Originally Published 2013-05-17 00:00:00 Published on May 17, 2013
The NATO drawdown from Afghanistan presents new opportunities for long-term collaboration between the US and India. Successful coordination and collaboration during the next two years will do much to bring about a post-2014 Afghan scenario amenable to both our countries and the region at large.
New opportunities for India-US collaboration in Afghanistan
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently noted that positive engagement from Pakistan was essential to "ensure long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan." On 24 April in Brussels, US Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani to discuss border tensions, accusations of harboring insurgents, and the stalled Afghan reconciliation process.

This discussion comes on the heels of a failed February Afghanistan-Pakistan-UK trilateral hosted by Prime Minster David Cameron, which produced rosy, yet ultimately empty language regarding "unprecedented levels of co-operation." As Secretary Kerry noted after the most recent talks, "We have all agreed that results are what will tell the story, not statements at a press conference."

While popular thinking points to Pakistan's continued central role in reconciliation talks, Rawalpindi's policy of 'strategic depth' ultimately runs counter to Afghan stability. As the Carnegie Endowment's Sarah Chayes has noted, over the past decade Pakistan's Army has steadfastly gone about rebuilding the Taliban in order to regain leverage lost with the 2001 Taliban overthrow.

In the past week, Karachi has seen four separate attacks -all likely carried out by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan -aimed at crippling secular political parties and dampening electoral participation. Pakistan's May elections mark the country's first post-independence democratic transition. Frequent attacks within Pakistan beg an obvious question: Why would Pakistan want to build up a neighboring insurgent force when the same web of militancy threatens to devour its own fragile stability?

Democratic Pakistan's stability and the Army's maniacal focus on India do not make for policy alignment. The country's selective release from imprisonment of potential Afghan Taliban negotiators is case-and-point. Pakistan refuses to release Mullah Omar's longtime Deputy Abdul Ghani Baradar because he has offered direct negotiations with the Afghan government, sidelining Pakistani interlocutors and, potentially, interests.

The US should pause to assess whether our reconciliation interests align with those of Pakistan. If Pakistan's Army maintains its obsessive focus on India, it will likely promote Taliban elements that tolerate Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani Network. With ISI assistance, these groups will aim their ire at Indian targets, and incestuous Al Qaeda connections would make Western interests increasingly vulnerable. Pakistan has already proven itself an unreliable ally in the US 'War on Terror'. Former CIA analyst Bruce Reidel recently wrote that trusting former Pakistan President Musharraf to deal with extremist elements -while the US turned its attention to Iraq -was a strategic blunder. He continued, "Our man' in Islamabad turned out to be helping the Taliban regroup while bin Laden hid out in his front yard, living in plain sight of Pakistan's most elite military academy for years."

In light of this assessment, America should look elsewhere in the region for assistance on Afghanistan. America should look to India. The US and India share an overarching strategic interest in helping to bring about a politically inclusive, economically viable Afghanistan that prevents terrorists from planning and launching international attacks. Recent blasts in Boston and Bangalore provide a stark reminder of shared vulnerabilities.

Various factors -including the US-ISAF security umbrella, concerns over Pakistani sensibilities, and disagreements over Taliban negotiation -meant lacking cooperation. However, we must move beyond the merely parallel policies we are currently pursuing. This article touches on four areas for developing and strengthening impactful interlocking policies.

First, a stable, legitimate central government remains a prerequisite to Afghan security and development. The 2014 presidential elections will be crucial. Voter registration fraud, ballot stuffing, and insecurity marred the 2009-2010 election cycle. Additionally, President Karzai's appointment power and influence over relevant electoral bodies, such as the Independent Election Commission, raised legitimate questions regarding impartiality, or lack thereof. With Karzai term-limited and vowing to step aside, no obvious successor has emerged.

In this atmosphere of political uncertainty, the US and India should jointly lobby the Afghan government to create unbiased election oversight bodies, ensure legitimate registration measures (biometrics are a good, albeit costly option for the future) and voting processes, and bolster ANSF election security. Given America's currently strained relationship with Karzai, India should act as the principal interlocutor, leveraging the accrued goodwill oft touted by Indian policymakers.

India remains rightly apprehensive about Afghanistan's southern and eastern provinces returning to Taliban control through reconciliation. India desires to avoid a 1990s rehash, when militants were trained to fight in Kashmir. The US and India should consult, in secret if necessary, regarding acceptable groups, insurgent leverage, and 'red lines' related to settlement negotiations.

Second, security will prove essential to stability and countering terrorism. NATO and Indian security initiatives must be carried out in conjunction in order to avoid unnecessary duplication and ensure maximum impact. Through shared information flows, western withdrawal must be tied to on the ground conditions, with timetables not divorced from political and security realities. Rushing for the exits will guarantee that surge-related security gains prove a mirage.

NATO and Indian training missions should be coordinated for utmost impact. The 2011 India-Afghanistan 'Strategic Partnership Agreement' provided for New Delhi to assist in training, equipment provision and Afghan Army and Police capacity building. According to NDTV, New Delhi has agreed to a range of new training programmes for the ANSF, although these stop short of any direct Indian military presence in Afghanistan. The report noted that India would train 600 ANA officers and host 200 cadets at military schools each year. Additionally, Afghan companies are to attend four-week 'Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare Schools'. These efforts, bolstering those of post-2014 residual NATO forces, must be broadened.

Moreover, we should pressure other nations to fulfill funding commitments made at international conferences. In May 2012 in Chicago, interested nations worked out a preliminary framework that would ultimately see international sources foot US$3.6 of the $4.1 billion annual bill required to support the ANSF through 2017.That July, donors in Tokyo pledged an additional $16 billion in civilian aid.

Finally, a trilateral mechanism between India, the US, and Afghanistan should be developed as a central depot for intelligence sharing regarding terrorist activities. As the US counter-terror presence wanes, India should also consider using its capable Special Forces for covert Afghan CT operations, a move befitting its arrival as a global power. This may be done in consultation with the US.

Third, Pakistan must be dealt with in a coordinated, collaborative fashion. Expanding the US-India-Afghanistan trilateral to a quadrilateral involving Pakistan is one measure that may work to gradually assuage fears of Indian 'encirclement'. We must work together to convince the Pakistanis (read: the Army) that Indian involvement in Afghanistan will be beneficial to its interests. We must also mind Pakistan's democratic transition. If successful, the Army (and its anti-India stance) may gradually lose clout, creating more political space for détente with India. We should look for common approaches to bolster this nascent democratic shift.

The US should exert pressure on Pakistan to restart Indo-Pak negotiations over Afghanistan, with a long-term goal of reopening the 2004 Composite Dialogue Agenda; halted after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. A relatively small-scale measure, like opening overland transit routes from Afghanistan to India, could prove a show of goodwill used to initiate increasingly tension-free relations.

Meanwhile, strong bilateral Iranian -seen in infrastructure collaboration, like the Zaranj-Delaram Highway and Chabahar Port -and American ties put India in a unique position to push Afghan-related negotiations. Iran's influence over Afghanistan's western border, aversion to the heroin trade and potentially positive 'New Silk Road' impact are well established. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Shiite Iran assisted US Taliban-overthrow efforts. However, rapprochement was squelched when President Bush included Iran in the 'Axis of Evil'. Ongoing disputes over Iran's nuclear aspirations further degraded ties. Like Pakistani overland access routes, a productive Iran-US dialogue regarding mutual Afghan interests could beget more impactful measures.

Finally, a self-sustaining Afghan economy, one functional irrespective of international commitments, must be developed. Afghanistan is estimated to have in excess of $1 trillion in minerals and hydrocarbons. Mining could bring significant revenue, jobs, and infrastructure investments. According to the Economic Times, a public-private Indian consortium already pledged $10.8 billion to develop most of the Hajigak iron mines. We should work to attract increased private sector investment and create strong guidelines to develop a lucrative and corruption-free sector.

Regional meddling has often fueled conflict and insecurity. Through regional economic integration, Afghanistan may become a hub at Asia's crossroads, an area of cooperation not competition. The New Silk Road should be further developed and Afghanistan integrated into regional forums, like SAARC and SCO. For example, the TAPI pipeline's successful construction will bring Afghanistan roughly $160 million in annual gas transport fees. Similar initiatives will do much to improve the country's budget position, support its social welfare and ANSF capacity building goals, and wean Afghanistan off the addicting lure of international funding.

These issues do not exhaust potential areas for India-US cooperation. For example, combating the drug trade remains essential and could elicit helpful involvement from China, the Central Asian nations, Iran, and Russia. The drawdown presents new opportunities for long-term collaboration, opportunities unseen in the post-9/11 period. They must not be wasted. Successful coordination and collaboration during the next two years will do much to bring about a post-2014 Afghan scenario amenable to both our countries and the region at large.

(Daniel Rubin is a Henry Luce Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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