The new Hindu-Kush

India cannot fight its war in Afghanistan with shovels alone.

There are several concurrent wars going on in Afghanistan. In one of them Pakistan is fighting India — not directly of course, but using its longstanding strategy of using ‘tribesmen’ and ‘militants’ to carry out terrorist attacks on civilian targets. For its part, the Indian government believes that the shovels it has sponsored will defeat Pakistan-sponsored guns and gunmen. When rudely challenged by the Taliban’s brazen attacks on its unarmed citizens, the official Indian reaction is to take the high road: It is the Shovels, like Truth, that will prevail.

Such a position is conveniently unassailable, for doing so invites charges of impatience or worse, of pessimism. It also allows the Indian government to do nothing. So after President Hamid Karzai’s government informed Indian authorities that it was at Pakistan’s behest that the Taliban butchered an Indian engineer, the highest-levels of the UPA government met and decided to “let the Karzai government to tackle the issue”. Never mind that the issue is not just one of yet another murder of an Indian civilian. It is also one where two-paisa Taliban thugs have been convinced that they can get away with murder and more, reinforcing what the Afghans believed for centuries. So used were they to the death of Indian slaves that they named one of their main mountain ranges to commemorate the phenomenon.

It was an anonymous Taliban leader who revealed that P Suryanarayana was killed on the ISI’s orders. He even gave the name of the actual killer and the supervising Taliban commander. Usually the credibility of reports based on anonymous sources is at best dubious. However while the direct accusations bring the ISI’s skulduggery into sharp public focus, there was never any real doubt about Pakistan using Taliban militants to hold up its end in Afghanistan. The Taliban have been taking far bigger orders than that of Suryanarayana’s murder. In calling India’s attention to Pakistan’s involvement in this outrage, Karzai implicitly invited greater Indian military involvement in Afghanistan. The manner in which India dismissed his invitation made it appear as if New Delhi was disinclined to embroil itself in what it saw as a purely bilateral squabble between Kabul and Islamabad. India didn’t even raise a finger in Pakistan’s direction (for that would not help build confidence, will it?).

India cannot win its war in Afghanistan with shovels alone. It needs to bolster its security presence. And this is the best time in years for India to do so — the United States on its way out, NATO and the Europeans don’t really want to stay in and Pakistani objections are fast declining in value. Afghan reconstruction has stalled due to ever-increasing Taliban violence. Neither Karzai nor the Northern Alliance will complain too loudly if Indian special forces are deployed to protect Indian interests. Some may argue against the use of force in Afghanistan, contending that this is not India’s war. If that is so, it is hard to explain India’s massive investment in the reconstruction.

Neither the Taliban nor its sponsors can be defeated by Gandhian techniques. Rebuffing Karzai’s overture was hardly a clever thing for the Indian government to do. The chances are that India will yet be compelled to react to further barbarism. At a certain point even the Indian government will have to acknowledge that not all inactivity can be passed off as masterly. Right now, India’s commitment in Afghanistan is half-hearted. Like at so many other times and fronts, Pakistan has thrust a war on India. India can choose to fight, or expend lives to build roads for the Taliban to drive their 4X4s on.

6 thoughts on “The new Hindu-Kush”

  1. Depressing stuff. Seems our political class has broad consensus on both the economy and on foreign policy. This first is excellent, the second, disastrous. The supposedly hawkish BJP presented Jinnah with a certificate of secularism when it was not undertaking bus or rath yatras or hugging the Taliban in Kandahar; the Congress would rather focus on CBMs with a lame-duck illegitimate, military dispensation, than ICBMs to scare the living daylights out of them; and the Left is pro-people to the point of obstructing everything useful. Seems there’s a large, vacant political space for a secular, right party – religion-agnostic, right on the economy, and muscular on foreign policy.

  2. The Indian political class is dedicated to keeping a First Rate nation like india as a Third Rate Power. i agree with libertarian about the need for such a party, but will that party win any votes beyond the metros? Is there a constituency for it beyond the Educated Middle Classes?

  3. The Indian political class is the biggest bunch of losers in the world. But a few months back, with terrorist attacks on India and Indian shrines continuing unabated, we had that fool Mani Shankar Aiyer pushing for a pipeline via Pak, which would be a boon to the Pak economy in terms of fees paid by India. This is India folks- entirely the reason why assorted Muhmad of Ghaurs came and sacked Somnath, why the Delhi Sultanate ran for ages, why the Mughals ruled, with the occasional genocide in the name of jihad…even at that time, the arguementative Hindu was either contemplating his navel and debating Dvaita/ Advaita, and we had 80 yr olds running policy- and flash forward to today, where septuagenerian leaders decide whats good. The young of course are too busy attending page 3 parties with the pak high commissioner.
    If India has to be protected, and even Islam to be reformed, then Pak has to be defanged and broken up- easier said than done, but no we are “non-violent” onlee, we only fight insurgencies kick started and sustained by Pak in our own territory…for decades..till the next one.

  4. This is nothing but garnering votes from one section of our society. These so called secularists dont care a dammn of who lives and who dies. The Government of India which has the second largest population in the world, cannot even raise the issue with the true perpetrators behind the killing of Surayanarayana.

    I feel the secularists are a national disgrace and by all virtues the number enemies of our country.

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