How should India respond?
Shanthie Mariet D’Souza argues that India should stick to its strategy:
In the aftermath of the July 7 attack, some Indian analysts have suggested an active role for India in the security affairs of Afghanistan. They characterise the Indian Defence Minister’s April 2008 ruling out of the option of sending troops to Afghanistan as “deficient strategic thinking”. Such analysis, to say the least, is based on a complete lack of understanding of the dynamics of insurgency in Afghanistan. It also ignores the far reaching benefits flowing to the Afghan people from the activities that India has been engaged in and which in fact has troubled the Taliban and its sponsors.
It needs to be understood that India, like many other countries, is operating in a highly insecure environment in insurgency-ravaged Afghanistan. In such a scenario, while attacks of the magnitude of the July 7 incident can be better avoided with adequate security preparedness, these certainly do not call for a dramatic reconsideration of India’s non-involvement in security operations. The Government of India should maintain its present course of minimal presence of its security forces personnel coupled with long term developmental activity that weaves aid delivery around greater Afghan ownership and participation. Sending troops to Afghanistan would merely serve as a red rag for the Taliban and its sponsors, even as it causes resentment among common Afghans at the introduction of more foreign troops into their land. Better security for Indian personnel and projects can actually be ensured by working in conjunction with Afghan security forces (including community policing) and other stakeholders interested in building a stable Afghanistan. [IDSA Strategic Comments]
Dr D’Souza has a point. The security situation in Afghanistan today is very different from what it was two years ago. So India would do well to avoid becoming a significant military combatant in the Afghan war. Rather, it would do well to press the United States, and especially NATO, to enhance their military commitments to Afghanistan.
However, additional troops might be necessary to secure Indian re-construction efforts. This is the other factor determining troop levels. Therefore, instead of a policy that rules out additional troops, India’s response should be one of constantly calibrating its security presence.
In any case, the point of focus is quite likely to be Pakistan. As Praveen Swami writes in The Hindu today, an unavoidable (from India’s perspective) “proxy war” is already going on in Afghanistan. Given the state of affairs in Pakistan, reading the signals right, and achieving escalation control in the proxy war is the fundamental challenge to India’s Afghanistan policy.