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.

16 thoughts on “US presence in Afghanistan is good for India”

  1. Kulkarni was a communist before he took a right turn a few years ago.

    He is too emotional to be a true realist.

  2. I fully agree with your view but the argument goes something along these lines: if we are unable to do anything to stop these attacks, maybe waving the white flag by opposing the US will help (see current editorial in EPW which has a similar suggestion). If the jihadis claim to be provoked by the US, should we aggravate them further since we are unable to stop them in any case? After all if we are willing to pin all our hopes upon endless diplomacy, why not another long shot like this one? A completely hair brained one perhaps but unless those who oppose these ideas have better ones to confront the looming threat, the loony left is unfortunately going to prevail (assuming it has not already).

  3. Dear Bobcat,

    I’m unsure whether the editor of EPW has read the manifesto issued by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, for instance. If he did, he’d not worry about esoteric issues like India’s support for the US war in Afghanistan. Or even settle for “let Kashmir go”, because keeping Kashmir also provokes the jihadis a whole lot more.

    I’m unsure whether the editor of EPW understands correctly the consequences of jihadis knowing that they “defeated” yet another superpower.

  4. bobcat,
    I doubt that this (opposing the US) will stop the Lashkar or its friends and backers in Pakistan. If anything this will only encourage them. This argument (the white flag) is a common one by many Indian “liberals” (I tend to think of them as deficient in common sense or even patriotism in some cases) who advocate the hand over or “independence” of J&K (see Mr. Amit Verma, or the ToI “editorial board” for illustration). They and Pakistan in general, have a problem with the very existence of India, for which J&K is only the first and most immediate step-this is pretty explicit in the comments or writings of most prominent Pakistani politicians.
    I find the premises of Mr. Kulkarni’s argument very disturbing-the american presence in Afghanistan is not an occupation currently. There are very good reasons to have concerns about american influence in India’s neighborhood, and their not so subtle policy of boxing India in the region in a controllable fashion (See eg. their pressure on Indo-Iran relations, and their recent plans to have a “mediation” on J&K by inserting themselves into this problem of terrorism), but I don’t think Mr. Kulkarni does anyone any favors by repeating the same sort of tired and mistaken grounds that have confined Indian policy options.

  5. Actually, we Indians have washed our hands off Pashtuns right after partition. The Khudai-khidmatgar movement of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, has been a non-violent and secular oppostion to the British, done with the blessings of Mahatma Gandhi. The Pashtuns did not have an option of joining Afghanistan during a referendum before Partition, so the NWFP went to Pakistan. No Afghan government has ever recognized the Durand line which seperates the two countries.

    It is highly logical and strategic that India should recognize and encourage the secular linguistic nationalism of the Pashtun region. Only they can put the region under control, and eliminate the Islamist Taleban. In fact, these secular parties have so much populist support that they have won all the parliamentary seats in NWFP in the recent elections. The Awami National Party (ANP) is the direct descendant of the Khudai-khidmatgar movement.

    Pakistani army has a long tradition of using hardline Islamist parties to suppress linguistic nationalism. The list of murders and assassinations that it has done is too long to count : in Bengal, Sindh, Baluchistan and Afghanistan. Without the support of the ISI, the Taleban would never have formed a government in Kabul.

    There have been billboards in the Pashtun regions on Nov 19 advocating for an independent Pashtunistan. On Nov 26, we find terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Coincidence ?

    Pakistani army desperately wants to divert the attention away to the easter frontier to give the Taleban a lifeshot in the west. It is putting an enormous charade of fighting the Islamists before the USA and gobbling up their dollars. But Taleban are essential for the very survival of Pakistan. They are necessary to oppose linguistic nationalism and calls for more provincial autonomy (BTW, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated because of her support for more provincial autononmy, just like her father). The murky deals of Taleban and the Pak Army have been exposed recently by a the General Faisal Alavi and he was murdered.

    We Indians should be dumb to the bone to ignore all these connections.

    There is only one way to win the war in Afghanistan. That is to recognize and encourage Pashtun nationalism. Only they can get rid of the Taleban (if only the Pak army exits quietly). Murdering more Pashtuns is not the answer. I hope the US and India recognize and change their strategies before it is too late (before Pashtun nationalism itself gets highjacked by Islamist elements).

  6. Bobcat, the jihadis will prey on neutral meek infidels just as easily as they prey on hostile infidels. They would see our meekness as an open invitation for our subjugation. They are also willing to grab at any lever within reach in order to help Pak Army to disengage from the War on Terror. Furthermore, if ISI is complicit in these attacks as evidence is increasingly showing, then are we going to be meek and cave in to ISI demands too? Then you’d better be handing them not just Kashmir on a silver platter, but also our whole country, because they’ll be satisified with nothing less.

  7. What I’m surmising is that Kulkarni is so upset at USA’s demand that India meekly absorb the Mumbai attacks without responding, that he wants us to reciprocate this unkind US response by having us give the US a cold shoulder in the War on Terror. After all, the War on Terror should not merely be about keeping US soil safe from terror, at the cost of keeping India in perpetual terror. US is offering Pak more aid and arms than ever, and not turning any screws on them. US is like a swimmer trying to keep himself from being eaten by sharks – so he grabs other nearby swimmers and throws them to the sharks instead. India doesn’t want to be thrown to the sharks of terrorism just to keep somebody else safe. If US pressure on Taliban is driving them to commit these major attacks against India, then we’re being affected by the war.

    Anyway, I agree that we shouldn’t abandon the War on Terror, but I’m saying that we’d better get it across to the US that they shouldn’t take us for granted in the War on Terror either. This means they’d better do a lot more to turn the heat up on Pak, so that we don’t end up as a sacrificial lamb in this war. Our role in this War on Terror should not be to end up as a practice target for the jihadis.

  8. Guys, I pefectly understand your point and share the same view. No, the LeT is not going to stop the attacks and yes, Kashmir has never been the only thing on their agenda. I have no illusions about where these ideas are going to lead us – nowhere, that is – but bad ideas need to be confronted with better ones which seem to be in short supply at the moment.

    If you cannot confront a threat, you need to appease or so goes the argument. If Saddam could not fight the US, he should have ceded power as Bush demanded in order to avert war. It is said that Mohamed Bin Tughlaq used to pay off the Hun invaders because he was unable to fight them. Likewise, if we cannot fight Pakistan, why not keep feeding the jihadi tiger to keep it satiated? That seems to be loony left’s argument. Will that prevent attacks? No but nothing we are doing now has prevented them either. Will it embolden them? Perhaps but attacks are increasing in intensity anyway – at first, they were confined to Kashmir largely; now no major city in the country is safe.

    The argument they give is of Spain (you can read that in one of the articles in last week’s EPW): Spain withdrew from Iraq and has faced no terrorist attacks ever since. If we can likewise lessen their anger, why not try?

  9. Yawn…common argument these days. Because our cooperation with US will encourage terrorist attacks, bury our self-interests and sit smug. How come none of these concerned folks press for better security and intelligence in view of our increased susceptibility to repercussions instead?

  10. Why are there no peace talks between Afghani Pashtuns and Pakistani nationalists? How come no Sahmat-type is concerned about the violation of human rights of Afghani warlords. Self-determination for Pashtouns, NOW.

  11. Bobcat,
    The idea of appeasement that you have suggested has been tried since time immemorial – there is really nothing new to this. And as always it has failed. There are two main reasons for this.

    a. You assume good intentions in your enemy and you assume that they can be reasoned with.

    b. By giving in to your opponents, you signal weakness – you concede that if enough pressure is applied on you, you will roll over. This only opens the door for more intimidation on the part of your opponent.

    Your argument that “nothing we do now is stopping them” is a laugher – we are actually doing NOTHING – we dont even have economic sanctions on Pakistani businesses that trade with India. And Zardari is going around asking where the “proof” is that these terrorists are Pakistani whwn Kasab’s parents themselves have admitted that he is their son. Indeed, we are doing absolutely nothing.

    As far as Afghanistan goes, it is very likely that the US retreats soon. Probably not in Obama’s first term itself – but around 2013 or 2014. After watching the way people complained about the Iraq war ( the ones who whined the loudest were the ones who were farthest removed from its effects), I have come to the conclusion that American people will ultimately give up on Afghanistan.

    US supplies to Afghanistan run through Pakistan – plus the Paki military gives some minimal support in the “war on terror” – enough to keep the US showering it with money and arms – as long as this situation persists, the US has one option only – tolerate Pakistan/ISI.

    There have been some rumblings among US lawmakers to provide conditional support to Pakistan – but as long as the Pakis control the supply lines, they have enough leverage on the US.

    I see only two endings to this game.

    A. The US comes to an “understanding” with Pakistan and recognizes Aghanistan as it’s near abroad. It grants asylum to Karzai and leaves the region.

    B. The US tries to influence India into agreeing on a “solution” ( read Plebiscite) on Kashmir. Obama has already indicated that he would be open to this approach.

    I see no way India agreeing to option B – the US is ultimately going to withdraw after Afghanistan war fatigue sets on the American people and they clamour for a withdrawal.

  12. >>Likewise, if we cannot fight Pakistan, why not keep feeding the jihadi tiger to keep it satiated? That seems to be loony left’s argument.

    That argument is factually incorrect. We did fight Pakistan, and broke it into two pieces in 1971.

    >>but bad ideas need to be confronted with better ones which seem to be in short supply at the moment

    When one bad idea is shown up to humbug, another bad idea will be thrown at you. That is the nature of the loon. The loon will go on and on because his argument is driven by dogma and fanaticism, not sincerity. Why not ask the loon when did _he_ actually support the idea of fighting Pakistan?

  13. Bobcat, Nitin,
    Will you please post the link to the EPW editorial that you both refer to? I looked for it in the last 4 online issues, but couldn’t find it. At least, can you give the vol/issue reference? Thanks.

  14. @Socal

    Pakistani nationalism is essentially based on loyalty towards religion (this is the sole justification for partition). Pashtun nationalism is based on loyalty towards language and ethnicity. These two are mutually contradictory. The former is a regressive feudal ideology and the later a progressive capitalist ideology.

    Pakistani nationalists are very content in glossing over (in even participating) the genocide and targeted assassinations of Pashtun intelligentsia by the Taleban. The same story has been repeating for 60 years now. The first thing that an independent Pakistan has done was to imprison Badshah Khan and systematically murder his followers.

  15. @Nagarajan

    A. The US comes to an “understanding” with Pakistan and recognizes Aghanistan as it’s near abroad. It grants asylum to Karzai and leaves the region.

    B. The US tries to influence India into agreeing on a “solution” ( read Plebiscite) on Kashmir. Obama has already indicated that he would be open to this approach.

    India has two crucial bargaining chips on the Kashmir plebiscite issue. First it should demand that both Pakistan and China return to their pre-1947 borders in the Jammu and Kashmir state, and that the Kashmiri Pandits be accommodated back in the valley. Secondly, India should demand a similar plebiscite be held on the frontier regions of Pakthukhwa and Baluchistan of Pakistan because there is significant discontent over the manner in which these regions are incorporated into the Pakistani state.

    This negotiation will put the ball in the court of Pakistan, with increased US pressure, because US is primarily concerned about the eventual fate of the Pakthoon regions.

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