( Written at the request of an Italian journal)
Historically, India has had close relations with the rulers of Afghanistan and its people as well as with the Pashtuns on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border. The Pashtuns of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan under the leadership of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, known as the Frontier Gandhi, fought hand in hand with the Indian National Congress led by Mahatma Gandhi against the British colonial rule for the independence of a united India. The Frontier Gandhi, a secularist Muslim, was opposed to the creation of Pakistan as demanded by the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. In 1947, when India and Pakistan became independent, the Pashtun movement of Frontier Gandhi had to reconcile itself to the creation of Pakistan against its will, but started a movement for an independent Pashtunistan, which was ruthlessly crushed by the Pakistani authorities.
2. The Indian National Congress led by Mahatma Gandhi maintained cordial relations with the rulers and different ethnic groups of Afghanistan. These relations established long before India and Pakistan became independent, continued after India became independent. The ruthless suppression of the Pashtun nationalist movement, which enjoyed the support of the Pashtuns of Afghanistan, by the Pakistani rulers with the help of their Army, antagonized the people and the rulers of Afghanistan and made them look up to India for support and assistance. They looked upon Pakistan as an adversary of the Afghan people and India as their natural ally.
3. Because of poverty and lack of resources, education was ill-developed in Afghanistan. Those wanting higher education and in a position to afford it had to go to India, Pakistan or the Soviet Union. Those, who came to India, studied in its secular educational institutions and went back as enlightened members of the Afghan civil society. Hamid Karzai, who was recently re-elected as the President of Afghanistan, is a good example of the Indian contribution to the development of an enlightened component in the Afghan civil society. He is a product of the Indian educational system. He studied in Shimla.
4. Many of those, who went to Pakistan, studied in its madrasas and were influenced by the fundamentalist/Wahabi ideas taught there. If the Indian educational system produced the likes of Karzai, who sought to take Afghanistan forward into the modern age, the Pakistani madrasa system produced the likes of Mulla Mohammad Omar, the Amir of the Afghan Taliban, who sought to take Afghanistan back into the middle ages by imposing on it a Wahabised Islam alien to Afghan culture.
5. Those educated in the Soviet Union returned home hardened communists, who played a role in the governance of the country in the 1980s and facilitated the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. The communists stand discredited after the Afghan Mujahideen defeated them and their Soviet supporters. They have been practically eliminated from the Afghan political and social scene.
6. Between 1992 and 2001, when the victorious Afghan Mujahideen (1992-96) and the Taliban (1996-2001) were in power in Kabul, attempts were made to eliminate, at the instance of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the enlightened elements, which were products of the Indian educational system, and looked up to India for inspiration. The madrasa-educated elements from Pakistan assumed the leadership of the Afghan civil society and sought to convert Afghanistan into a medieval society. These elements looked up for inspiration to the madrasa products of Pakistan such as the late Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai of the Binori madrasa of Karachi, Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam (JUI) Pakistan, Maulana Samiul Haq of a rival faction of the JUI and others of the same Wahabi kind.
7. These elements provided hospitality to Al Qaeda and its leaders and encouraged the mushrooming of a myriad jihadi terrorist organizations, which called for a jihad against modern values and the West. The Western Governments, which had trained the Afghan Mujahideen through the ISI in the madrasas and the training camps of Pakistan in the 1980s to use them against the Soviet Union and its troops in Afghanistan, looked on without the least concern as these Wahabised elements took over the leadership of Afghanistan. The Taliban was created by the ISI in 1994 with the blessings of the US which was hoping that a Taliban-led Government would give the Unocal, the US oil company, the right to construct oil and gas pipelines from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghan territory.
8. The short-sighted policy of the US set in motion the train of events which led to the emergence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda as Frankenstein’s monsters and the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US homeland. The only Afghan force, which confronted the Taliban between 1996 and 2001, was the Northern Alliance led by the late Ahmed Shah Masood. It represented the enlightened component of the Afghan society, but was shunned by the US and other Western countries, who found greater strategic value in the Wahabised Taliban.
9. It goes to the credit of the political leadership of India and Russia that they realized the importance of helping the Northern Alliance in its efforts to counter the Taliban in order to preserve and encourage the enlightened component of the Afghan society. India and Russia----separately and jointly—provided training and other assistance to the Northern Alliance. It was this Alliance, that made possible the success of the US-led forces in having the Taliban Government defeated under Operation Enduring Freedom post-October 2001.
10.The goodwill traditionally enjoyed by India in the enlightened sections of the Afghan society made them and the new Government headed by Hamid Karzai look up to India once again for assistance in the creation of a new, pluralistic, democratic and enlightened Afghanistan. India has willingly come forward to assist them.
11. Since 2002, India has extended to Afghanistan assistance worth more than US $ 1.2 billion. This assistance has gone into projects such as the following:
(a).The construction of a 218 km road from Zaranj to Delaram in the Nimroz province in Southern Afghanistan.
(b). The construction of a 220 KV Transmission Line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul together with a sub-station in Chimtala.
( c ). The construction of Afghanistan's new Parliament building.
(d). A Graduate Programme under which about 650 young Afghan men and women are provided scholarships annually for studying in Indian universities.
(e). The upgrading of the skills of Afghan civil servants and technical people by training 650 of them annually in Indian institutions in subjects such as auditing, accountancy, agriculture extension, rural development, power sector management etc.
(f). Financial assistance for Indian NGOs working in Afghanistan. An Indian women’s organization called SEWA, the Self Employment Women’s Association – works with the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs on providing war widows, orphans and other destitute women with skills they can use to generate an income depending entirely on their own household resources. The Confederation of Indian Industry has a skills development programme – in areas such as plumbing, automobile repairs, carpentry, masonry etc. for school dropouts. Another NGO called Hand in Hand has been providing skills to the rural poor and organizing them in self-help groups for saving, entrepreneurship and job creation.
12. About 4000 Indians are working in Afghanistan in the various projects. In July,2009, the two countries decided to establish an India-Afghanistan Partnership Council, that will be composed of separate groups on political consultation, capacity development and education, power and water, culture, trade and industry, health, and agriculture.
13. These are projects and initiatives undertaken for the welfare of the Afghan people, for their economic development and for strengthening democracy in Afghanistan. The benefits of these projects have been welcomed by the Afghan Government and people. India’s role in Afghanistan since 2002 has been in the fields of democracy-promotion, economic development and upgradation of the quality of education and technical skills. The funds allotted for the upgradation of educational qualifications has been increased by 35 per cent this year.
14. Pakistan has been concerned over the popularity of the Indian programmes. It is worried that the strengthening of the role and influence of the enlightened sections of the Afghan society as a result of the Indian-aided programmes might make it difficult for the Taliban, its creation, to stage a come-back in Afghanistan. It continues to look upon the Taliban as its only strategic asset in Afghanistan and is hoping that the exit of the US-led NATO forces from Afghanistan due to a war fatigue might enable it to stage a come-back in Afghanistan behind the Taliban.
15. It has, therefore, embarked on a three-pronged strategy consisting of the following:
(a). Giving the Taliban leadership sanctuary in Pakistani territory from where they can organize their operations against the NATO forces. The command and control of the Afghan Taliban is located in Pakistani territory. The “Washington Times” recently reported that American intelligence experts believe that this command and control, which was till recently located in the Quetta area of Balochistan, has been shifted to Karachi to escape attacks by American pilotless planes (Drones).
(b).Making allegations of Indian attempts to destabilize Pakistan from Afghan territory and exercising pressure on the US to make India reduce its activities in Afghanistan as a quid pro quo for Pakistani co-operation against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
( c ). Attempts to intimidate India and the Indian personnel in Afghanistan by sponsoring terrorist attacks on the Indian Embassy in Kabul by the Taliban and the Jalalludin Haqqani group, which operates from North Waziristan.
16. Despite two terrorist attacks on the Indian Embassy, India and Indian personnel have refused to be intimidated by Pakistan. Unfortunately, some American experts have wittingly or unwillingly given legitimacy to the baseless allegations of Pakistan without realizing the machinations of Pakistan to pave the way for the return of the Taliban to power either on its own through a military victory over the US-led NATO forces or as part of a coalition with Western-backed elements. If Pakistan succeeds in its machinations, it will take the world back to the pre-9/11 period and nullify whatever gains that have been made by the US in its fight against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other jihadi terrorist organizations allied to them.
17. India wishes well to the US in its campaign against the jihadi terrorists inspired and led by Al Qaeda operating from sanctuaries in the Af-Pak region. The success of the US campaign will benefit India too, which has been the victim of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism of various hues for three decades. It will also prevent the possibility of the terrorists getting hold of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and using it elsewhere.
18. If another 9/11, or Madrid or London or Mumbai or Bali is to be prevented, the US-led NATO forces have to succeed in the Af-Pak region. What stands in the way of their success is Pakistan’s complicity with the Taliban and other terrorist groups and inaction against Al Qaeda. India’s contribution to the fight against jihadi terrorism in the Af-Pak region is not through participation in the fighting on the ground but through imaginative initiatives in the schools, colleges, work places and among the people of Afghanistan in order to preserve the gains being made by the enlightened sections of the Afghan society.
19. The Indian initiatives in Afghanistan are making an important contribution to the ideological fight against the medieval forces. Their success is as important, if not more important, as the success of the NATO’s military actions. Pakistan should not be allowed to undermine the Indian initiatives.
20.The dilemma posed by the worrisome ground situation in Afghanistan is reflected in the growing impression that President Barack Obama's Af-Pak strategy has failed to take off and is unlikely to take off and that the time has come to think of a new strategy. Presently, the political pressure is on Pakistan to act against the Taliban and Al Qaeda elements operating from sanctuaries in its territory and on the Hamid Karzai Government in Kabul to improve governance, reduce corruption and pay better attention to the problems of the people in the areas controlled by the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the US-led Western forces. Neither of these pressures has worked. Nor have the never-ending incentives offered by the US to Pakistan in the form of increased civil and military assistance.
21.The pressures on Karzai to improve governance have not worked either. This is partly due to the difficult ground situation, which would pose a dilemma to any ruler---however democratic and however competent. Moreover, instead of strengthening the position of Karzai, US officials have done everything to weaken his credibility in the eyes of his own people as well as the international community through allegations---some true, many unwisely inspired--- regarding his inability or unwillingness to act against corruption and narcotics production and rigging in the recent Presidential elections. The importance of Karzai’s victory in the elections has been diluted by these allegations. US officials take a lot of care not to say or do anything, which might weaken the position of the Pakistani leadership, but they do not take similar care in respect of Karzai.
22.The crux of the dilemma being faced by the US-led Western forces is similar to the dilemma which the Soviet troops faced in Afghanistan in the 1980s before they decided to quit in 1988.This dilemma arose in the case of the Soviet troops and has now arisen in the case of the US-led Western troops from the absence of a counter-sanctuaries component to the counter-insurgency strategy.
23.The reluctance of the Soviet troops to take their fighting to the sanctuaries of the Afghan Mujahideen in Pakistani territory led to a situation where the Soviet troops kept bleeding till battle fatigue and public disenchantment with the war set in. Similarly, the absence of an effective counter-sanctuaries component is leading to a situation where the US and other Western forces as well as the ANA are bleeding more and more. There are already the incipient signs of a battle fatigue. One could see the beginning of a public disenchantment with the involvement in Afghanistan. This disenchantment is already pronounced in West Europe and Canada and one could see the beginning of it even in the US. Instead of allowing the Taliban to infiltrate in increasing numbers from its sanctuaries and recruiting grounds in the FATA and the Pashtun majority areas of Balochistan and then fighting or countering their ambushes in Afghan territory, the US should take its counter-insurgency operations to the camps of the Afghan Taliban in adjoining Pakistani territory----whether in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) or in Balochistan. If the reports that the ISI has shifted the Taliban leadership to Karachi prove correct, the US should discontinue its military aid to Pakistan.
24.Any new Af-Pak strategy has to focus on the following questions: How to strengthen the governance of Karzai and the capacity of the Afghan National Army to counter the Taliban on its own? How to stop the Pakistani collusion with the Taliban while seeming to co-operate with the West? How to eliminate the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistani territory? Unless satisfactory answers to these questions are found and implemented, the situation in Afghanistan is unlikely to improve. (23-11-09)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies. He is the author of five books---- “Intelligence---Past,Present & Future”, “ A Terrorist State As a Frontline Ally”, “The Kaoboys of R&AW ---Down Memory Lane”, “Terrorism---Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow” and “Mumbai—26/11: A Day of Infamy”. All of them have been published by the Lancer Publishers of New Delhi. He was a member of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India from 2000 to 2002 and of the Special Task Force set up by the Government of India in 2000 to revamp the Indian intelligence agencies . E-mail: email@example.com)