October 17, 2011

A ‘smart power’ in Afghanistan?



The buzz is that India has “ambitions” in post-NATO Afghanistan and is making firm moves to check similar desires by Pakistan, albeit through the use of different formulae

Last fortnight, during Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit, a ‘strategic partnership’ agreement was signed by Afghanistan and India. For the past few years, Karzai has been observed maintaining a cautious balance between India and Pakistan and his remarks have always been marked by refrains and qualifications. Therefore, his reference to Pakistan as a ‘twin brother’ and India is a ‘great friend’ at the banquet thrown in his honour was part of a set pattern. But, nobody missed the paradigm shift in his regional policy when he agreed to the strategic partnership with India. Diplomatic niceties have their place, but action is what is paramount.

In June 2011, US President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of 30,000 troops by the autumn of 2012, which is exactly a year away. By December, the first 10,000 are to be home. After the last ‘combatant’ has left, there will, however, remain a ‘supportive’ military presence up to 2014. What after that? Well, for now we may only speculate. But there is definitely a consensus that a void will be created by the Americans’ departure.

Let’s not forget that the anxiety over this void and who would ‘fill it’ is great in Delhi, but greater in Islamabad. Going by the literature already generated it seems Afghanistan is emerging as the next focus of Pakistani India-paranoia. A number of Pakistani security analysts have expressed fear that India would give up its present low-profile role and emerge a major player. Meanwhile, on the Indians side, two major positions have emerged; some are of the opinion that India should be militarily proactive while a few feel that the engagement should be Gandhian — whatever that means given the liberty already taken to twist Gandhi’s philosophy to suit a foreign intervention programme.

It is important to note that India’s policies in the Afghanistan theatre could not be devised on ideals alone. They need to be dynamic and cater to regional and global realities. Importantly, they should be governed by India’s interests alone and should not be made subservient to the US policies in the region.

A stable and prosperous Afghanistan and Pakistan is in India’s interest. Unfortunately, both the states are not capable of bringing stability on their own. The ‘twins’ (using Karzaiism) are both violence-torn and need outside help. While Afghanistan is fighting terrorism and has been at the receiving end of it, Pakistan is unquestionably the crucible of terrorism and is condemned worldwide for implementing an unwritten policy of sponsoring not just terrorism, but most of the woes of Afghanistan.

Naturally, India’s Afghanistan policy must be shaped by this reality. Also, in the 21st century, when the military doctrines all over the world have shown major transformations in their approach towards contextualising new ideas in the fresh geopolitical settings, it is not know why Pakistan is still continuing with its notion of considering Afghanistan as a “strategic depth”. Naturally, because of this thinking, it becomes problematic for them to accept any role for India in Afghanistan.

The latest Strategic Partnership agreement between India and Afghanistan has raised concerns with Pakistan. Even non-Pakistanis have expressed concern about it. It is felt that the greater role for India could lead to a more intense and dangerous “proxy war” amongst India and Pakistan on Afghan territory, with unpredictable costs. It appears that the criticism has emerged mainly because of the shallow understanding of the word ‘strategic’.

‘Strategic’ is not a totally military concept. This partnership is done with a view to introducing a systematic approach towards building new programmes and re-energising existing collaborative processes. The aim is to take the process of development further by simultaneously addressing various issues from economics, investments towards rehabilitation and reconstruction to military assistance. In this strategic partnership, Indian assistance in military training for Afghan security forces is not the only aspect. It also covers other important issues like strengthening trade and economics, developing cooperation in the field mineral resource development and developing scientific and technological cooperation.

To successfully evolve strategies to undertake all these activities, countries would have to evolve close bilateral engagement and close political cooperation frameworks. India has a vision for Afghanistan’s “economic integration” with its own economy. It is important for the critics of India’s ‘engage Afghanistan policy’ to understand that Indian interests are beyond military.

It is time for Pakistan to understand that they are not the sole reason for India to engage Afghanistan. India is trying to establish business in oil and mining areas with Afghanistan. India has put its bid for Afghanistan’s richest iron-ore deposits in Hajigak. This region is 60 miles west of Kabul and is estimated to hold $1 trillion in untapped minerals. India would be competing with Iran and Canada to get this contract. In recent times, the stand taken by India with regard to the issues related to Libya and Syria gives a clear indication of change in India West Asia policy. Recently, the Indian Prime Minister had met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York. Before that, ‘hush hush’ talks were held between the two States to resolve the impasse in respect of the development of the Farzad-B gas fields for which talks were stalled for two years. Both the sides are also keen to take the development of the Iranian port of Chabar to a purposeful conclusion. India is also keen to operationalise the trilateral MoU with Iran and Afghanistan to end later’s landlocked isolation and dependence on Pakistan to reach the sea.

President Karzai’s recent India visit and recognition as a strategic partner is definitely a step forward and offers India an opportunity to have a sustainable role in Afghanistan’s in the post-2014 era. For India, Afghanistan is a gateway to Central and West Asia. India is not prepared to get bogged down by viewing Afghanistan only through Pakistan spectrum. India has an ambition of developing a “Look West” policy and Afghanistan could become a starting point in that. At the same time Pakistan needs to understand that the military dimension of India’s Afghanistan policy exists only because of Pakistan’s atrocious policies against India. They support Haqqani group and Taliban; they allow a Chinese presence in PoK but expect that India should not even part the military training to Afghanistan forces.

For all these years India has been identified with building roads, hospitals and schools in Afghanistan. India is also keen for economic engagement of Afghanistan. India has been exhibiting its “soft power” standing in the region. “Soft power” is a term coined by Harvard University’s Joseph Nye who argued that in modern times the mere projection of “soft power” is not enough, but there should be a combination of both the ‘hard’ and the ‘soft’ - hence ‘Smart Power’. This month’s signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement could well have been the signalling of Indian “Smart Power” in Afghanistan.

(The writer is Senior Fellow with Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, Govt. of India)

1 comment:

Ramaswami Natarajan said...

Actually I do not know why India should not seize this opportunity. Send training forces of about 40,000 me and hire about 800,000 Afghans as Military reservists of Afghan Army who can be used by Indian Army to protect Indian Army soldiers. These Military Reservists should don the Afghan Army Uniforms and not IA Uniforms. Pay these reservists by Afghan standards. And extend the NREGS to Afghanistan civilians to create 2 million jobs in rural Afghanistan. Build them mud homes, roads, schools, hospitals and small industries and improve their standard of life. See we would have cut Pakistan's Strategic Depth in to Strategic Blunder. All Pakistan has done is to bring misery to Afghans. We need not teach them. They have gone through it and if we provide the above services we have check mated Pakistan. It will cost large money drain also for the Reservists will retire after 15 years and will remain potent soldiers available to Afghanistan and would have settled in life doing small business, agri farms etc as per their capacity.

This is an opportunity that must be seized. If need be we have to weep that we need these Afghan Army protectors to protect the Indian Army training soldiers to boost the Afghan ego as well and direct it in our favor. Nothing wrong here and our politicians are very good at all these things today. Pakistan will have a powerful potent enemy whose population would be wary of them always after that.

We must seize this opportunity.