More on India’s military presence in Afghanistan

Over at Broadsword (linkthanks Pragmatic, Rohit), Ajai Shukla makes a curious case against India strengthening its military presence in Afghanistan.

To now throw troops into what will inevitably become a bloody struggle for power risks smudging India’s benevolent image.

Instead, Indian planners should be considering that, perhaps three years along, US and NATO forces may pull out of Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai would be history, and Afghanistan itself divided into different zones of control. In that Afghanistan, India’s physical presence may well be reduced to zero. The ITBP would have pulled out; development projects would have shut down; elements politically hostile to India may well control large parts of the country; the embassy and India’s consulates may well have closed shop. This is what happened in 1996; today, only American and European support—fickle, and already wavering—prevents a return to that time.

But despite those threats, and the occasional cross-border foray, western forces in Afghanistan can hardly influence events in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Only the Pakistan army can do that, but remains unwilling to….The army brass in Pakistan—which will eventually have the final word on this—has not yet come round to accepting that the military has little choice but to transform the NWFP from a sanctuary to a battlefield.

Without that realisation in Rawalpindi, a couple of years more of rising casualties in Afghanistan could well trigger a US and NATO pullout.[Broadsword]

Now, one part of Mr Shukla’s argument is reasonable: that it is crucial for India to consider the effect its level of military presence has on the local population. It is difficult to fathom the logic of the rest of his arguments.

Mr Shukla underestimates the US commitment to win the war in Afghanistan. Far from even talking about cutting and running, both presidential candidates have committed to reinforce American military presence in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Bush administration is upping the ante in the Afghan theatre. If the situation can be cast as a battle of resolves, then a “realisation in Rawalpindi” is more likely than a pullout by the United States.

In this situation, the prospect of India deploying more troops to Afghanistan can change the strategic calculations of the Pakistani brass. As Lieutenant-General (retired) Talat Masood writes, the Pakistani army continues to think that the Taliban can be used as frontline options against US troops along the Durand Line (just as it uses jihadis against the Indian army). But the prospect of Indian troops joining the fray, albeit in Afghan territory, would discourage the Pakistani army from pursuing this course. And even if it doesn’t, it still makes sense for India to prevent Pakistan from repeating its 1996 performance in Afghanistan, one that had severe consequences for India’s national security.

Believing and acting on a pessimistic prognosis might well bring it about. Far from discarding the military option out of pessimism or concern for the erosion of ‘soft power’, it is important to keep it on the table.

11 thoughts on “More on India’s military presence in Afghanistan”

  1. The argument has been made, and rightly so, that as long as the supply routes and logistics for the A’stan NATO passes through Papistan, Amriki hands are de facto tied down against direct action on the ‘Pakiban’.

    But hearteningly, that maybe set to chabge. Seems Russia recently came around and agreed to provide land access to A’stan from the North using its influcne with teh Central Asian republics. The fireworks in NWFP will really start as and when that new route meets reality.

  2. Ajai Shukla admits defeat without getting on the playing field. Nitin you’re right that he grossly underestimates US resolve to solve this problem. Both candidates (and even the current administration) now understand than this was and is the only War on Terror. The barrage of commitments and grim prognostications from Mullen, Boucher, the Pentagon and State Dept guarantee than the US will do exactly the opposite of cutting and running. The US simply cannot afford another 9/11. No secret where the next one is being planned.

    Sud: hey maybe there’s way to Afghanistan from Chabahar in Iran. Bush did a really swift volte face and is talking to the nuclear negotiator from Iran. In any case, the supply route through Pak is really leaky – all kinds of ambushes on the way.

  3. Sud, libertarian
    I hope to be the spoiler of the party but i guess some one has to be. The US commitment to “winning” is at this point driven by nothing more than election fever – it does not matter who the next US President is, but the American public simply has no appetite for any more wars, most definitely no bloody ones in the next 5 years.

    There is no doubt that the US troop presence is going to increase in the coming months – how ever the fundamental problem is not just a question of troops – it is about the fact that the NWFP is basically a safe haven for the Taliban and will continue to remain so, no matter the number of troops. The US will not be able to take the fight to the NWFP because of the fact that Pakistan will never allow this to happen – if the US does get into a bloody war against the tribes in NWFP, it will provoke open revolts on the streets of Islamabad and every where in pakistan.

    So the US is going to be more frustrated in dealing with the situation, especially when it realizes that increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan is going to do diddly squat to the fact that the enemies are in NWFP. Unless the US clears out the safe havens in NWFP, terrorism is going to persist.

    If Iraq has taught any lesson, it is the fact that civilian co-operation is the most essential aspect in breaking the backbone of terrorism. Such co-operation is not going to be found with Pashtun tribesman who are already promising to defend their lands from any US attack – and get this, are promising to come to the aid of the paki army should the US attack the country !

    The Pakistan army is correct to bet on the fact that the US will ultimately wear down if it is simply going to defend territory in Afghanistan while being able to do nothing against the safe havens in NWFP. Stopping short of nuking the region or bombing it to submission, both of which will enrage the Islamic radicals and the American Left, nothing much is going to happen.

    Also, the idea that India would send troops to Afghanistan is so laughable that i dont know who came up with is idea – given the facts that the Congress panders to the Muslim vote bank and the BJP neither has the balls nor the support to pull off such a strategic move that will be imposed by the Indian public across idealogical lines ( it wont be just the commies), this idea is a non starter.

    Pakistan is betting on two things
    A. The US public does not have the stomach to put up with a long insurgency with a lot of bloodshed. Iraq conclusively demonstrated that. Inspite of the fact that the situation in Iraq is the best in 4 years, the country is all set to elect an anti Iraq war candidate (Obama) who is promising to pull troops out in an incredible 16 months !!

    B. The US public/policy makers dont have the stomach to do any kind of hot pursuit attacks or massive punitive action on millions of tribal people – for all the bombast, when push comes to shove the Democrats will back away from the necessary tough actions which would involve a lot of collateral damage.

    I dont see the Pakistan Govt or military trying to do anything to better the situation – it is even ridiculous to think that they want to help – they play a double game where they do just enough to say ” we are fighting them too” but in actuality are hoping that the US troops would leave after a few years just like the Russians did.

    Afghanistan is an even more terrible tragedy than Iraq. and thats a shame.

  4. NS: Interesting thesis. Cannot agree with some assumptions.

    The US will not be able to take the fight to the NWFP because of the fact that Pakistan will never allow this to happen – if the US does get into a bloody war against the tribes in NWFP, it will provoke open revolts on the streets of Islamabad and every where in pakistan.

    It’s not Pakistan’s call. They cannot have it both ways – not control their own territory and demand sovereign rights for it. Either they demonstrate control or they must step aside. In any case, no-one’s reading Gilani’s lips – he’s a bleating sheep who cannot count on army to do anything. The US economy is already on the mat. Another 9-11 scale attack would evoke Great Depression imagery. For what is most dear to the American heart (the wallet) another attack assumes Armageddon proportions. The military cost of preventing that scenario is chump-change compared to Iraq.

    As for open revolt on the streets on Pakistan, two observations: Pakistanis have never rallied in large masses to effect serious political change since 1947 – they’re a somnolent, amnesiac lot; second, they also revolt for Danish cartoons – their revolts are not to be taken seriously. It’s a minor part of the calculus of whether to go into NWFP or not. The major one is: are Mush and Kayani signing up or not.

    The US public does not have the stomach to put up with a long insurgency with a lot of bloodshed. Iraq conclusively demonstrated that.

    On the contrary. Iraq actually makes the case for a surge in Afghanistan than not.

    Stopping short of nuking the region or bombing it to submission, both of which will enrage the Islamic radicals and the American Left, nothing much is going to happen.

    Or having NWFP formally secede so that the problem can be tackled without Pak interference. As for enraging Islamic radicals – they’re already super-saturated with rage – a little more will make no difference 🙂

    If Iraq has taught any lesson, it is the fact that civilian co-operation is the most essential aspect in breaking the backbone of terrorism.

    Agree. We learned that in Punjab and Kashmir too.

  5. “Or having NWFP formally secede so that the problem can be tackled without Pak interference.”
    Legally, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the North-West Frontier Province lapsed back into Afghan territory after the termination of the Treaty between Mortimer Durand (on behalf of the British Empire) and Amir Abdur Rahman Khan of Afghanistan, signed in 1893, relinquishing control of these regions to the British for 100 years. Since 1993, consequently, FATA and NWFP are de jure Afghan territory, though they continue to be illegally occupied by Pakistan.

  6. ”The US public does not have the stomach to put up with a long insurgency with a lot of bloodshed. Iraq conclusively demonstrated that. Inspite of the fact that the situation in Iraq is the best in 4 years, the country is all set to elect an anti Iraq war candidate (Obama) who is promising to pull troops out in an incredible 16 months !!”

    a) A lot of objection to the war in Iraq is because the basic premise of war–WMD–have been proven to be false. In fact, one can safely conclude that the Bush and party were not exactly honest in building up the case for war. If India were to attack Mauritius tomorrow alleging a nuclear threat which is proven to be false, surely, there would be a lot of resistance. That doesn’t, by it self, mean that Indians don’t have the stomach for a fight.

    b) US presidential elections are not a one issue election. No democratic election ever is. Bush does not have a great record on issues ranging from economy to the environment. It’s just not about Iraq! Even Obama has already said–now he is in presidential mode–that he would revise troop withdrawals based on reports of his commanders. You can safely throw the 16 month period out of the window.

    c) More broadly, people overestimate the division in American foreign policy. Every candidate from Obama to McCain is against Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. There is no change on policy on Israel. More pointedly, despite all the rhetoric, the democrat majority Congress made no attempts to force Bush to abrogate the war.

  7. The rationale for maintaining NATO presence in A’stan is not merely terror related, it also, in an ominous shadow of the great game rerun, holds the key to accessing central asian oil and gas deposits, amomg other things.

    Why then was A’stan left to the Papis in the 90s, because during the drunken haze of the Yeltsin era, the west got to openly loot prime Russian and CA assets and Resources directly.

    Now we have China, Russia and India all eyeing o&G deals in Central Asia. Amrika cannot afford to be uninvolved in the game. At the least, by making failed bids for these fields, they’ll raise the cost of operating there for the rest of us.

    Maintaining a long term base in A’stan is worth the cost for the US, IMO. The other ‘NATO allies’ have negligible presence and won’t be missed much in operational terms even if they tire and leave.

    Last but not least, leaving A’stan means the jihadis get to, rightly or wrongly, croon that they’ve beaten both superpowers and will enbolden them no end. In an era of globalised terror and dirty bombs and WMD, such an outcome is simply inexcusable.

    JMTs etc. Have a nice day, all.

  8. “It’s not Pakistan’s call. They cannot have it both ways – not control their own territory and demand sovereign rights for it. Either they demonstrate control or they must step aside.”
    But that is exactly what Pakistan has been successful to a large extent so far – having the cake and eating it too – they also happen to provide the supply lines to Afghanistan. Not to mention the fact that their nuclear program is rumored to be near the NWFP regions. They have never demonstrated any control over this region and are in no pressing hurry to. The US has been relegated to firing a few missiles into the border region when ever they get intelligence of AQ/Taliban presence without informing the Pakis and the Paki Govt crying indignantly about “sovereignity”.

    “Another 9-11 scale attack would evoke Great Depression imagery. For what is most dear to the American heart (the wallet) another attack assumes Armageddon proportions. The military cost of preventing that scenario is chump-change compared to Iraq.”
    I agree. But the chances of another 9/11 have significantly diminished. The military costs are going to be nowhere near what it was in Iraq, but the mission will be a taxing one for US troops.

    “On the contrary. Iraq actually makes the case for a surge in Afghanistan than not.”
    I wish it were that simple. But it is not. Also at the end of the day the Iraqi people proved to be far more secular than any one expected them to be. After the Samarrah mosque bombing in 2006, no one thought that Iraq would remain as one country given the violent sectarian warfare that raged in the following months.

    The Sunnis in Al Anbar kicked Al-Qaeda after not being able to stand their Wahabbism – Maliki reigned in Al Sadrs Shia thugs later on – these are two events no one could have anticipated. Iraqi’s- both Sunni and Shia took on people from their own sect – and that too the major troublemakers.

    Long story short, the Iraqis were basically fed up with the violence that was perpetrated in their name and in their religion – they comprehensively rejected it. Increased support from the Iraqi public helped both the US troops and Iraqi Army to detect the rat lines, the terrorist supporters and effectively deal with them.

    Violence in Iraq is at an all time low in the last 4 years – there are now stories that US soldiers are “bored” and want to move on. Who would have even anticipated this dramatic change of events 18 months back ?

    Pakistan on the other hand is a country whose very existence is based on religion – and a very fundamentalist version of that. Think about this for a second – how many tribesman in Pashtun country are going to be willing to rat out the Taliban – and for what exactly ? To these people, the Taliban are “guests” and “brothers” who have been oppressed by the evil Christian Crusader and (add your favorite insult for Israel)

    Success in Afghanistan is going to be possible only when the Paki army fights the Taliban tooth and nail – but when most of the ISI and the military are in the tank for the Talib, why exactly are we expecting from them ?

    “Or having NWFP formally secede so that the problem can be tackled without Pak interference. As for enraging Islamic radicals – they’re already super-saturated with rage – a little more will make no difference”
    Wow – NWFP secession !! That would do the trick ! I hope it happens – the problem is that the NWFP has never really considered itself to be part of Pakistan 🙂 so who are they going to secede from ?? But i think this would be exactly what the US needs to carpet bomb these bastards into the Stone Age ( but wait a minute, they already live like they are in the Stone Age dont they? – may be they should all be nuked.

    May be I am being too pessimistic about the US efforts in Afghanistan – but since i have been living here for the last few years and have had a chance to view the US public reaction to terrorism in general and their bigger priorities ( junta here is more worried about gas prices, health insurance, food prices, outsourcing etc), I am skeptical. Thats all.

  9. Rohit,
    I have tried to address some of your comments
    “A lot of objection to the war in Iraq is because the basic premise of war–WMD–have been proven to be false. In fact, one can safely conclude that the Bush and party were not exactly honest in building up the case for war.”
    I would agree. But the even bigger lie perpetrated by the US media on how Bush alone thought that the war was necessary is what very few people seem to realize.

    When Bill Clinton was President, he was very worried about Iraq – worried enough to slap economic sanctions on them and sign a bill in 1998 that was called the “Iraq Liberation Act” – you can google it for yourself. In fact there were a lot of Democrats who also basically said that Saddaam was too dangerous to be left alone. Of course when the Iraq war went south, the same Democrats got a classic case of amnesia and started blaming Bush for this catastrophe.

    I am not defending Bush spinning the threats that Iraq posed – but he was not the only person who thought that way. After 9/11 he basically made a choice to go after Saddaam – and many Democrats agreed with him.

    Right now American people are more concerned about their wealth, their health insurance, their ability to afford high gasoline prices etc. Terrorism does not have the same importance it had in 2002 or 2004. Also, the general public is loathe to seeing US soldiers die – even if it were for a justifiable war. I dont think they are in for a long drawn out effort which is essentially what this Afghanistan war is going tobe. Especially if the US wants to observe restraint and not cause collateral damage while dealing with the tribes.

    But I do agree with Sud when he says that there is a whole lot of strategic interest for the US in Central Asia – for that reason alone, they have to stay in this region. But i dont think they are going to like this idea of strictly playing defense for long. And this is where trouble is going to start.

    Some times, i wish they just smoked those stupid tribals out, without having any feeling of remorse. It may come to that point if the pakis refuse to take them on.

Comments are closed.