Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
One of the first things that U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates did during his trip to India last week was to assure Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the United States did not intend to cut and run from Afghanistan. America was committed to Afghanistan for the long-term, he said, trying to calm Indian concerns over the Obama administration’s stated plans to begin withdrawing troops from July 2011.
It struck me as quite remarkable that India, long a prickly nation opposed to superpower presence in the region, had so openly pinned its hopes on a prolonged U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Quite a change from the time it would rail against the presence of such “extra-regional” powers.
But the world has changed and India like several other countries in the region, feels more threatened by the spread of Islamist militants than the long arm of a foreign power. Indeed while nobody likes the idea of foreign troops occupying another country, the very prospect of American withdrawal, still more than 18 months away, seems to be sending jitters. Pakistan has been saying all along its not sure how long the United States will remain engaged in Afghanistan. It reminds everyone how it was left holding the can once the U.S. turned away from Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the former Soviet Union.
Come to think of it, it suits quite a few countries nicely that America invests its blood and treasure in Afghanistan while these nations focus on their own development, as some commentators are pointing out. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in a piece written from Taipei said he felt quite envious of the leaders of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong who had far more time to focus on building their countries “than my president whose agenda can be derailed at any moment by a jihadist death cult using exploding underpants.”