Mumbai attack and Obama’s plans for Afghanistan

November 28, 2008












As if the challenge facing President-elect Barack Obama of stabilising Afghanistan was not difficult enough, it may have just got much, much harder after the Mumbai attacks soured relations between India and Pakistan — undermining hopes of finding a regional solution to the Afghan war.

As discussed in an earlier post, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has blamed a group outside India for the attacks which killed at least 121 people. The coordinated attacks bore the hallmarks of Pakistani-based Kashmiri militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India says was set up by Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.

Pakistan has condemned the attacks and an Indian government spokesman said the head of the ISI had agreed to visit India to share information — an extraordinary agreement given that the two countries have fought three wars and came to the brink of a fourth in 2001/2002. But it’s hard to believe that would be enough to appease India after the brazen attack on its commercial capital exposed its vulnerability.

So where does that leave Obama’s plans for Afghanistan, given that a major element of this was to persuade India and Pakistan to make peace over Kashmir?

As discussed in posts here, here and here, the argument is that the cause of instability in Afghanistan is in Pakistan, and that Pakistan in turn will never fully turn against Islamist militants as long as it believes it might need them to counter India.  Since Pakistan is nervous both about the growing power of India on its eastern border, and about rising Indian influence in Afghanistan on its western border, the best way to calm the situation down, so the argument goes, would be to persuade the two rivals to make peace.

It was always an ambitious plan — getting India and Pakistan to put behind them 60 years of bitter struggle over Kashmir as part of a regional solution to many complex problems in Afghanistan.  Have the Mumbai attacks pushed it out of reach? And if so, what is the fall-back plan?

(Reuters photo of smoke and flames billowing out of Taj Mahal hotel/Jayanta Shaw)


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