Would you co-operate with a mere regional power if you feel you have beaten two superpowers?
Kanti Bajpai is one of India’s best academic experts on international relations—and one who this blog holds in high regard. His op-ed in the Times of India today (linkthanks Raja Karthikeya Gundu), however, overlooks something big.
Arguing that India must stop relying on the United States to stabilise Afghanistan and “discipline Pakistan” he calls for “Indian policy on Afghanistan must move towards a regional understanding that includes in the first instance Pakistan and perhaps Iran.”
The fundamental compact between India and Pakistan must be of a simple, robust nature: that both countries have legitimate interests in Afghanistan. India has an interest in overall stability and the protection of northern, non-Pashtun Afghans as well as various other minorities including Sikhs and Hindus. Pakistan also has an interest in the country’s stability and in the Pashtuns finding their rightful place in any future government of Afghanistan. India and Pakistan could agree therefore that India will continue to provide developmental aid and that Pakistan will have influence on political developments, the goal of both countries being to help evolve a lasting, just and inclusive political system…In addition, India must resume talks with Pakistan. [TOI]
The problem with this argument is that it assumes that either the Pakistani military-jihadi establishment will either play along or that it will cease to exist. And that is a big assumption. Moreover, the assumption is all the more unlikely to hold specifically in the event Dr Bajpai’s prediction of a US pullout by 2012 comes about.
Why so? First, the Pakistani military-jihadi complex will perceive a US withdrawal as its second victory over a superpower. This will strengthen its hand in Pakistan’s domestic politics and further encourage it to escalate the proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir. Indeed, triumph in Afghanistan will make the military-jihadi complex less likely to engage in meaningful dialogue with India over bilateral issues.
Second, once Western troops leave, and a pro-Pakistan regime gains control, why would the Pakistani military establishment want to permit Indian developmental aid? Isn’t it far more likely that it will approach China and Saudi Arabia for financial assistance, which the latter would readily provide?
If the Indian government goes ahead with Dr Bajpai’s recommendations before dismantling the Pakistani military-jihadi complex, it is likely to ‘lose’ Afghanistan to Pakistan & China.
The idea of India attempting to reach a regional understanding with Pakistan and Iran is a good one. It is exactly what the Indian government ought to do—right after the military-jihadi complex has been destroyed.
Update: Dr Bajpai responds:
Thank you for your thoughts on my piece.
I think Churchill said that democracy was the worst system except for all the others. A regional compact on Afghanistan is the worst alternative except for all the others.
The Vietnamese beat two superpowers as well—the French and the US. But it has not exactly got them very far.
The real issue is: what is most likely to give us a shot at stability and a long-term solution? The US cannot be part of a long-term solution because it is not in the region.
The reason that Pakistan might come to terms with India on it is that New Delhi is not likely this time to just pull out of Afghanistan in terms of its diplomatic and developmental presence. Pakistan cannot therefore count on having its way in Afghanistan. Also, a new Afghanistan, at some point, even if it dominated by the Taliban, will be a problem for Islamabad—on territory, on Islam.
The Islamic-jehadi complex in Pakistan has to be wrestled to the ground by the Pakistanis. The US will not be able to degrade it. As long as the Americans are in Afghanistan, there is not much chance that more moderate Pakistanis–in the ISI, in the rest of the Army, in civil society, in the political parties–will be able to root out the jehadis.
The Chinese are going to muscle in on Afghanistan sooner or later anyway. They are already putting in money. The Chinese are the next superpower, and they certainly cannot be kept out of Afghanistan if they don’t want to stay out. This is something we in India will have to accept. The Chinese are going to be everywhere—from Bhutan and Nepal to Bangladesh and Burma, from the Maldives to Sri Lanka. Their power is going to outstrip ours by some degrees for the next 35 years. They will find Afghanistan a difficult place to operate but given their fears about Xinjiang they will keep their involvement fairly limited, hoping that Pakistan will do the job.