US presence in Afghanistan is good for India

And it’s got nothing to do with the jihadi war against us

Sudheendra Kulkarni makes an astonishing argument in his Indian Express column today. India’s acquiescence to the United States’ military presence in Afghanistan, he argues, “avoidably intensifies anti-American Islamists’ ideological hostility towards India. Our silent approval of America’s war on Afghanistan is interpreted by them as India being a part of the US-UK-Israel axis. We lose much from joining this axis, just as we lose greatly by being blind to the threat posed by global Islamism.”

Now Mr Kulkarni is a member of the BJP’s brain trust, not a card-carrying member of India’s loony Left. Surely, it cannot be Mr Kulkarni’s case that the Islamist war against India began after India ‘joined’ the so-called axis? If anything, the purported fear of ‘alienating the Muslim community’, a milder variant of the provoking-the-jihadis argument that Mr Kulkarni now makes, has been with us for a long time: leading India to indiscriminately side with the Arab-Palestinian side even as it was abundantly clear that a partnership with Israel was necessary for India’s very survival (no, that’s not an overstatement). The fact is that, as any history book will reveal, the jihad against India predates a closer alignment between India, Israel and the United States.

Mr Kulkarni also contends that India is “repeating the mistake by not asking the United States to end its military occupation of Afghanistan.” Whatever might be the assessment of the US military role in Afghanistan over the last seven years, it defies reason to suggest that a US exit is somehow in India’s interests, for two wrongs do not make a right. Mr Kulkarni makes it sound as if the 1990s never happened. Perhaps he would have been on firmer ground if he had recommended that the United States rely on tribal proxies to fight the Taliban—a tenuous proposition at best, due to the complete evisceration of traditional Afghan society by three decades of radical Islamism. But India asking the US to vacate Afghanistan is not repeating an old mistake, but creating an entirely new one.

It is all very well to argue that India is ultimately on its own. Yet it would be foolhardy and counterproductive not to align with countries at times and places where interests coincide. For the second time—the first was over the India-US nuclear deal—the BJP’s foreign policy sounds like it came from the Left. While it should not abandon the quest for innovative foreign policy thinking, it should not come at the cost of abandoning realism.