July 08, 2008

Some More Thoughts on India vs Pakistan--Kabul edition?

Picking up on Charlie’s post from yesterday, Troy would like to add a few quick thoughts about India and Pakistan in Afghanistan.

One can make an argument that an attack on the Indian presence in Afghanistan is a means for the Taliban to weaken the central government. Delhi supported Masoud the Northern Alliance during his years of confrontation with the Pakistan-backed Taliban. When the Northerners (Tajik, Uzbek and Hazarah) came to dominate the new government in the wake of OEF, India was a natural partner for the new Afghan government, becoming very involved in aid and reconstruction work as well as efforts to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan Government. In particular, the development of transportation infrastructure, which India is heavily involved in, could go a long way to assisting the economic situation in Afghanistan. On this level, India could certainly be viewed as a strategic target. They are necessarily hostile to the Taliban since they are the friend of their enemy (Karzi government). However, for their part, the people at the Taliban HQ in Quetta have denied involvement in the attack. The big question is, would the Taliban target India of its own accord?

Afghan officials (and others) have previously made the allegation that the Pakistan military retains close links with the Taliban militants, and they have accused the ISI of backing the assassination attempt on Karzi that took place in April. According to the AP, the Afghan Interior Ministry is claiming that yesterday’s attack was carried out “in coordination and consultation with an active intelligence service in the region.” In this regard, it is worth pointing out, that Pakistan has constantly criticized the sizeable Indian presence in Afghanistan, even raising the issue with the US/NATO. At the domestic level, several of the religious parties in Pakistan have also been very critical of the Karzai Government for its close relations with India.

Pakistan, particularly the Army, has traditionally viewed Afghanistan as part of their “strategic depth” vis-à-vis India, and they certainly would not want to see Delhi’s influence in Kabul grow. One could certainly argue that the ISI has a motive to target Indian interests in Afghanistan through its surrogates.

Without making apologies for the Pakistan military, it is worth noting that their continuing sense of insecurity is something that needs to be recognized and taken into account. For example, continued support for/links to the Taliban does have a strategic logic, which is predicated on the following beliefs:

1) The US and NATO are not going to stay in Afghanistan for the long-term
2) The Karzi government and/or its successors will not last
3) Pakistan will need to have a proxy ready to reimpose some degree of stability when Afghanistan returns to chaos.

Similarly, Pakistani visions of Indian dominance in Afghanistan, though overblown in Troy’s opinion, are nevertheless real to them.