Sunday, February 28, 2010


* FEBRUARY 28, 2010, 12:39 P.M. ET

Pakistan's Proxy War on India
Saturday's Kabul bombing is part of a disturbing pattern of attacks on Delhi's interests.
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There's a new front in the Pakistan-based jihad being waged against India: Afghanistan. Friday saw the third major Taliban bomb attack against an Indian target in Kabul within the last two years. These attacks are not only testing Delhi's commitment to its presence in Afghanistan, but also the resolve of the United States to support India's interests.

India has emerged as an important source of development aid for Afghanistan. It has invested about $1.2 billion in projects to improve roads, communications and medical facilities. Delhi also provides scholarships to Afghan students, assists widows and orphans, and advises the government on improving governance.

India's efforts have an ideological dimension: to strengthen the secular and democratic sectors of Afghan society and to counter the fundamentalist trends spread by the Taliban. They also have a political dimension: to reassert India's pre-1992 role as a traditional ally of Afghanistan. (The Afghan Mujahideen-led government ended this relationship in 1992 with the help of the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment.) Afghanistan's current leader, Hamid Karzai, studied in India as a young man and has embraced Delhi's more activist role.

Both the Taliban and Pakistan oppose this warming relationship. The former sees the revived Indian role as detrimental to its attempts to run the country according to Islamic law. The latter wants to regain its political and military influence in Afghanistan should NATO forces eventually withdraw. Pakistan also blames the Indian presence in Afghanistan—without any evidence—for its increasing internal security problems in the southwestern state of Baluchistan. (These allegations are denied by New Delhi.)

Thus the Taliban and Islamabad have a shared interest in making India bleed in Afghanistan. Friday's attack on two Kabul guest houses and a hotel killed at least 17 people, six of them Indians. The evidence available so far points to the involvement of the Taliban's Jalaluddin Haqqani faction, based in North Waziristan, and the Al Qaeda-linked Lashkar-i-Taiba, based in Muridke. Both groups are closely linked to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency. A Taliban spokesmen said the attacks were directed at foreigners.

Pakistan's possible involvement creates a dilemma for India. Friday's attack underlines the vulnerability of Indian nationals working in Afghanistan, despite the induction of Indian security guards and the strengthening of physical security led by Afghan authorities. It is unlikely Delhi will scale back its development programs, especially since the intensified U.S.-led offensive now underway may weaken Taliban insurgents and reduce the Indian vulnerability.

The Obama administration faces an even trickier balancing act. The U.S. has invested blood and treasure in Afghanistan, and has a stake in seeing the war succeed. India's development program is a crucial part of this effort. At the same time, Washington's dependence on Pakistan for its war against the Taliban and al Qaeda makes it amenable to Pakistani pressure. For a start, Islamabad would like Delhi to reduce its diplomatic and consular presence in Afghanistan, which it sees as a direct threat to Pakistan's interests. So far the U.S. hasn't succumbed to this pressure to curb India's program or presence in the country.

Nor should it. India and the U.S. have a common interest in working together to build a sustainable democracy in Afghanistan. The ideological battle of ideas is just as important as the military battles waged on the ground, and in this respect India brings much experience to bear. American and Indian policy makers can't allow Friday's bombing to derail their partnership.

Mr. Raman served in India's external intelligence agency from 1968 to 1994 and on the government of India's National Security Advisory Board from 2000 to 2002. He is currently director of the Institute for Topical Studies in Chennai.

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