The Filter Coffee

Foreign policy, strategic affairs, defense and governance

What McChrystal said about India

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of US & ISAF forces in Afghanistan painted a grim picture of the situation in Afghanistan in his “leaked” assessment to Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates.  Among other things, he indicated that the overall situation is deteriorating and a “crisis of confidence” existed among the Afghans that undermines US and ISAF credibility.  McChrystal called for a short-term deployment of additional US troops in Afghanistan.

In addition, in a section entitled “External Influences”, McChrystal wrote about India’s role in Afghanistan — something that has had our media in coils the past couple of days:

Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment. [I]ncreasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India.

Ever ready to jump the gun, members of our media took umbrage with the assessment.  In an article titled “US sees rising Indian influence in Afghanistan as problem“, Siddharth Varadarajan opines:

In the clearest statement to date of Washington’s reservations about the rising Indian economic and political profile in Afghanistan, the top American general… said India’s increasing influence… “is likely to exacerbate regional tensions”. Though the McChrystal report falls short of prescribing that India scale back its presence in Afghanistan, the implication is clear:…India should realise its assistance to Afghanistan might provoke Islamabad into taking “countermeasures”.

Varadarajan’s arguments are lethargic and draw conclusions based on misinterpretations of McChrystal’s assessment. First, nothing in the report or in public domain indicates that Washington is unhappy with India’s role in Afghanistan.  India’s current involvement includes funding and construction of large infrastructural projects (such as the “Nimroz-Chabahar” highway and the “Salma Dam” power project), aid, rural development and training the Afghan police force.  If McChrystal means what he says, then he should have no problem with India’s role in bringing development and stability to Afghanistan.

Second, Pakistani “countermeasures” to India’s involvement in Afghanistan is a pretty strange threat.  Unconventional warfare against India is Pakistan’s modus operandi.  It began as early as 1947 when Kashmir was flooded with armed Afridi tribesmen, as a precursor to the 1947 war and has only grown in size, mandate and state involvement over the years.  So Pakistan threatening to use something that it uses against India anyway, just because it dislikes India’s growing influence in Afghanistan is meaningless.

Third, even as McChrystal submitted his assessment to Sec Gates, a major rethink is under way in the Obama administration on Af-Pak, with many in the civilian administration against the idea of deploying additional troops.  They instead favor a combination of “negotiating” with the Taliban and increasing Drone assaults in Pakistan to disrupt al-Qaeda and Taliban elements.  As The Filter Coffee previously pointed out, the apparatus for such a strategy has been slowing taking shape in Pakistan over the past few months.

The Obama administration wants to craft a way forward in Afghanistan based on an approach that will incorporate “soft power” along with cold, hard military strategy. Upon learning of the leak, the Pentagon clarified that McChrystal’s assessment was only one of the many inputs that make up this reassessment.  Therefore, McChrystal’s assessment, even in its misinterpreted state, is hardly Holy Writ.

Fourth, India cannot afford to be in Afghanistan due to, or despite American disposition towards its involvement.  As a regional power, India must continue to engage with Afghanistan on social, economic and political development.  India’s calculations on the extent of its involvement in Afghanistan must be based on its strategic and national interests and not on the whims of other nations or veiled threats from its adversaries.

When the US leaves the region in the not-too-distant future, the cross of Afghanistan must be borne by regional powers like India and Iran, both of which share largely convergent views on the nation.  Insofar as India’s involvement in Afghanistan is concerned, its efforts have contributed positively to the development of the nation.  If America wants to leave Afghanistan as a (relatively) stable and functioning nation, India’s assistance is imperative and further Indian engagement must be encouraged.  The US can fight the war in Afghanistan, but is going to find it impossible to withdraw from Afghanistan on its own terms without India.

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Filed under: Af-Pak, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, America, Foreign Policy, India, Obama, Pakistan, Terrorism, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Responses

  1. manoj joshi says:

    The problem with all foreign involvement is that the host country knows– both the government and the insurgent– that one day you will quit. Afghanistan is, of course, legendary in making people quit involuntarily. So it is important for India to aid the US to the extent possible, but keep its powder dry. This means maintaining diplomatic links with Russia and Iran on the issue, as well as discreetly supporting the erstwhile Northern Alliance elements in the country. (Which India has been doing, I must say).
    The problem with the US is that it is not used to fighting with allies, or depending on them.As the hegemon, it usually likes to deal with proteges like Britain and Germany, but not as equals.India, for its part, is notorious for wanting to do its own thing because it fears being called “aligned”. But the US can change, and so should India. National interest must be the criterion and, frankly, the Afghanistan problem is too much for one country to handle, even if that country happens to be the US.

  2. thefiltercoffee says:

    Manoj – couldn’t agree more. In fact, the US itself has seen the folly of its past approach and has since established dialog with the Iranians on Afghanistan (remember Obama’s first “AfPak” articulation).

    The US has two wars on its hands and is weakened economically. It wants to extricate itself from Afghanistan but wants to avoid “Vietnam” type references. For it to be able to extricate itself honorably, it needs the likes of us and Iran. Which is why op-pieces by SV and the like make no sense at all.

  3. [...] Haqqani network, Taliban and ISI is clear.  Earlier this month, Gen Stanley McChrystal stated in a leaked assessment, that growing Indian involvement in Afghanistan would encourage Pakistani [...]

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