The Filter Coffee

Foreign policy, strategic affairs, defense and governance

Giving Kabul a leg up: My article in Pragati

In the January 2010 edition of  Pragati, I argue that it is in India’s national interest to invest in training the Afghanistan National Army (ANA).  There are two aspects to this proposition — the first is protective, i.e., denying the Pakistani army and ISI strategic depth in a vassal state to further their ambitions against India.  The second is aspirational — loosening India’s self imposed shackles and allowing it to project its power beyond its own shores, as it must as a regional power.

India must offer to train ANA military personnel through programmes in both Afghanistan and India. India has several COIN schools such as the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS) and specialised training centres like the High-Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) in Jammu and Kashmir.

The CIJWS already draws international participation of military
personnel from the United States, United Kingdom and other Central Asian states. Further assistance can be provided by augmenting logistics and communications infrastructure to aid the ANA and providing essential
military supplies to the country.

India can also assist in augmenting ANA’s air defence capabilities. Training can be provided to ANA Air Corps’ pilots; specific requests for training on Mi-35 helicopters (the air corps operates a handful) have previously been made. Indeed, further opportunities for Indian assistance exist even in the medium to long run, as the ANA Air Corps seeks to induct light multi-role attack/air superiority jets by 2015.

Read more about it on Pragati ( PDF; 1.7 MB)

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Filed under: Af-Pak, Afghanistan, Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, India, Pakistan, Pragati, Terrorism, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Manmohan’s US trip

India must aggressively pursue to protect interests and stake in Afghanistan’s future

Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US coincides with Thanksgiving week and the first anniversary of 26/11.  During the Prime Minister’s visit, the debilitating security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan will be on the agenda.  It is on this issue that some incredibly silly, wantonly naive advice is being shoved the US President’s way.

Two broad themes on India’s place in the regional security discourse seem to periodically appear, which can be summarized thus.  Firstly,  Pakistan feels threatened by the presence of a larger adversary at its eastern border. The main thorn in Indo-Pak relations is Kashmir. Therefore, solve Kashmir and receive a grateful Pakistan’s full commitment on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Second, Pakistan feels “strategically encircled” by India’s presence in Afghanistan.  An increase in Indian involvement would inflame Pakistan’s apprehensions vis-a-vis India. Therefore, in the interest of Pakistan’s sensitivities, an expansion of Indian involvement in Afghanistan must not be encouraged (or must at least be brushed aside).

Both these themes do an excellent job in confusing symptom (the “Kashmir” issue, and “strategic depth”) with root cause (Pakistan’s pathological neuralgia with India).  It is another issue of course that those advocating the “resolve Kashmir” approach haven’t ever come close to articulating how this feat is to be accomplished by Washington.

It is no secret that there is disconnect between the UPA and the Obama administration on the way forward in Afghanistan.  There are two aspects to this disconnect — one, th UPA administration has been blind to US’s plans in the region (and consequences to India’s interests), and two, the Obama Administration has been unable to present a coherent, consistent vision for Afghanistan, mired as it is with internal squabbling.

But Obama, who ran on a canvas promising to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is under pressure to act, if only to placate his fellow Democrats and voters.  The Obama administration sees greater regional involvement as a solution that would allow for a phased US withdrawal.   Hence Richard Holbrooke’s  recent diplomatic sojourns to China and Russia.

The role that India will play in this “regional approach” will perhaps become more apparent after the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington. Rightly, as the preeminent power in the region, India’s involvement is not only “beneficial”, but imperative.

But the status of “regional power” is not achieved through birth-right.  It must be  earned, and if India believes itself to be the preeminent regional power, it must start acting like one. Unquestionably, this involves taking tough decisions not only on what India would “prefer to do” in Afghanistan, but what it must do to safeguard its interests.

Thus far, India has stayed away from overt involvement in shaping the politics in Afghanistan, choosing instead engage in the (noble) pursuits of building schools and roads and training the Afghan police force.  “Soft power”, Shashi Tharoor calls it.  But soft power is credible only as long as someone else is willing and able to do the dirty yard work.

What if that “someone else” leaves? Who will step in?

A power vacuum in Afghanistan with a weak, de-legitimized government in Kabul constantly being undermined by a reinforced and invigorated Taliban and affiliated networks presents a scenario for India where its overall influence in the country will diminish, relative to that of China and Pakistan.

Economic investments in Afghanistan (totaling over $1 billion), development of ties with the country’s civilian polity and strategic importance of Afghanistan to an energy-starved nation, make such a scenario unacceptable to India.

There is simply too much at stake for India not to be meaningfully involved in a regional approach to the Afghanistan problem.  Indeed, India’s contribution to such a regional solution must span across all realms, including security/law enforcement, political reconciliation and delivery of social services.  In this regard, offering a larger Indian contingent to train Afghanistan’s security forces, can be a small, but important first step.

US administrations will always have India doubters, just as they will their  share of Indophiles.  India’s goal within the construct of the “regional approach”  must be to aggressively defend its interests in the country, while playing a meaningful role in addressing the current crisis and defining the future of Afghanistan.

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Filed under: Af-Pak, Afghanistan, Barack Obama, China, Foreign Policy, India, Pakistan, Terrorism, World, , , , , , , , , , ,

Indian Embassy Attack in Kabul

Limited Indian military deployment: the time is nigh

The suicide attack on Thursday was the second such attack on the Indian Embassy in the past fifteen months in Kabul.  The attack claimed the lives of seventeen, including the two Afghan policemen who attempted to deter the bomb-laden vehicle from breaching the compound.

Similar to the last attack on the Indian Embassy that left 60 dead last year, the footprint the terror consortium of the Jalaluddin 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 “countermeasures”.  More recently, former CIA Islamabad station chief Bob Grenier stated at a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee deposition that the close relationship between New Delhi and Kabul “literally drives [Pakistan] crazy”.

This comes at a time of considerable disquiet in Pakistan. The Kerry-Lugar Bill has met with vociferous disapproval, initially from the media, and later from the Pakistani Corps Commanders’ Conference. The disapproval is based on the belief that some provisions — including India-specific terror clauses — impinge on Pakistan’s sovereignty. The Pakistani government (and military) must clarify how these clauses violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. Specifically, Pakistan must articulate whether it believes that allowing its soil to be used to plan, organize and execute acts of terror against India is an exercise of its soverign right.

So, was the attack on the Indian Embassy meant to demonstrate Pakistan’s open defiance of Kerry-Lugar? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, if enlightenment hasn’t dawned on the Indian government now, it never will.  Pakistan will continue to use such “countermeasures” because it knows it can do so without eliciting a military response from India.  And increasing Indian involvement in the development of Afghanistan only increases the number of potential targets for the terror consortium.

Today, India’s ambitions in Afghanistan are not commensurate with the level of protection it is willing to provide to protect its interests.  “Soft power” is an important element of state diplomacy, but when not backed up by a credible intent to defend, paints a picture of a state that is benign, diffident, weak-willed and apprehensive.

India must stop outsourcing its intelligence and security needs in Afghanistan to other countries.  It must do what it has to do to protect its interests, its citizens and its friends.  Hitherto, India received inputs mostly from Afghan and other intelligence agencies.  It is time for India to upgrade its intelligence capability in Afghanistan; additional emphasis must also be placed on better intelligence coordination between Afghan, Indian and other foreign intelligence agencies.

Serious thought must be given to an Indian military deployment in Afghanistan.  However, for India to get bogged down fighting an insurgency would be counter-productive and would risk squandering the goodwill of the government and people of Afghanistan.

Therefore, India needs to think along the lines of a limited military deployment in Afghanistan and one with a mandate to protect its citizens and interests in that country.  This is India’s own “countermeasure”.  India has invested over a $1.2 billion in Afghanistan; Indians from all walks of life — doctors, engineers, teachers and security professionals — attempt to secure the future of Afghanistan and its people.  However, the security provided to these very individuals is either nonexistent or found wanting.

A deployment with limited mandate presents undeniable risks.  The possibility of the lines between India’s defensive deployment and the larger US/ISAF COIN operation being blurred, the risk of Indian troops becoming targets for the Taliban, Haqqani and ISI consortium and loss of goodwill in Kabul do exist.

However, the alternative to this arrangement is the status quo — India’s current posture.  As things stand today, a Pakistani attack on Indian citizens, property and interests in Afghanistan goes unchallenged.  Not much is ever done by way of a response, apart from registering the customary “our patience is not inexhaustible” complaint with the US and holding back on dialog with Pakistan.

The choices before India are stark: either it believes that Indian property, investment and lives are worth sacrificing for the greater goal of strategic partnership with Afghanistan, or it accepts that Indian security cover is essential to protect those who undertake the perilous, yet noble journey of rebuilding a war ravaged nation and spreading the goodwill of India and its people in that part of the world.  Time is running out, and India must decide soon.  What is it going to be, Mr. Prime Minister?

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Filed under: Af-Pak, Afghanistan, America, Foreign Policy, India, Indian Army, NWFP, Pakistan, Swat, Terrorism, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By-two Kaapi (Twitter)