are rarely short on conversation), there is a sense of unease.
And much of it has to do with AFPAK - the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan which is very nearly at the top of Obama’s foreign policy agenda and one that some fear may eventually consume the rest of his presidency. America’s ally Pakistan worries about India’s expanding assistance and links to Afghanistan, seeing it as part of a strategy to encircle it from the rear. Ordinarily, Pakistani noises wouldn’t bother India as much, but for signs that the Obama administration has begun to adopt those concerns as its own in its desperate search for a solution, as Fareed Zakaria writes in Newsweek.
And that is producing a “perverse view” of the region, he says adding it was a bit strange that India was being criticised for its influence in Afghanistan. India is the hegemon in South Asia, with a GDP 100 times that of Afghanistan and it was only natural that as Afghanistan opened itself up following the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, its cuisine, movies and money would flow into the country. The whole criticism about India, Zakaria says, is a little bit like saying the United States has had growing influence in Mexico over the last few decades and should be penalised for it.
But what about Pakistan’s concerns, a country that was dismembered in the last full-scale war with India in 1971 with the creation of Bangladesh. The last thing it would want is a hostile regime in Afghanistan on its western flank on top of the Indian army, the world’s third largest, massed on the eastern front, not to mention the Islamist militants whom it once nurtured turning on the State itself.
Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani told the U.S. National Security Adviser General Jim Jones earlier his month that Indian presence in Kabul would hurt the war objectives.
And what about the Afghans themselves ? The India-Pakistan rivalry is probably a sideshow in the broader battle between a resurgent Taliban and the foreign forces, but perhaps one they can do without.
[Photographs of Afghan children and Indian and U.S. flags at the White House]