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.