Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
The price of greater Indian involvement in Afghanistan
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is heading to India, and one of the things Washington is looking at is how can regional players such as India do more in Afghanistan. “As we are doing more, of course we are looking at others to do more,” a U.S. official said, ahead of the trip referring to the troop surge.
But this is easier said than done, and in the case of India, a bit of a minefield. While America may expect more from India, Pakistan has had enough of its bitter rival’s already expanded role in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Indeed, Afghanistan is the new battleground on par with Kashmir, with many in Pakistan saying Indian involvement in Afghanistan was more than altruistic and aimed at destabilising Pakistan from the rear. Many in India, on the other hand, point the finger at Pakistan for two deadly bomb attacks on its embassy in Kabul.
Against such a difficult backdrop, what can New Delhi possibly do without complicating things further?
Several proposals are afoot but the one that the Afghans are pushing for and which is equally likely to stir things up further is an expanded training programme of the Afghan National Army by the Indian army. A small number of Afghan army officers have been coming to Indian defence institutions, such as New Delhi’s National Defence College, for training under a programme that India has been running for years for several countries.
But this is a nation at war at the moment, and as retired Indian major general Ashok Mehta points out in this article for the Wall Street Journal, the Afghan army chief General Bismillah Khan is keen on sending combat units for training in India’s counterinsurgency schools. The Indian army has been battling insurgencies for six decades in terrain as diverse as the hills of Nagaland in the northeast to Kashmir in the north. None of these have been snuffed out, save for the Sikh revolt in the Punjab in the 1980s, and you could argue about the success of their campaign. But they have held firm, developed tactics along the way, and rarely ever seemed to be losing ground against insurgents even at the height of the Kashmir revolt. Their experience is obviously something the Afghans would like to draw on.
But isn’t this going to antagonise Pakistan further? Running courses for a few officers is one thing, but training a whole combat unit is another. A deepening military relationship between Afghanistan and India would be an uncomfortable prospect for any security planner in Pakistan. Imagine, for a moment, the Pakistani army training strike formations of the Bangladesh army.
Perhaps a bit more palatable to Pakistan would be training of the Afghan National Police, also seen as a key element in the fight to restore peace in the country. Again the Indians have amassed a vast degree of experience, inherited from British colonial masters in the area of policing.
“We have the best institution for training the civilian police, and the paramilitary to some extent … if you want a civilian police with a little bit of strength to the elbow,” India’s national Security Adviser M.K.Narayanan told the Times of London, adding that India had spent a quite a lot of time discussing with the Americans in recent weeks an expanded role in Afghanistan.