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, , , , , , , , , , ,

Non-proliferation Doubletalk

The recent statement at the G-8 summit in L’aquila calling all non-signatories to “immediately” sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and banning the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technologies to non-NPT signatories, was perhaps unexpected, but not altogether shocking.  The statement comes prior to the visit of Secretary Clinton to India in August, who, like her husband before her, is a strong proponent of the regime, and of the necessity of bringing the pariahs — India, Israel and Pakistan — into the fold of the mainstream.

The symbolism should not be lost on India.  The country is quite self-sufficient in ENR technology, and for every member that refuses to play ball, there are others that are more than willing.  The statement doesn’t affect India’s quest for cost effective no-ENR-strings-attached nuclear deals with suppliers much — as Indrani Bagchi points out in her blog — but it does point to the unraveling of the non-proliferation agenda being prepared by the Obama Administration to be thrust down our throats.

India, therefore, should fully expect mounting international and US pressure to sign the NPT prior to the 2010 NPT RevCon.  Secretary Clinton will no doubt take the opportunity to raise the issue during bilateral discussions next month.  The Japanese, as notorious on the issue as they always were, have made repeated calls this year for India to sign the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state.

Rajiv Gandhi in a speech at the Third Special Session of the UN in 1988 elucidated India’s stance on the issue:

We cannot accept the logic that a few nations have the right to pursue their security by threatening the survival of mankind…nor is it acceptable that those who possess nuclear weapons are freed of all controls while those without nuclear weapons are policed against their production.

This UPA administration has shown a remarkable ability to undo relationships and depart from the country’s long held positions with stealth and great haste.  This blogger hopes that the NPT issue will not fall prey to uninformed meddling.  India needs to make it very clear to Secretary Clinton and others like her championing the NPT cause, that the nation continues to harbor significant reservations on the structure and spirit of the regime that effectively prevent it from being a signatory.

It has long been India’s official position that India cannot and will not participate in a discriminatory regime that would seek to legitimize the possession of nuclear weapons by some nations, while denying similar rights to others. It has also been India’s stated commitment to universal global nuclear disarmament.  Signining the NPT would give credence to nuclear aparthied and provide currency to the notion that some countries have a greater right to self defence than others.

Filed under: Energy, India, Nuclear Energy, Nuclear Proliferation, nuclear weapons, Politics, World, , , , , , , , , , , ,