Israel and India vs Obama’s regional plans for Afghanistan

November 15, 2008








Will Israel and India – the first the United States’ closest ally and the second fast becoming one of the closest – emerge as the trickiest adversaries in any attempt by the United States to seek a regional solution to Afghanistan?

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama plans to explore a more regional strategy to the war in Afghanistan — including possible talks with Iran.

The idea has been fashionable among foreign policy analysts for a while, as I have discussed in previous posts here and here. The aim would be to capitalise on Shi’ite Iran’s traditional hostility to the hardline brand of Sunni Islam espoused by the Taliban and al Qaeda to seek its help in neighbouring Afghanistan. At the same time India would be encouraged to make peace with Pakistan over Kashmir to end a cause of tension that has underpinned the rise of Islamist militancy in Pakistan and left both countries vying for influence in Afghanistan.

But Israel has already cautioned Obama against talking to Iran, which it said would be a seen as a sign of weakness in efforts to persuade Tehran to curb its nuclear programme. And Obama’s suggestion that the United States should try to help resolve the Kashmir dispute has raised hackles in India, which resents any outside interference in what it sees as a bilateral dispute. That could make the two countries important allies in combating — or at least reshaping — any attempt to remould U.S. strategy. 

India and Israel have already built close defence ties, as underlined by this Times of India article.  And according to this Asia Times article by former Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar, India’s growing relationship with Israel, combined with U.S. pressure, is pushing Delhi to break off what was once a strategic partnership with Tehran. “At the root of it lies unprecedented US-Israeli interference in India’s Iran policy,” he writes.

Are we going to see more signs of Israel and India working together — if necessary to resist rather than support U.S. policy? And in an increasingly multi-polar world, will Obama discover that he needs to watch the United States’ friends as closely as its enemies to drive through his plans for change?


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