Columns/Op-Eds, In the News, Politics / Globalisation

“The Karzai Caper: What India Must Do With Afghanistan”

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Original link is here

HAMID Karzai is playing his final hand, or so it seems. Against the backdrop of his dithering over the Bilateral Security Agreement, President Karzai has embarked on another visit to India. This is not only an opportunity for Karzai to shore up support for his country post- 2014, but also for India to step up its engagement with Afghanistan, take steps to safeguard its interests and seek clarity on a number of dilemmas confronting it.

There are two posers in particular that India should be seeking to address. The first is the future of the US militarys role in the region. New Delhi is conscious of the fact that the larger Afghan polity should be comfortable with the contours of any future US role. Although currently there seems to be huge support for a US role post- 2014, Karzais obstinacy has led to an impasse.

Can India with its strong ties with the Karzai government and goodwill in Afghanistan play a constructive role to break this stalemate in a way that does not provide disproportionate space and influence to Pakistan or cause further Iranian disenchantment with the situation? Irrespective of an Afghan- US security pact, India should prepare itself for a scenario where it may have to look after its interests by itself. Kabul and New Delhi should also be looking at developing an understanding through which India can directly and independently engage with Pashtun tribal elders, provincial governors and even regional warlords to protect its investments.

India must also seek more security cover by the Afghan Public Protection Force ( APPF) for its projects. Obviously, given the security situation, India cannot demand without giving. It is imperative that India bear the costs for further development and training of this force which is currently largely borne by NATO. Therefore the second dilemma for India is to reach an understanding with the current Afghanistan government and yet ensure that this arrangement is sustainable beyond Karzais reign.

Maintaining the high level of engagement with Afghanistan with its obvious benefits for Afghanistan is likely to create a vested interest for whoever is in power in Kabul to continue the thriving bilateral ties with India.

Stepping up its support for the Afghan National Security Forces ( ANSF) is another way of ensuring that continued engagement with India becomes indispensable for any Afghan government. This assistance must not just be material, but rather one that builds local managerial and organisational capacity to enable Afghanistan to sustain such a force.

As the situation in Afghanistan continues to change and is likely to change even more dramatically in the future, India is faced with the choice of being a proactive game- changer itself or continuing to watch from the sidelines as it has for the last 12 years. Now is the time to shed its strategic ambiguity and to commit to an ever larger constructive role in the post- 2014 Afghanistan.


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