After the Kabul embassy bombing

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.

Dear Yusuf Raza Gilani

Regarding freezing defence expenditure

Your decision to freeze Pakistan’s defence expenditure as “a show of its desire for peace with neighbours” is welcome. We even hope that you will someday be able to control that budgetary head.

You also hoped “to see a reciprocal gesture from our neighbour for the sake of peace and prosperity of the region”, which we are told is an “obvious reference to India.” While your sentiments remain worthy of praise you should have also asked your neighbours to the North and to the West to reciprocate too. It’s a pity you didn’t.

The other General Kiyani

An angry retired general on television

Lieutenant-General (retd) Jamshed Gulzar Ahmed Kiyani, who served as a corps commander of the Pakistani Army under General Pervez Musharraf had a lot to say about his former chief. And none of it charitable. General Kiyani has joined the ranks of a number of former general officers at the head of an ‘ex-servicemen’s movement’ against General Musharraf. Here are two of his recent TV appearances: first, on PTV’s Live with Talat, and a second, more beans-out-of-the-bag one on GEO TV’s Meray Mutabiq show with Shahid Masood (via UB). The latter is 90 minutes long, but is worth watching in full. (alternative link, report).

In the early stages of the interview with Dr Masood, he boasts that a Pakistani general is far superior to an Indian one. And then he blames the top leadership of the Pakistani army for the “debacles” in East Pakistan and Kargil. He points out that the Pakistani military leadership did not expect the “intense response” from the Indian side, that used air power and ‘state-of-the-art’ Bofors howitzers (when the latter were at least 15 years old in 1999). On the other hand, he does admit that “you can’t dictate terms to the enemy” and admits that the fighting was done by young Pakistani army personnel—that ‘mujahideen’ fig-leaf being fully dead.

While General Kiyani comes out as a harsh critic of General Musharraf, he is more sympathetic to Nawaz Sharif. He first absolves Nawaz Sharif as having knowledge of the Kargil operation, but then goes on the describe a meeting of leading figures where Sartaj Aziz, the foreign minister, opposed it on the grounds that it would be diplomatically indefensible, and General Majid, the minister of Kashmir and Northern Areas grilled the Rawalpindi corps commander on whether the army had the logistics capability to support the offensive. Mr Nawaz Sharif himself is quoted as saying that he would support it as long as the going was good, but would ditch them if things fouled up.

General Kiyani calls for an impartial closed-down inquiry into the Kargil debacle. It remains to be seen if Mr Nawaz Sharif himself would want that.