And now the strategic encirclement of Pakistan

January 15, 2009

An Indian military presence in Afghanistan to put further pressure on Pakistan? That would be the red  rag for Pakistan, and the end of its long struggle to seek strategic depth  in Afghanistan against its much larger eastern neighbour.

Indian newspapers have reported army chief General Deepak Kapoor as saying at a news conference that such a move would squeeze Pakistan, although he seemed to be at considerable pains to stress this  was a decision that India’s politicians had to take.

Kapoor said New Delhi’s efforts in Afghanistan, which themselves have aroused suspicion in Islamabad, were confined to reconstruction so far. It was up to the Indian government to decide whether the option to “strategically squeeze” Pakistan from both sides by placing a division or so of Indian soldiers in Afghanistan should be considered.

“We are only assisting Afghanistan in its reconstruction efforts at present. The political leadership will have to take a decision if something more is required,” the general said, according to the Times of  India.

The Hindustan Times quoted him thus: “Changing our strategic policy towards Kabul in terms of raising military stakes is one of the factors that is to be determined politically.” 

Kapoor’s remarks, however carefully phrased, are unlikely to go unnoticed in the strategic establishments. Is it feasible or is this a part of a tense psychological battle that New Delhi has mounted against Pakistan following the Mumbai attacks?

You could argue several reasons why an Indian military presence in Afghanistan is most unlikely beginning from the fact this further complicates a messy battlefield where America is doing all it can to get everyone, but especially the Pakistanis, to focus on the hunt for al Qaeda and the Taliban. Then, how do you justify sending troops to another country, even if it is Afghanistan? Would they be part of the U.S.-led coalition or would they operate independently? Is it even feasible from a military point of view?

Perhaps the idea is to force Pakistan to blink by threatening to squeeze it militarily, on top of a diplomatic encirclement as pointed out in a previous post on this blog.

On Thursday, Pakistan said security forces had closed five training camps run by Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group blamed for the Mumbai attack, and arrested 124 of its leaders and those of a related charity. So it doesn’t look like the heat is off, even if there is considerably less talk of conflict

[Reuters pictures of the Taj hotel, Mumbai and an Afghan woman with her son on a Kabul street]

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