After years of catering to its ‘Global War on Terror’ ally Pakistan, the US is batting for India providing greater security assistance to Afghanistan. This hasn’t gone down well with Pakistan.
Pakistani English language daily The Nation reported that Islamabad had warned the Barack Obama administration that “preferring New Delhi over Islamabad could hamper the global campaign against terror”.
According to the daily, Pakistan is smarting after US State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner asked Pakistan to act against terror groups targeting its neighbors and not just the ones that pose a threat to it, alleging Pakistan was going after terror groups ‘selectively’.
Pakistan, of course, believes India has been filling the ears of US State Department officials, but it fails to see that it is its own worst enemy.
It has failed abysmally to root out militants from its notoriously lawless tribal region, which runs for more than 500 miles along the rugged Afghan border.
It is well documented that North and South Waziristan harbour a sort of rogue’s gallery of Al-Qaeda, Taliban and other Islamic militants.
Admittedly, it’s been a tough month already for Pakistan: On 3 August, the Pentagon withheld $300 million in military assistance to Pakistan, in a sign of ongoing US frustration with Islamabad for not acting against militants fuelling violence in Afghanistan.
Defence Secretary Ashton Carter had decided against making a certification to Congress citing the continuing operations of the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani militants on Pakistani soil.
The Obama administration is now grappling with deteriorating security in Afghanistan, where a resurgence in Taliban activity has derailed plans to definitively end the long US military effort there.
Pakistan’s interests are completely different from those of India in Afghanistan. Islamabad wants the return of some variant of the Taliban so that they can again use Afghanistan as a launching pad for jihadi attacks against India, especially in Kashmir.
“The US should also be unalterably opposed to this because it poses a threat to American national security. Let us not forgot that the Times Square bomber was trained in the Af-Pak region,” said South Asia expert Sumit Ganguly, who holds the Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilisations at Indiana University in Bloomington.
When the India-hating Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until December 2001, Pakistani militant groups based out of Afghanistan launched frequent cross-border attacks on Kashmir. India was in all kinds of trouble when Pakistan-based Harkat-ul-Mujahideen terrorists hijacked an Indian Airlines flight on 24 December 1999 and took it to Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan.
The eight-day hijack drama ended only after India freed three high-profile Kashmiri separatist prisoners.
Despite its generous aid to Kabul, New Delhi has backed off from a more explicitly military option in Afghanistan.
It has deferred to Pakistani sensitivities about raising India’s strategic profile in Afghanistan. However, Prime MinisterNarendra Modi has reached out to the Afghan government, helping with institution building and supplying MI-25 attack helicopters. The two countries have signed a strategic partnership agreement.
While agreeing that Pakistan has raised concerns about India’s growing role in Afghanistan, a top US commander on Wednesday welcomed New Delhi’s participation in strengthening Afghan forces.
“The tremendous cooperation India has made in the human capital of Afghan security forces is the one contribution that is going to be enduring,” General John William Nicholson, Commander of the US Forces in Afghanistan, said on Wednesday in New Delhi.
Nicholson was referring to the training provided by India to Afghan soldiers. According to Indian strategists, India does not need an explicitly military option in Afghanistan.
All New Delhi needs to do is to train the Afghan army by bringing contingents over to India where it has extensive training facilities which are lying idle.
India is doing a little bit of this but should ramp it up. India must do everything to ensure post-war Afghanistan does not have an ascendant Taliban that can threaten India’s stability by sponsoring Islamic militancy.
Nicholson added that Afghanistan’s military requires more aircraft: “The Afghan Air Force needs to expand. We are concerned about making it sustainable, so that they can maintain the aircraft, and get their parts in time.”
Washington also broadly supports India and Afghanistan signing a deal with Tehran for a transport corridor opening up a new route to Afghanistan via the Iranian port of Chabahar, as it outflanks the $46 billion China-Pakistan economic corridor project with Gwadar as its focal point.
Some US senators were caught off guard by the announcement of the Chabahar port deal in May, but the Obama administration has batted for India.
“For India to be able to contribute to the economic development of Afghanistan, it needs access that it does not readily have across its land boundary.
India is seeking to deepen its energy relationship with the Central Asian countries and looking for routes that would facilitate that,” assistant secretary of state for South Asia Nisha Desai Biswal earlier told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Modi signed the high-profile India-Iran Chabahar port deal three months ago.