When we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away
I have to admit, my first thought when seeing Hamid Karzai set for talks with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh while surreptitiously reading my news feeds at a work event on Saturday was “Man, this is going to piss off Pakistan.”
See, last week I’d read this report from the Defense Studies blog, India’s Afghan Endgame, and it was foremost in my mind. I read the blog fairly cautiously, but I thought this was a fairly compelling read.
Delhi is pursuing what amounts to a “soft power” campaign in Afghanistan — one which, according to Ahmed Rashid’s Descent Into Chaos, is “designed to win over every sector of Afghan society, give India a high profile with the Afghans, gain the maximum political advantage, and of course undercut Pakistani influence.” And although India’s efforts have without a doubt unnerved the Pakistanis, Delhi has managed avoid the perception among the other states engaged in Afghanistan that it is actively seeking to antagonize Islamabad — perhaps because of the extent of the services it has provided to the Afghan population. Assuming Rashid is right about India’s desire to cultivate influence among the Afghan citizens, its strategy has been success: an ABC News/BBC poll released in early 2009 indicated that 71% of Afghans viewed India favorably. Only 8% said the same of Pakistan.
While the last twenty months or so have seen Western political and policy movement away from a sole focus on Afghan to the more encompassing view of Afghanistan-Pakistan, it would be foolish to ignore the impact India does have–or more importantly, could grow to have–in the region.
I’m not one to give credence to the general paranoia India and Pakistan harbour towards one another; for one thing, it’s pretty far out of my wheelhouse in terms of political knowledge, and secondly most of what I encounter about the subject can tend towards the hyperbolic. (The only thing I’m willing to get loud and impassioned about is whether Han shot first. Or the virtue of Pacific Northwest IPAs over just about any other American beer.) But even so I find myself agreeing with Tim Sullivan, who wrote the piece I’m referencing, when he concluded:
In the end, United States can’t expect that India will simply remain on the sidelines as the endgame in Afghanistan takes shape; we have been lucky that India has played such a benign, if not ameliorative role in Afghanistan to date. Pakistan, for its part, must be disabused of the notion that the United States will continue to indulge its insecurities, or allow it to so easily manipulate U.S. relations with a vital partner.
That sentiment has been quietly echoed in several of the documents I’ve read pertaining to ISAF’s role as arbiter between the three nations, and I think the most notable part will be not how it’s reflected in defence posture or humanitarian assistance adjacent to or part of COIN operation, but how it’s reflected in the diplomatic ring. The US, and the Western world at large, have a lot to gain by investing in India; and equally as much to lose in Pakistan.
I’m reminded of an interview Christiane Amanpour conducted with three ambassadors from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India–no small feat getting them all at the same desk!–that is worth the rewatch, even as a primer for interaction between the three closely-linked nations.Vodpod videos no longer available.
You can watch the full video here because CNN’s video playback sucks like beer made east of the Mississippi.
There are no easy answers. But the relationship between India and Afghanistan is worth keeping a bead on.