Originally Published 2013-10-01 05:32:36 Published on Oct 01, 2013
Baiting Pakistan into increasing its duplicity in its dealings with Nato, India has effectively provided the West with a convenient scapegoat. Come 2014, the historical narrative will more likely focus on betrayal rather than the reality of the West's bad homework and flawed assumptions.
Are we losing Afghanistan?
" The secret is finally out. India does not have anything lethal to supply Afghanistan. Despite the Defence Research and Development Organisation's bravado of producing equipment worth thousands of crores of rupees, we now realise that we don't have the licenses to give the Afghans what they want, and what we have licences for, the Afghans don't want. Yet, of all the countries involved in Afghanistan, we're the only ones giving lengthy sermons on what the West should be doing there, without either the wherewithal or the means to defend our own interests but still expecting everybody else to follow our gameplan.

A case in point is reconciliation. India has for 'principled' reasons been opposed to any talks with the Taliban. Ostensibly this is because it gives too much importance to Pakistan in post-2014 Afghanistan. The West, in private, views reconciliation as a divide-and-rule tactic — to split the Taliban, and create deep distrust in the Pakistani Army of its Taliban clients. In this process, reconciliation works as a carrot for these malcontents to defect and rediscover their 'deeply hidden liberal'.

India's opposition to this process, without anything tangible to offer in military terms, therefore, is bound to exasperate other stakeholders and at some point presumably perpetuate the 'we don't care about India' attitude already evident in the West. Let us, for example, look at an argument that in all probability will be bandied about. Already, William Dalrymple's report has set the basis for this and such voices are only bound to grow. Given the India fatigue setting in, we need to be aware of the crosscurrents at work here.

So, here follows what will probably end up becoming the Western narrative if India continues to be unhelpful, on top of being strategically ambiguous and the economic backwater that it is rapidly becoming: That India is playing a 'destructive' game in Afghanistan is undeniable. India's recently ramped up engagement is designed to do one thing — rile Pakistan into maintaining its support of the Taliban. While the cold-blooded realpolitik element of this is evident, there are also many reasons why the 'problem' is also the solution. This may not be the 'perfect' solution but then perfect solutions only lay in the minds of beauty pageant contestants.

India's development aid to Afghanistan has always been situation-specific and its development projects there are targeted to spread work, funds and benefits evenly across communities. Unlike the West, which has now started favouring dominant tribes to ensure stability, India has always accepted Afghanistan as a loose confederacy of warring tribes where the imposition of external definitions of statehood and stability do not work. The net result is that when the Western withdrawal is complete, 'collaboration' is identified with one tribe that then gets decimated, while economic favouritism makes enemies of all the disenfranchised.

Contrast this with the Indian approach which ensures an even wellspring of favourable opinion that can be activated at a later date. Similarly, unlike the West, which has contributed to the brain-drain out of Afghanistan as those who study in the West usually end up immigrating there, most Afghans who come to India go back to rebuild their country. India, therefore, has concentrated not just on current development but also future development.

India's strategic training pact with Afghanistan, again, is far more situation-specific. The US-imposed training regime lasted a bare three weeks per intake while the German training went on for an unrealistic three years. In India, officers are trained for a period of six to eight months enabling a reasonable quality-quantity matrix. This may be a case of too-little-too-late but given that almost everyone agrees that Afghanistan is a lost case, India stepping in with renewed vigour provides a significant boost to Afghan morale. Small gestures like India's massive increase in aid can bring a semblance of calm before things invariably spiral out of control post-2014.

India, by exacerbating Pakistan's self-destructive streak, has simply brought home to the latter the reality of its failed policies. That Pakistan still refuses to introspect is a different matter, but the bankruptcy of the Pakistani national myth, its failed policies and institutions, its excessive and too-smart-by-half militarism, and of course Islamism, run amok, are evident to any thinking person in that tragic country. In many ways the situation in Pakistan is not dissimilar to the dangerous last phases of the Weimar Republic with people wondering 'what if'. And yet a foreign and Afghan policy collapse may have the same effect as the Soviet banner of victory hoisted atop the Reichstag.

Baiting Pakistan into increasing its duplicity in its dealings with Nato, India has effectively provided the West with a convenient scapegoat. Come 2014, the historical narrative will more likely focus on betrayal rather than the reality of the West's bad homework and flawed assumptions. This may not be the truth but then when has history ever been about the truth? The inevitable isolation of Pakistan post-2014 will in all probability be absolute. Whatever plausible deniability that Pakistan concocts post-2014 in the Afghan power vacuum, will simply not be bought. In short, Pakistan will have no more excuses left.

An isolated Pakistan also forces the military's hand in ways that have thus far been impossible. Most top military brass with families and holdings, either in London or Dubai, have thus far been beyond reach. Should the Pakistani Army be singled out for isolation, then for the first time and within the rule of law, can the assets of these grandees be targeted.

Moreover, the West has been caught in a deep military pincer. On the one hand, as China modernises and becomes an ever bigger threat, the West has to contend with a demographically and ultimately financially superior power capable of wielding significant high-intensity warfare resources. On the other, consistent military engagements in deeply-wasteful, low-intensity conflicts in rogue states (many of them beneficiaries of Chinese diplomatic protection) have drained the West of will and focus. Gallingly, Pakistan which has proven to be the single most valuable source of Western military technology for China, for a while at least, succeeded in getting more hi-tech. All this will stop post-2014. The withdrawal from Afghanistan will simply refocus the West's attention on real issues of grand strategy instead of tying their world view to intangibles like freedom and democracy.

Are we losing Afghanistan? Yes, and in the process India gains a victory of the magnitude our Army has failed to achieve. We should all be praying for a crushing defeat — the worse the defeat in battle, the bigger the victory in the war. Defeat is not the unavoidable consequence but rather the desired end goal. The West's problem is India's solution — it is just that the West does not know it yet. But are we prepared for the cost of this victory?

(The writer is a Programme Coordinator at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

Courtesy : The Pioneer, October 1, 2013

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