28 May 2015

India unwanted pawn in US AfPak game

May 25, 2015

Contrary to what the US is telling India’s national security advisers, the payback for Pakistan if it brings home an Afghan-Taliban peace deal is running India out of Afghanistan. That is the primary objective behind discrediting India’s role in Afghanistan. 

Pakistan’s ludicrous charge that India’s spy agency RAW is behind the Karachi attack on the Ismaili community maybe laughed out of court here, given that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the incident at the same time as authorities in Pakistan maintained they had confessions from Indian operatives.

The Pakistani charge has one other flaw — Shias, be they Ahmadis, Ismailis or Bohras are not eliminated for apostasy here. Far more common in Pakistan, where radical Sunni supremacists gun down innocents at the cold-blooded signal “sabko udaa do.”

Pakistan’s sudden raising of the RAW bogey, together with the eruption of separatist violence in Jammu and Kashmir , underscores the new, undeclared state of war between Delhi and Islamabad in the extended AfPak theatre.

Since the Peshawar massacre and a critical May 4 Corps Commander’s meeting in Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, there is a calculated move to daub India’s RAW in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI) rogue colours by blaming it for every attack on both sides of the Durand; be it Jalalabad, Peshawar, Balochistan, and now, Karachi, where the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), stand accused of being a RAW proxy.

It’s not clear how much longer Prime Minister Narendra Modi can put Pakistan on ice. As he clocks in his first year in office and prepares to visit Dhaka on the back of an historic Land Boundary Agreement, it’s time the far more challenging AfPak region gets attention. Act East, but don’t forget the enemy at this 106 km border that the national security adviser says, we share with Afghanistan.

The chilling attempt to pick off Indian guests at a Kabul hotel, with the possible prize being Amar Sinha, Indian envoy to Afghanistan, has the ISI written all over it; Similar to the 2008 Lashkar-e-Tayyaba Indian embassy bomb attack which killed India’s military attache. But while attempts to engineer an Indian exodus, shut its embassy and consulates hasn’t succeeded, with Indians confident that as long as former Afghan President Hamid Karzai was in charge, they had his protection, this maybe changing. As Mr Sinha met to reassure the Indian community, a consortium of Steel Authority of India Ltd-led Indian steelmakers announced a proposed $10.8 billion steel, power and mining project in Afghanistan was scrapped, citing security concerns.

The new President, Ashraf Ghani — wary of being thrown to the wolves when US forces scale down, desperate to avoid a throwback to the ’90s when, wracked by civil war, the country was overrun by Pakistan-sponsored Taliban militia — is attempting to mend fences with a neighbour it remains deeply suspicious of. Well aware of the predator at the door, Mr Ghani has inked an intelligence deal with Pakistan, during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif’s May 18 visit to Kabul.

The deal between the ISI and its Afghan counterpart, the National Directorate of Security is part of Mr Ghani’s efforts to keep Islamabad on his side, nudged on by the US to negotiate a tricky and unrealistic peace with the Taliban, which terrorises “fellow” Afghans, while leading the US on to believe they are open to engagement. Recent talks in Qatar’s capital, Doha, ended in expected failure.

The US push explains Mr Ghani’s halt to the pro-India tilt of the previous Hamid Karzai presidency, the speed of his overtures to Pakistan, making common cause with the ISI without the full backing of NSD chief Rahmatullah Nabil — who refused to sign the agreement — or chief executive officer Abdullah Abdullah.

The deal leaves the door open for the Sharif-Shareef duo to point fingers at Afghanistan every time the Taliban attack Pakistani soldiers, laying the ground for an ISI takeover of all Afghan intelligence assets. Contrary to what the US is telling India ’s national security advisers, the payback for Pakistan if it brings home an Afghan-Taliban peace deal is running India out of Afghanistan. Is that the primary objective behind discrediting India, a mere pawn to be cast aside now that Pakistan promises to meet the US strategic objectives in the region?

Mr Modi’s government may have put Pakistan on the mat for it’s unwillingness to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 to justice, highlighted its use of LeT and the Haqqani network as jihadi proxies, and warned against the $250 billion in military resources, that Washington has put at the military’s disposal, all of which will be used to derail India’s trajectory. Clearly, it’s not enough. Mr Modi needs to find a way to recast his AfPak policy by letting Mr Ghani and Mr Sharif — and US President Barack Obama — know that India, uncompromising on the security of its borders — infiltration by Pakistan ultras is relentless on the LoC — may not be completely averse to defence minister Manohar Parrikar’s “use a thorn to extract a thorn” strategy.

The decks are stacked against Mr Modi. Strengthening the hands of “civilian” Islamabad, to weaken the rabidly unchanging anti-Indian military in Rawalpindi hasn’t paid off. No civilian government will have a free hand. The military’s favourite Imran Khan, who now comes with an easy on the eye, ready-made Pakistani family, is readying for the top job. In Kabul, Rawalpindi will not rest until it has a preferred candidate ensconced in Arg, the presidential palace.

With PM Sharif playing along with the military, and the economic cards — the Tajikistan-Afghan-Pakistan (TAP) pipeline, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) — no more than carrots dangled before the US, while keeping landlocked Afghanistan begging for transit rights to India, Mr Modi has his work cut out.

He must make “Barack” realise that in 1996 the Taliban were welcomed by ordinary Afghans, sickened by mujahideen blood-letting. The Afghanistan of 2015 — keen to take its place in the comity of nations as an equal partner — does not want to once again become the breeding ground for terror under a Taliban that shares the same ideology as ISIS. In this undeclared war, it’s time Mr Modi bottled the ISI genie, heeding former US secretary of state John Foster Dulles’ oft-quoted dictum: “The ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art… run away from it... scared to go to the brink, you are lost.”

The writer is resident editor, Deccan Chronicle, Bengaluru

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