Battle lines move from Kashmir to Kabul

Asia Times, August 9, 2008

By M K Bhadrakumar

There is wide acclaim today among Indian strategic analysts and diplomatic editors that New Delhi has scored a major diplomatic victory in Afghanistan and that its “influence” in Kabul has “peaked”. This victory has come on the back of Washington’s strategic pro-India tilt and, in the period since end-2001 to date, India’s earmarking of a staggering US$1.2 billion as assistance for Afghan “reconstruction”.

Some Indian cheerleaders expound the thesis that it is the hallmark of an aspiring great power to “first learn to become a net provider of regional security” – and Delhi must therefore step in and lend a hand in fixing the Afghan problem. Others visualize Afghanistan providing a “unique opportunity” to be of help to the United States, and that Delhi will eventually benefit from the payback by a grateful superpower that is sure to come. Yet another Indian viewpoint is that it simply pays to rattle Islamabad by creating space for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. An invidious Indian argument is that Delhi should use Afghan soil to retaliate against Islamabad’s support of Kashmiri militants.

In diplomacy, maybe, it pays to sidestep historical memory. Archives may contain only chronicles of wasted time. Very few Indian strategic analysts who at present hold forth on Afghanistan seem to be even remotely aware of how, like Karzai, the then head of state in Kabul, Dr Mohammad Najibullah, was a frequent visitor to Delhi in the late 1980s.

That, too, was a twilight zone in the 30-year-old Afghan war when the conflict, like today’s, uneasily lingered in the shade. Fortunately for Delhi, though, the slow-rolling coup that worked its way through the Afghan labyrinth for months before culminating in the morning of April 16, 1992, with Najib’s ouster, didn’t come entirely as surprise. Indian diplomats soon began diligently seeking out the Afghan mujahideen in the dangerous Hindu Kush mountains, to explain to those new masters the cold rationale of India’s exceedingly warm friendship with Najib.

They explained patiently that it was after all a strictly state-to-state, government-to-government relationship with Najib, shorn of ideology or religion or commitments. The Northern Alliance’s Ahmad Shah Massoud still looked away as elements in his militia systematically ransacked the Indian Embassy, forcing its diplomats to flee Kabul.

Yet, within no time, by the mid-1990s, Massoud had become India’s key Afghan ally – or, as much as he could be anyone’s ally. Certainly, it remains a tantalizing proposition whether with all the Indian help Taliban rule could have been overthrown but for al-Qaeda’s historic decision to attack New York and Washington in September 2001.

Continued . . .

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