India must send troops to Afghanistan

Overreaction is the necessary reaction

It is wrong to jump to conclusions. But there can hardly be any doubt that four years after being routed by American and Northern Alliance troops the existence and resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan is explained only by the very same reason they were created in the first place — to serve Pakistan’s strategic interests in Afghanistan. So the cold-blooded murder of an Indian citizen, working on an Indian-sponsored redevelopment project, can only be seen as the Taliban’s attempt to throw a spanner in the good works. Even without further consideration, it is not incorrect to conclude that Pakistan is, at least indirectly, responsible for the killing of Maniappan Raman Kutty.

Pakistan, and by extension the Taliban, see Indian presence in Afghanistan as a strategic threat. Indeed, despite knowledge of Pakistan’s support for the Taliban even after 9/11, the United States has been either too busy or too unwilling to confront Pakistan. That its own troops are constantly under fire has not been enough to persuade the Bush administration that though the battle against the Taliban can be fought in border provinces of Afghanistan, it can only be won if its taken to Pakistan. But that is America’s problem.

India’s problem is that despite committing more than US$500m for redevelopment projects in Afghanistan, it relies on American and international forces to secure its citizens and assets. The Afghan forces under President Hamid Karzai are too weak and too thinly spread out securing their own citizens to protect Indian workers. It is not sufficient for the Indian prime minister to announce that India will not be deterred by attacks on its citizens. He must immediately dispatch troops to safeguard the lives of Indian and foreign workers working on development projects that India is carrying out. If India were to do anything less, it would be callously putting the lives of its citizens to undue risk. Sending troops will deliver a strong message to the Taliban and its Pakistani sponsors that further provocation will be costly affairs for them.

Unless the Indian state has the will and commitment to hunt down and punish his killers, it will be guilty of sending the Maniappan Raman Kuttys of the world to their undeserved deaths.

Related Link: News report in the Indian Express and an editorial in the Calcutta Telegraph (linkthanks Swami Iyer).

23 thoughts on “India must send troops to Afghanistan”

  1. Even if PM Singh wanted too (I very much doubt the current, or any, government would even consider option of securing Indians working on behave of India in a foreign land), it is never going to happen as long as US is in charge of Afghan security. In this war – Afghan & Taliban fight – the Americans are in Pakistan’s pocket. And nothing is going to change that as long as this war continues with Taliban’s safe havens in Pakistan in tact.

  2. Chandra,

    If the United States is willing to hunt down the killers and hand them over to Indian authorities then yes, it has a case to ask India to keep out.

    If not, I don’t see how the US could insist on Indian troops staying out. Remember, they are in Afghanistan for very much the same reasons.

  3. My prayers go to the family of Maniappan R. Kutty.

    The NY Times ran a report after the quake where they pooh poohed India’s attempt to act like a major power by refusing aid during the tsunami and also during the earthquake. Let’s prove them wrong and take some action. We need a strong, kick ass message from the center that should highlight the tragic loss of R Kutty, and make it clear that this is an affront to Indians everywhere.

    Are we going to be the India of old, doing nothing, trying to appease everyone and basically toe the line while Indians suffer? Or are we going to do something about it?

  4. That was precisely my reaction when I read of the poor driver being killed. Maybe we should send some of those BSF troops we pulled(are pulling out?) of Jammu & Kashmir.

    If we’re going to pull out battle-hardened troops anyway, we might as well put them in Areas where our civilians are being targeted.

    And as for the Indian govt. asking for better security to our citizens in Afghanistan – well, dont they realise its the same “security” that almost let Karzai get killed, twice?

    What do poor drivers and such blue-collar workers have to gain from such security?

  5. Pretty sane reaction, Nitin. But i think the job will be difficult. Indian soldiers will become the primary targets for all kinds of jihadis from iraq, pak and afghanistan.

  6. So, you are suggesting we compound the issue of one death with more potential deaths of Indian soldiers ?

    Wouldn’t the saner way be to completely abandon the restorative works, and let them wallow in pre-medieval conditions. Which they are perfectly willing to do. So, why bother even ? I never understood the logic behind such hopelessly humanitarian works. No one will even remember such things when the dust settles.

  7. If the US was OK with Indian troops coming to Iraq to fight their war, Wonder why it is not happy with Indian troops fighting Indian war in Afghanistan. Its Indians who should take the call and follow up on this, instead of passively giving counter statements.

  8. I agree with Nitin. This is great opportunity to put our money where our mouth is… And fighting the taliban is also by extension fighting the jehadis in kashmir. They get a lot of manpower and arms from the “students”. Not to mention a chance to avenge the hijack humiliation.

    Ensuring Indian influence in the region is an imperative, we can ill afford to neglect. Especially, if India wishes to be considered as a serious power.

    It doesn’t have to be a tradfitional deployment of forces. Instead, we could have small [well trained] contingents of commando’s guarding Indian personnel and “interests”

  9. theesra,

    You raise two points: and I’ll take the second one first. Why should India engage in helping Afghanistan? Well, because an unstable, poor, Talibanised Afghanistan is ultimately against India’s interests. Remember IC-814. That’s not even counting the value of humanitarianism for its own sake.

    So why should India risk more lives in response to the loss of one life? Because the show and use of force is as a deterrance. IC-814 demonstrated that a soft response is not only seen and exploited as a sign of weakness, it actually is a sign of weakness. Ditto when the Indian government caved in to those Iraqi thugs. Do you think any Indian citizen anywhere in the world is safe, it the Indian government is seen as apathetic to their security?

    Ensuring the security of its citizens is not just about asking their attackers to be tried or extradited. It is also about deterring such attacks in the first place. Even removed from India’s effort to rebuild Afghanistan, there is a good case for India to do what is necessary to deter attacks on its citizens in its own right.

  10. Nitin,

    Of course, an unstable, poor, Talibanised Afghanistan is ultimately against India’s interests. But, you could say that about a few other countries in our neighbourhood, and some more a little further away. We are not talking about sending in soldiers there, are we ?

    To me, the propensity to advocate attacks is because the so-called “Afghan Govt” is not much worth its name. So, we treat Afghanistan as a lawless battleground to settle scores. This is hypocrisy, and ultimately counter-productive. We have seen big superpowers (Soviet Union, US) go in and be unable to do much. Not because they didn’t have the will to attack. But, because they are fighting an uneven battle, which they are not equipped or trained to fight in the first place. The only result will be more casualties.

    This is not a state fighting another state scenario. The Taliban, though focused in Afghanistan, are essentially a lawless bunch, a stateless entity. Conventional means of deterrence are hardly likely to work against them, like it hasn’t worked against the jehadis in Kashmir. We do show enough force in Kashmir, but, the terrorist attacks haven’t stopped, have they ?

    We need to understand that the terrorist is (at the core) a political animal. He is not a pathological murderer killing indiscriminately, (although it may appear so, to the casual observer). He kills for a reason, to achieve a political end, that he is incapable of achieving by normal political means. To fight that political battle militarily only strengthens his hand, by generating additional sympathy and ground-root support.

    The mistake that India did in that IC-814 was not that it did not attack by force. Rather, it was that there was not the political spine to stand up to the hijackers and force a showdown. Instead of negotiating, it should have stonewalled, and stuck to a policy of not negotiating with terrorists. With no disrespect to the people on the flight, or the concerns of the families, by putting a premium on the lives of some 100-odd passengers, we end up putting at risk the lives of thousands more (by releasing dreaded terrorists like Mahsood Azhar). That was a classic case of short-sighted and spineless decision-making. Attacking that plane may have killed the hijackers, but would only have spawned 10 more of them.

    Instead, if a stalemate-type showdown had been forced, the hijackers would have been forced to make a decision against killing innocent people, and letting them go free, for nothing. Either way, they would have only lost a few more votes at the ground-level among common folk, and at the international level.

    I’m all for ensuring security of citizens and all, but, the nation as a whole needs to keep in mind the long-term goal of securing the citizens, rather than the short-term goal of securing people working in other countries.

  11. While a full-fledged commitment in Afghanistan is probably not going to happen, and whether we should go for something along those lines is debatable, there is no question in my mind that there needs to be some accountability for the death of M.R. Kutty. Let someone [the US, Afghan government] assure India that they will make the effort, else it is India’s right to go after them.

    There is absolutely no way that losing a few votes among the public, nationally or internationally, is going to do anything for the type of terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. We are not talking about the IRA here. People who are willing to blow themselves up and destroy their families to hurt other women and children cannot be expected to be swayed by public perceptions.

    Its not a question of a short-term goal at all. Indians should have their government behind them, wherever they are. That’s their right. Nobody told M.R. Kutty that he was going to die for his country, he was not enlisted as a soldier – he was just there doing his job for his company.

    India doesn’t have to join a damn war, she has to just win a battle for M Kutty. He deserves that, his family deserves that.

  12. Nitin,

    Even if the taliban picks out 20 Indians out of 50 hostages and shoots them in the head, India would not be able to send troops to Afghanistan.

    The reason being our own Muslim politics and the great regard the present dispention has for preserving muslim sentiments. This is a “secular” govt. after all.

  13. theesra,

    I agree with you on India should have approached the IC-814 hijacking, although I doubt whether the standoff would have resulted in the outcome you describe.

    But again, there are two issues you raise in your response:

    1. Protecting the lives of its citizens, especially in foreign countries: I do not advocate sending troops to every place where Indian citizens are killed or harassed. In normal countries, where there is a modicum of state control, a tough legal (or diplomatic) line should be the norm. But Afghanistan is hardly your normal country, and in such countries, I think robust military responses are in order. I don’t think this can be termed hypocrisy.

    2. Use of force in counter-terrorism: While I do not deny that there is a political response to terrorism, it cannot stand on its own. The purpose of the use of force in counter-terrorism is to create conditions for the political response to be effective. This was successfully demonstrated in sorting out the terrorist problem in Punjab. As for Kashmir, I would contend that the inadequate use of force at source (ie Pakistan) is a key reason why jihadis are still in business. The existence of jihadi terrorism in Kashmir does not show that the use of force failed, but not enough force was used against the right targets. If a political solution (favourable to India) is evasive, it is because the conditions for the political response do not exist.

  14. Kandahar failure was not just due to a “hardline” Home Minister’s soft response. It had as much to do with NDTV/STAR and ZEE clamouring for public space and drumming up public opinion in favour of releasing the terrorist. And it was protracted too.
    I’m not sure if there’s been any official statement on whether the new hijack/hostage policy came into effect or whether it was used at all. Much like the NSG during IC 814.

  15. We are helping Afghan to develope there country, it is their duty to save our Indian’s, or we should sent troops with our citizens to protect them from Taliban’s. The Dr.Sing government dint take care much in this issue, like how they take action, when some drivers were kidnapped from Iraq.

  16. Joining in on the dialogue between Theersa and Nitin:

    I disagree with most of what Theersa had to say – about the response to hijacking to terrorists being political animals. I doubt India possessed at the time, or even now, any rapid reaction force that could act beyond Indians borders for offensive action or had any leverage over Taliban to negotiate with them (especially when directions were coming from another country) – it is foolish to allow 100s of people to die when you gain nothing from it (India has been fighting terror for decade and half and that is enough proof that it can fight). While I understand it is fashionable to define terrorists as political animals, it hardly does justice to their cause – they want to control not just social, but very aspect of lives of people living under their rule. And that’s hardly political.

    But beyond definitions, Theersa’s solution of doing nothing to tackle terrorism, just because it takes years to fight it, seems strange. Because terrorists kill, should others abandon Afghans to their tyranny even if Afghans forget about it in a generation? And what is the alternative to fighting terrorists in J&K even if the attacks continue after more than a decade of fighting? Pack up and go so that our neighbouring terror sponsoring brothers can take over?

    As a side comment, the current debate about Iran in India is so important because if Iran cuts of all relations with India, the entire central Asian region including Afghanistan is pretty much geographically cut off from India. That’s why it is so strategically important to get back POK – for that sliver of connection to Afghanistan and beyond into energy rich Central Asia.

  17. If its anyone who can take a hardline stand in India, it is Prime Minister Singh. He’s the only one who has consistently shown that he can go against the direction of public sentiments if they are against the long term interests of the country. Vajpayee was always a soft poet inspite of his “hard” talks in the parliament, and he consistently failed to follow up on his own party’s agendas to secure votes. So what happened during IC 814 hijack wasn’t much surprising, although disgusting and frustrating. He easily bent under cable news onslaught irrespective of the fact that these channels were only seen in some areas of the country during those early days, and not many appreciated that option anyway.

    PM Singh is counting on the fact that sanity will prevail in Iran and current hardline tendency is only a short term occurrence due to the results of elections held there. India is the only friend in the region that Iran can seriously count on, rest are either “imperialists”, their decoys or anti-Shias. Iranians know this very well and they are quite intelligent themselves anyway, and all possibilities are that hostilities will not start in this case unless the neo-cons in the White house come back from behind.

    India has a policy now to deal with such crisis and its of non-negotiation with terrorists. How much of it was practised in this case, I do not know, but apparantely there was not much of a good chance. But sending in Army and anti-insurgency troops in Afghanistan is always a good idea. Taliban were (and are) openly hostile towards India and India should make them realise their folly. May be just let them know it always comes back, no matter which religion you follow.

  18. While I seriously doubt if PM Singh can actually take the tough decision of sending troops to Afghanistan, I do second Nitin & Chandra’s opinion that terrorists in most cases are not really making a political point by killing somebody even if they do represent a segment of opinion (often an extreme viewpoint) & society. If making a political point & getting sympathy was important, Taliban would have avoided killing Kutty & instead would have just tried to get somebody freed (which they did during IC-814 hijacking) or get Indians out of Afghanistan. That they did not give BRO & the Indian government enough time to respond clearly shows that they were not interested in negotiations at all.

    Not using military power against Afghanistan & Nepal shows up India as a weak state that is not ready to protect its national interest even in its region. There was a time when India took its responsibility as a regional power more seriously, like in the times of Indira Gandhi (1971 war to free Bangladesh) & Rajiv Gandhi (Operation Cactus to frustrate a presidential coup in Maldives in 1988 & the unsuccessful IPKF operation in 1987). Since that time, India has passed up many opportunites to assert itself – like the Coup in Fiji or the IC-814 hijacking and the attack on Parliament. It is not surprising to see that civilian casualties in India & of Indians abroad have actually increased since 1989, ever since India somehow lost its assertiveness in the global arena (except when it conducted a nuclear test in 1998).

  19. Nitin, others,

    When I said “political” and “votes”, I didn’t just mean fighting elections for votes. I meant, for the actual support and sympathy with people, even sans elections. So, when I said that the terrorists are political animals, it means that they want to establish their version of politics, which is trial by strength of violent methods. So, if you counter merely with more violence, you are merely playing by their rules, in their game. Even if we win, it will at best be a pyrhhic victory.

    I know that we succeeded in Punjab, but, that was within our country. No terrorism needs to be tolerated within our borders, and it needs to put down with absolute force. And, people will be able to re-inforce that approach with votes in the elections. But, outside our country, in a non-state, where no real political rules exist, fighting the terrorists in their own game is pointless. And, our troops (or any nation-states’ regular troops) are not trained for such protracted guerilla fighting. I mean, look at the US. How it is struggling. And, Iraq has a far-friendlier terrain for regular troops than Afghanistan.

    It is all good to talk about force projection, but, sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. It is smarter to make them fight in places where you control the strings, as opposed to us going in there, and fighting blind. George W. Bush made the same mistake, and is paying like hell for it. Do we want to do the same ? I think it is a bigger priority to build roads in India, than outside.

    I find this whole thing about India “protecting its region” quite bogus. We don’t have any rights to barge into any other country any more than other countries have to barge into ours. If we want to protect our interests, it should be done politically, for which we neither have the guts nor the smarts. Falling back on the military is like your typical local bully who resorts to use of force at the slightest provocation. I am not talking about terrorists. If any of them touches our borders, kill them. Mercilessly. But, beyond our borders, the hot pursuit thing is just not on. If there is a trouble spot like Afghanistan, without adequate protection, don’t put our citizens in the line of fire.

  20. There is another approach.
    India can stop aid to afghanistan.
    India is not a rich countrty to indulge in this kind of activity.
    Plus its afghanistan we are talking about? A country whose population
    feels that indians are inferior so why should we do any thing?

    Alternatively if indians decide that they really want to help
    It can be in the form of training that the afghans receive in india.
    So we can train their doctors, engineers, technicians
    This way we dont send any one in harms way.

    Both approaches are less glamourous.

  21. Indian troops in Afganistan makes strategic sense. You fight them in Afganistan or Kashmir what difference does it make ?
    Psychologically it will be demoralising for the Pakistanis, and also uplifting for India. Muslims countries are backward, India has no need to be scared of
    medieval savages, they are losers.
    Aurobindo wrote Indian need to get their Khastriya spirit back so why not practice on the savage Taleban ? I am sure the Indian soldiers are up for it, let them kick Taleban ass they deserve it.

Comments are closed.