Originally Published 2011-10-19 00:00:00 Published on Oct 19, 2011
For Afghanistan, it was the first time that it entered into any such strategic pact with any country as it did with India.
New High In Indian Diplomacy
India and Afghanistan signed a historic strategic pact in New Delhi on October 4. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh put their signatures to the pact, thereby taking the diplomatic initiative of both countries to a new high in international relations.

For Afghanistan, it was the first time that it entered into any such strategic pact with any country. It is 10 years since the Americans returned to Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks by Al-Qaida on the World Trade Centre in New York. While Osama bin Laden was eliminated by the US forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the Taliban menace within Afghanistan has continued. The Taliban factions, including the Haqqani network, are Islamist militias with a long history of fighting foreign occupations of Afghanistan. These elements were the primary instrument which the Americans made full use of while fighting the Russians who had invaded Afghanistan in the late 1970s.

The Taliban factions are not only against the American and other NATO forces in Afghanistan, but also against the Karzai administration. In mid-September the Haqqani network launched an attack on the American Embassy and other targets in Kabul. A few days later, the Taliban sent a suicide bomber and assassinated Burhanuddin Rabbani, former President of Afghanistan and designated by President Hamid Karzai as the leader to negotiate peace with the Taliban.

All these brought Pakistan directly into the range of being as guilty as the Taliban led by Haqqani. Gen. Mike Mullen, Chairman of America's Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared that the Haqqani network was a veritable arm of Pakistan's ISI. His comments raised a storm of protest in Islamabad. Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar declared that America stood the danger of losing its ally in the fight against terrorism.

Pakistan's agenda in Afghanistan is obviously aimed at bringing the Taliban to power thereby ensuring strategic depth which Pakistan, particularly its politicised army, has always looked for.

President Hamid Karzai delivered an address in New Delhi under the auspices of a leading think-tank, the Observer Research Foundation, on October 5, where he spoke in highly appreciative terms about India's strategic partnership and its continuous help to Afghanistan. He said India had been continuously helping Afghanistan in respect of its requirements in various fields like infrastructure, education and defence.

He asked for strategic roads to be constructed, bridging India and Afghanistan as well as other neighbours. He wanted a large number of scholarships for his students and got as many as 2400 from the Government of India. A large number of Afghan students would now be trained to become engineers, doctors, teachers, etc. Dr Karzai characterised this as the real strategic partnership and not merely an agreement to train and equip the security forces.

Most importantly, India extended economic help to the tune of $ 2 billion to Afghanistan, which will be spent on various infrastructure facilities.

The strategic pact between India and Afghanistan, not unexpectedly, raised hackles in Pakistan.

A Pakistani spokesman said that it was Islamabad's expectation that everyone, especially those in the position of authority in Afghanistan, would demonstrate requisite maturity and responsibility and that this was not the time for scoring points, playing politics or grand-standing.

A Pakistan Army officer commented that the Indians were throwing money at their favourites in Afghanistan; the Russians and the Iranians were also doing the same. He went on to say that Pakistan also must necessarily play the game. Since Pakistan had no money, it could only use the 'crazies', meaning the Taliban. Pakistan believed that it had no choice except to make common cause with the Taliban against the Afghanistan Army, which was equipped by the Americans and would now be helped by the Indians, leading to a dangerous possibility of a two-front war against Pakistan, sandwiched between India and Afghanistan.

October 7 marked the 10th anniversary of America's war in Afghanistan, the longest in the US history. The total cost for the Americans in terms of casualties is 1777. Between 10,000 and 20,000 Talibans fighters were killed by July 2011. There were also Afghanistan civilian deaths which were estimated between 12,500 and 14,700. The Americans expect that they would have spent about $ 557 billion by the end of 2012.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposed on October 9 a strong constructive relationship among India, China and the US to handle the pressing issues of the 21st century. Hillary added that India's leadership would help shape positive developments in the future not only in South and Central Asia, but also in the Asia-Pacific. She urged New Delhi not just to look east, but also to engage the east. She went on to explain that the US was committed to a strong constructive relationship among India, the US and China.

Appreciating India's engagement with other countries, Hillary said it could serve as a model for the entire region. She specifically referred to India providing $ 2 billion as part of the strategic pact with Afghanistan whose security forces India would now train and equip. She also pointed out that the US and India were now making progress on a broad range of issues, including regional security, development and renewable energy. She referred to the forthcoming talks between India and the US on a range of exchange programmes and that all these would strengthen their shared campaign against terrorism.

Viewed in the context of Hillary Clinton's observations, the historic strategic partnership pact between India and Afghanistan marks a quantum jump for Indian diplomacy.

President Obama said a few days back that Pakistan's military and intelligence services' links with extremists were troubling and that Pakistan should learn to live in peace with India and not to treat that country as its enemy. A peaceful approach towards India would be in everybody's interest, he added.

Viewing dispassionately, all these exhortations and hopes expressed by President Obama, closely followed by Hillary Clinton, are not likely to please Pakistan at all. A country like Pakistan cannot be expected to change overnight in its hostility towards India. If nothing else, the recent developments may provoke Pakistan to take a swipe at India through its notorious proxies like the Lashkar-e-Toiba. This may happen in J&K and elsewhere and India should be prepared for all such eventualities.

The writer, a former Governor of UP and West Bengal, is a retired chief of Intelligence Bureau.

Courtesy: The Tribune

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.