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Seminar                         Summary Reports   


Geo-political Contest in Afghanistan and its impact on India ’s Interests

"Strategic Options" by Brig Rahul Bhonsle (Retd)

"The Regional Contest" by                 Dr Shanthie D’Souza

"The Afghan Riddle" by Shri Hormis Tharakan 

"The Way Forward" by 

 Ambassador S K Lambah, IFS (Retd)


CHina's Defense Modernisation: Implications for India 

"Upgradation of Chinese Forces- Implications by

Mr. D.S. Rajan

"Missile and Space Modernisations" by 

Prof R.  Nagappa,

"A Strategic Review" by Air Chief Marshal Fali Major (Retd)

"Economic Implications " by 

Prof Srikanth Kondapalli

"The Way Forward" by Amb. C.V. Ranganathan

Complexities of the situation of Iran: India's strategic interests and options

"A Historical Perceptive" by           Amb. Akbar Mirza Khaleeli                          "A Strategic perspective" by           Vice Admiral (Retd)         P J Jacob                            "A Media perspective" by Shri Kesava Menon. 

Indo-Myanmar security relations: Measures to improve trade and economic ties

Presentations by:

Col. R Hariharan (Retd),  

Dr Sayed Ali Mujtaba,  

Shri T P Sreenivasan,  

Developments in Nepal: impact on India

Presentations by:

  "A Security Assessment" by            B. Raman

  "The Current Scenario" by               Shri K V Rajan, IFS (Retd)

  "Implications for India" by Maj. Gen (Retd. Ashok K. Mehta  

  "Current Situation and its import" by     Shri Gururaj Rao

Recent developments in Nepal and their impact on India's security

Presentations by:

  "The Political Scenario" by Dr. Arvind Kumar

  "Analysis of Political events" by Dr. Smruti Pattanaik 

  "Implications for India" by Maj. Gen (Retd.) Dipankar Banerjee

  "Strategic Analysis and Opinions "by Maj. Gen (Retd.) Ashok K. Mehta


Whither Pakistan?

"The Crisis in Pakistan"  by

Captain Alok Bansal, IN

"A security assessment" by 

Shri S Gopal

"A Strategic Overview" by M K Bhadrakumar, IFS (Retd)

"Whither Pakistan?" by Lt Gen Satish Nambiar (Retd)


India-Russia strategic relations in the new world order 


" Vision and Realityby Ambassador Shri Rajiv Sikri  (Retd)

" Historical Perceptive and Current Realities"

by Amb. A Madhavan, IFS (Retd)

"Defence Cooperation Aspectsby

Air Marshal N Menon (Retd)

Changing contours of Indo-US relations: Challenges, Risks and Opportunities

Presentations by:

"A strategic review"  by Dr. Brahma Chellaney

" A historic perspective"

by Amb. Krishnan, IFS (Retd)

"India's options in the global senario" by

Lt Gen S. S Mehta

"Indo-US core interests" by

Shri Aravind Sitaraman


Look East Policy  

Impediments to India's Look-East policy’: suggested remedies

" India's Look-East Policy: Vision and Reality"  by Ambassador Shri C.V Ranganathan (Retd)


" Impediments to India’s Look-East Policy – China’s Reservations and Suggested Remedies Realities"

by Shri. D.S. Rajan  


"Maritime Aspects of our Look-East Policyby

Vice Admiral (Retd)   P J Jacob

Seminar Summary Report

Geo-political Contest in Afghanistan and its impact on India ’s Interests



Report of a Joint Seminar held by Asia Centre and

Indian Council of World Affairs at Bangalore on 25 July 2009

As compiled by Shri A Madhavan, former ambassador of India and a current member of Asia Centre;

  25 July 2009;  IAS officer’s Association, # 1, Infantry Road, Bangalore -1



 Asia Centre has been conducting a series of seminars and discussions to review India’s Security environment in the Sub-continent. As a  final leg  of this of Series, a seminar was held on 25 July 2009 from 9 A M to 1:30 P M on the topic Geo-political Contest in Afghanistan and its Impact on India ’s Interests at the I A S Officers’ Institution, # 1 Infantry Road, Bangalore. The seminar was co-chaired by Shri A P Venkateswaran, former Foreign Secretary and chairman of Asia Centre and Ambassador S T Devare, Director General of ICWA

The presentations were followed by a lively discussion session. Nearly 45 Asia Centre members and invitees drawn from retired officers of Indian Administrative Service, Foreign Service & Defense Services, and academics attended the seminar.

The following distinguished speakers addressed the seminar: -

"Strategic Optionsby

Brig Rahul Bhonsle (Retd), Research Scholar affiliated to USI, New Delhi

"The Regional Contest" by 

  Dr Shanthie D’Souza, Research Fellow at IDSA, New Delhi

  "The Afghan Riddle" by 

 Shri Hormis Tharakan, Former Chief of R&AW, Visiting Professor, Dept of Geopolitics, Manipal University 

  "The Way Forward" by 

 Ambassador S K Lambah, IFS (Retd), Former Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Currently special envoy in Prime Minister’s Office

This report summarises the essence of the presentations and the discussions that followed.


Lt. Gen. Ravi Eipe, Director, Asia Centre, welcomed the participants. He extended a special welcome to Ambassador Sudhir T. Devare, Director General, ICWA, and Ambassador S.J.S Chhatwal, Member of the Governing Board of the ICWA.  He thanked ICWA for the Agreement to sponsor joint seminars with the Asia Centre, Bangalore , this being the first of the series.  He briefly introduced the subject on the following lines. 

a)  Afghanistan is known to have never been conquered by an outside power.  It is also historically known as “the graveyard of empires”, as confirmed by the British Raj’s  and the Soviet Union ’s experiences of the 19th and 20th centuries respectively; it has now become a testing ground for US ambitions in the 21st century.

b) Afghanistan has always been a sharply divided tribal society, with spillovers of affiliation into Northwest Pakistan and Balochistan as well as other neighbouring countries.  Pakistan makes full use of this proximate Pushtun interconnection.  Similarly the Hazaras are linked to Iran .  These linkages make for interference and instability in the frontier areas of all these countries. 

c) The adage that “the neighbour’s neighbour is a friend” holds true for Indo-Afghan relations.  Pakistan , which is the country in the middle, wants to negate or minimise Indian influence in Afghanistan and spread its own influence there instead.  This makes for Indo-Pak conflict in Afghanistan . The Afghan scene is further intensely complicated by the different agendas of major powers, the US along with its NATO allies, Russia and China , apart from the Central Asian Republics . 

The four presentations, by a scholar, a military man, an intelligence chief and a diplomat, are briefly set out below.


 Strategic Options

by  Brig. Rahul K. Bhonsle (Retd)

The presidential election on August 20 will mark another cusp in Afghanistan ’s turbulent history.  The election had to be postponed from May 20 due to instability, especially in the south and east.  The Talibanisation of the vast Pashtun tribal lands and the duplicity of Islamabad have led to growing concerns over stability in the country along the Durand Line between Afghanistan and Pakistan .  Two opposite views of the future can be discussed; one stressing things that are going badly and the other stressing developments that going reasonably well. On the plus side, we can cite the international commitment and India ’s stake in Afghan stabilisastion. That the presidential candidates could debate their programmes on TV (except that President Karzai did not take part in the debate) is a positive signal favouring open democratic leanings.  Human development indicators like health checks for children show improvement in Afghan standards.  Several million refugees have returned to Afghanistan from other countries they fled to. 

Since India is a major stake-holder in Afghanistan , the latter’s future course is important to our security.  Afghan history has seen the contestation of great powers in the 19th and 20th centuries, first between Britain and Tsarist Russia, next between the US and the Soviet Union and since the end of the cold war, between the Taliban Islamists and the non-Islamists.  With the current international involvement in stabilising Afghanistan , there are hopeful signs.  Since 2006, there is a focus on security and development.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently at the Council for Foreign Relations, “In Afghanistan and Pakistan , our goal is to disrupt, dismantle, and ultimately defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist allies, and to prevent their return to either country”. However US commitment is not likely to be long standing as the Secretary of Defence Mr. Robert Gates indicated almost at the same time that the American people were tired of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Alternative perspectives for the next few years should be explored to identify the drivers of stabilisation.  What are the likely scenarios around the year 2015?  By this benchmark year, the country could settle down to normal governance, with fair prospects for stability.  President Obama could perhaps be planning for his re-election.  Pakistan ’s future would be clearer. 

The Afghan government is making some progress in tackling corruption and the limited reach of central authority to the provinces.  The US “surge” and the revised rules of engagement which stress better contact with the people are eliciting public response. The NATO forces are also resorting less to air power.  A civilian surge is delayed, due to lack of trained personnel.  The coalition is intact, though its commitment is now reduced.

The Taliban is largely intact, but split into groups, such as the Quetta Shura, the Southern and Northern Command, the Haqqani network, and Hiz e Islami, linked with drug and criminal gangs, supported by the Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Pakistani establishment.  There are divisions between the local and central leadership, apart from internal divisions among the militant leaders.  The indigenous explosive devise (IED) is the main Taliban tactical weapon, an effective one.  The Taliban employs the strategy of suicide bombers combined with fire assault in Kabul and other towns.  It controls an area which could range between 30 and 70 percent of the territory. 

Pakistan has undertaken counter militancy operations in Malakand Agency, including Swat, Buner and Dur, defeating the Taliban.  The second phase is likely to be in South Waziristan .  The US considers the operations effective, but with caveats.  Attacks on the allied forces continue.  The strategy is complex: targeting the leaders and the tribal militias, combined with peace deals and local agreements.  The Pakistani commitment is suspect.

  Russia has increased its engagement in Afghanistan .  President Medvedev held a summit with the Afghan and Pakistan presidents in Moscow recently.  The possibility of opening the northern route for supplies to the coalition is being considered with Russian cooperation.  Iran remains in political flux.  China , after the eruption of ethnic unrest and conflict in Xinjiang, lacks a clear security policy and may restrict its engagement.  India ’s aid programme is substantial, despite Pakistan ’s objections, and is a success story.  The AfPak region has become the base for global and regional terrorism from the Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Lashkar e Toiba (LET), Jaish e Mohammad (JM) and Jamaat ud Dawa (JUD).  India therefore has to press on with its engagement in this region. 

 Among the alternative outcomes, we could consider three scenarios.  1) Growing stability, the most favoured outcome.  2) Status quo.  3) A failed state, moving towards anarchy: the worst case scenario.

First the Green option.  Full-scale stability in Afghanistan is unlikely, but growing stabitlity is possible by 2015.  It would include functioning central and regional governments, the neutralisation of the Taliban with a much reduced control, an increased capacity by the Afghan National Army and Police to exercise control without foreign support.  Concomitantly, the bases of the other terrorist groups should be neutralised, and their militants should be drawn into the mainstream.  Progress should be marked by greater consensus and cooperation among nations on stabilising the country.  A marginal reduction on external dependence for development aid and security could also be expected.  The US led commitment should be sustained by key actors, Russia , India , China , Iran , the Central Asian republics, and Pakistan , which is most important.  Pakistan should fulfil the commitment to dismantle the terrorist bases in its territory and move away from the objective of gaining “strategic depth” within Afghanistan . 

 The main factor would be the resolve of the Afghan leadership and the commitment of the Afghan people.  Without it, there will be no progress.  The synergy of the various factors working towards stability may be reflected in a stronger resolve by the Afghans.  Indian aid is also a component of the scenario. 

If, on the contrary, the international consensus weakens for lack of domestic support, and if Pakistan continues pursuing “strategic depth” by relying on Afghanistan ’s Talibanisation, insecurity will prevail.  So the risks in this optimal scenario are manifest.

  The Amber option:  The Status Quo scenario of continued instability is likely if the US “surge” in troops on the ground fails to improve the situation in a year or so.  If so, the Afghan government will be hard pressed to firm up its authority in the provinces.  Governance would remain Kabul-centric, with Taliban holding sway in about half the country. and the international commitment uncertain.  Pakistan ’s erratic attitude to tackling the Taliban insurgency, responding only under international pressure and doles from the US , would aggravate the problem.  The Afghan security forces would be weaker, depending on international deployment of forces.  It would also sap the governmental resolve.   If Pakistan remains ambivalent and the leadership of the Taliban/Al Qaeda is not much affected by the allied AfPak strategy, disruption will go on.  The Afghan government and people would begin to lose heart and hope and faith.  Corruption and parochialism will contribute to the disenchantment of the people.  Other nations would then be less willing to offer aid.  It will lead to the worst outcome.

 The Red Option: The Least Favoured Outcome of unstable Afghanistan descending into anarchy is a possible scenario.  If needed institutions are not built up and if the terrorist groups remain active in the AfPak region, anarchy is predictable.  This region will remain the matrix of regional and global terrorism.  The key factors would be the forced exit of the US troops, the further weakening of the Afghan security forces, lack of consensus among the regional powers, intra-regional conflict, Pakistan ’s overt support to the Taliban/Al Qaeda and the waning resolve of the Afghans to stabilise the country.  The global recession may also reduce the ability of countries to keep up assistance to an unstable Afghanistan .

  We may consider if India has viable military options to counter the Afghan insurgency with other countries.  No such option can be suggested unless: 1) the issue is of vital national interest; 2) we have a national consensus for the long haul; 3) the international commitment and consensus are certain; 4) there is a trained and operationally ready force; 5) logistics and sustainability are sure; 6) we have a hundred percent chance of success.  These criteria are clearly not met in the case of Indian intervention in Afghanistan . 

However, India could assist by training the Afghan security forces (troops and police) and expanding our present engagement through consultations.  The Pakistan factor dictates gradualism and muted commitments.  Training Afghan forces is a viable option. 

India can also provide management expertise in organising them, for example, by integrating a security forces constituted by demobilised troops.  Equipment like Dhruv and Cheetal helicopters, which are effective in high altitudes and heavy weapons, could be given at subsidised prices.  Other countries concerned should of T concur in this type of Indian engagement. 

  Afghanistan needs continued international backing for a long period.  Stabilisation must be an international and regional priority that no single country can shoulder.  Pakistan should distance itself from the aim of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan.

The Regional Contest

By  Dr Shanthie D’Souza,

This important subject may be analyzed by examining the key factors of instability in Afghanistan in its national, regional and international aspects   How can India do better?  After the ouster of the Taliban regime, the Bush administration failed to address the problem of Pakistani sanctuary to the Taliban insurgents.  Its forces were too meagre, leaving a small security footprint in Afghanistan .  This, combined with the porous border along Pakistan , enabled the Taliban to regroup and effect a comeback.  President Obama took office intending to stabilise Afghanistan , moving away from the Bush slogan of “the war on terror” to the goal of stabilising the Afghan government by degrees.  But herein lay a contradiction, since stability was not the immediate goal of US policy, but rather the dismantling of terrorist outfits, mainly the A Qaeda.  Afghanistan is not “ungovernable”, but the present scenario is adverse to the Afghan government gaining firm control, since both the regional states (mainly Pakistan and Iran ) and big power contention (among the US , Russia and China ) contribute to instability.  The US has directed drone attacks on suspected hideouts inside Pakistan, but so far the leaders, some living in Quetta,  have not been eliminated, only the lower level commanders.  Meanwhile, the Kerry-Lugar bill has sanctioned an annual grant aid to Pakistan amounting to $1.5 billion, which will be largely unaccounted for.  Huge funds have flushed into Afghanistan and Pakistan , but there is little to show for it in stabilisation.  Security and development have been on the back burner.  The success stories are not translated into stable institutions.  Aid programmes have been channeled through aid agencies of the donors rather than the Afghan government. In result, the aid has sapped the government, which is seen as weak, inept and corrupt.  The parallel state structure that has emerged has further reduced the effectiveness of the Afghan government and people’s faith in it.  The Afghan state is a rentier state, as it is continually dependent on outside support.  It has not been able to build and run its own structure based on its own resources. 

The international military intervention involves two forces, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and US “Operation Enduring Freedom” force, which is greater.  They have however added to the exposure of the Afghan government’s inadequacies.  The foreign forces have not heeded the cultural sensitivities of the people; this has worsened the backlash against them.  Afghans do not favour the Taliban, but in areas where foreign troops are not deployed or those which they clear, the Taliban come back at night and the people have no choice but to comply with their dominance.  The Taliban know that the US and foreign troops will not stay forever.  The Pashtun saying. “You have the watch, but we have the time” is applied to the Americans.  The US is working on its “exit strategy” and may withdraw or scale down its presence in the area if Obama does not gain his objectives.  He has not defined his AfPak strategy time-wise, but will wish to avoid seeing it labeled his “ Vietnam ”.  The contradiction between the need to stay on and the need to leave will be problematic.  In the latter course, regional powers will resume destabilising Afghanistan .  The AfPak policy is good, but does not deal with the backlash against American intervention in Pakistan .  Attacking a few terrorist leaders will not be enough to defeat the insurgency, as the counter-strikes will involve civilian casualties.  The Pakistan civilian government would be weakened.  The military could once again take over the government.  The other danger is the huge Islamist threat.  Meanwhile, the LET, which has strong connections with the Taliban, is active in training posts in Kunar province on the Afghan side of the border.  So India cannot rest on the assumption that the Taliban insurgency does not affect our security.  The Taliban has included Kashmir in its agenda of goals and India in the list of enemies. 

The US surge of troops is good, since it will lessen civilian casualties.  How the troops can stabilise the country is problematic.  A long term strategy is missing.  Iraq and Afghanistan are different in the sense that in Iraq the insurgency was mostly urban, while it is mostly rural in the latter.  Iraq had functioning state institutions in towns, but even the traditional village institutions in Afghanistan have broken down or been radicalised.  Much of the aid received from abroad has gone into salaries and administration, so that the problem of poverty and unemployment remain, feeding the Taliban movement.  A civilian surge to match the military is required for provincial reconstruction. Further, while foreign attention is now focused on reclaiming the south and the east of the country, little aid has gone into the north, where useful reform and rebuilding need attention.  

The Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PTRs), intended to aid and strengthen local authorities, are not so effective because they do not sufficiently let the Afghans decide the kind of small project they should take up first.  If a village requires drinking water supply ensured, a PRT building a school is not much appreciated. The people have no great expectations of PRTs.  When militants attack a settlement, PRTs are of little consequence.  We must remember this if India is to send out its own PRTs to Afghan areas.

The security situation remains grim.  The Taliban is constituted of diverse elements, young men out of work, those with grievances against the state, even thieves, not only the Islamists.  The US forces need to secure the supply lines for logistics.  The Pakistan route has been disrupted by the Taliban attacks on convoys.  Alternative routes via Russia , such as the northern route, are less feasible if Russia is reluctant to oblige, resentful because of the NATO expansion in eastern Europe and the American diplomatic penetration in Central Asia .  Iran is another possibility, with the road from Zaranj to Delaram in the south-west of Afghanistan which India has built, extensible to the port of Chabhar, but obviously the continuing US-Iran tension after the re-election of President Ahmedinejad and suspicions regarding the Iranian nuclear programme rule out an early agreement on this alternative route.  The upshot is that the US will continue to depend on Pakistan , come what may. 

  China is an important regional power which can play a helpful role in Afghan stabilisation.  It has taken up a copper mining project in Kunar province and can develop rail connections for transport.  China has great influence with Pakistan which would be useful in diplomatic handling.  The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) could be asked to engage more constructively towards normalising Afghanistan .

The AfPak strategy has not been very effective.  Obama would like it to succeed and use it for his re-election campaign.  But the Americans do not stomach a long war.  The outlook is that the US will remain in Afghanistan for perhaps two more fighting seasons before leaving.  Their problem is to achieve a measure of stability in Afghanistan , with the help of other countries which are also tiring of the responsibility.  The US wants India to be an active player.  If the US cannot overcome the insurgency, its entire strategy would be labelled as “Obama’s Vietnam ”, which he must somehow avoid. 

If as a consequence of the AfPak strategy, the Pakistani civilian government is weakened through the Pakistani backlash against the US intervention to eliminate the Al Qaeda-Taliban terrorist movement, it is possible that the military would take over the reins again, or that the Islamist threat would loom larger still.  India would be under threat too, since the Taliban has strong links with the LET and rebel Islamists from Central Asia; a long belt of interlinked disruption could result, stretching from Chechnya to Afghanistan , Pakistan and India . 

Iraq and Afghanistan are unlike in their civil unrest.  Iraq ’s unrest is mainly urban and it has working state institutions.  Afghan unrest is mainly in the rural areas, where the traditional institutions have broken down or have been radicalised.  Hence it is more difficult to bring peace and stability there.  During the presidential campaign (in August) there will be more incidents of turmoil. 

India is being pressed into a major role.  India is already the sixth largest donor of aid to Afghanistan .  But the dilemma is that any increase in our aid or profile would be immediately objected to by Pakistan , which is prevailing on the US to arrange a scaling down of our Afghan presence.  Pakistan is also urging the US to mediate in the Kashmir issue, which India is averse to bringing into the AfPak strategy.  (Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy, has been careful to avoid bringing in Kashmir as a talking point, but some in Washington are inclined to please Pakistan further). 

India wants long-term stability to be built up in Afghanistan .  Indian aid is well appreciated by the Afghans.  More aid could be channelled through local agencies. Our training programmes are good.  But the plea for Indian troops to be sent to Afghanistan is not recommendable.  Sustaining a military presence would be a big problem.  It would be a red flag for Pakistan .  Instead, India has the capacity to train Afghan security personnel in India for high-altitude warfare and several other operations.  It can help in building and strengthening Afghan state institutions.  India ’s counter-insurgency techniques can be shared.  Local government can be boosted by sharing our experience in decentralised panchayat raj administration could be usefully imparted to the Afghans.  Indian Muslims could join in the campaign to expose the un-Islamic tenets of the terrorists using the Islamic label. 

India could participate in combating the menace of narcotic trade.  If a successful model area can be established, an effort to replicate it would be highly beneficial.  More aid should be directed to the ignored areas in the north, so that the drift towards insurgency is arrested. 

Lastly, the aim of integrating Afghanistan in the South Asian region of development should be addressed in earnest.  In the longer term, energy pipelines through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India can be envisaged.  Indo-Afghan trade would immensely gain from the opening of transit routes through Pakistan , if the latter can be pressed to do so.  These projects, though not feasible at the present stage, should be considered for the eventual development of Afghanistan as an independent state.  It can generate more employment through its integration in a larger region of free trade

The international community has a big role.  Another conference like the Bonn conference of 2001 is called for.  Afghan elements which were earlier excluded, but those ready to give up armed struggle, could be brought into the government set-up.  Such a conference should give the lead role to the Afghans, who should be encouraged to work out their future.  A non-interference pact could be negotiated and Afghanistan could be recognised as a neutral and independent state.  The UN rather than the US should be the main agency to coordinate aid and reconstruction.

The Afghan Riddle

By  Shri Hormis Tharakan

The counter-insurgency drive in Afghanistan has reached a decisive stage with President Obama outlining his AfPak policy.  The interconnection between Afghanistan and Pakistan in tackling the Al Qaeda-Taliban offensive implies correctly that the problems of one country cannot be solved without solving the problems of the other country also.  This approach was mooted by Bruce Riedel, former CIA official, (whom Obama has consulted) in an article in ‘Foreign Affairs’ in June 2007.  He said, “a critical first step towards decapitating the Al Qaeda is for Washington to enhance its commitment in Afghanistan .” He further urged that defeating the Taliban would require significantly more NATO troops and equipment; which itself requires US leadership.  To induce the shift, more US troops should be diverted from Iraq to Afghanistan .  Riedel suggested a contact group of Afghanistan ’s neighbours could be formed to secure Afghan borders.  Iran had been helpful previously and should again be engaged in securing Afghanistan .  India has been the target of terrorism by Islamist militants for long.  India has given more than half of billion dollars in aid to Afghanistan and should play a bigger role there.  Pakistan should not be rewarded for its selective targeting of terrorists. The new US Congress, Riedel said, should take “a sharp look” at Pakistan ’s record of cooperation with the US in its regional objectives.  The US should use the enhanced relationship with India after the nuclear deal and encourage improved Indo-Pak understanding and a lessening of hostility between them.  Riedel acknowledged that the terrorist network in Kashmir maintained links with the Al Qaeda.  

  Though Kashmir has been down-played by Amb. Holbrooke, it does seem to be part of US strategy for the region.  Recently, there has been an enhancement of allied military action in Afghanistan, but criticism is mounting, with the UK also questioning the policy of supporting the US on account of the increasing British casualties in the war.  There are frictions between the US and Pakistan over the strategy.  In July, the ‘International Herald Tribune’ (and the ‘New York Times’) carried a report based on a briefing by unnamed senior officers of the ISI.  It reported that Pakistan was against the expanded anti-Taliban allied military operations in Afghanistan , since this would drive the militants from the south and east of the country into the Pushtun border areas of Pakistan .  If this happens, the ISI indicated, Pakistan could not afford to move a sizeable number of troops from its Indian borders in its east to the western borders.  For Pakistan the main problem was to guard against Indian offensives.  The ISI wants a dialogue between the US and allies, which would be conducive to Pakistan ’s interests.  Maj.-Gen. Atta Abbas, the military spokesman, told CNN in an interview that the ISI is in contact was capable of talking to key leaders of the Taliban and bringing them to the negotiating table for a dialogue with the US .

There is a gap in perception, perhaps a growing one, between the US and Pakistan despite the latter’s military offensive against the Taliban in Swat, which has won plaudits in the West.  The US military is convinced that Pakistan is taking on the Pak Taliban militants, ignoring the Afghan Taliban.  It doubts whether Pakistan has done its best to restrain the LET and other groups, which is known to have links with the Al Qaeda.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said in New Delhi that the planners of 9/11 had taken shelter in Pakistan , though the Pakistan foreign ministry vigorously denied the charge.  The US believes that Mohammed Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban, is in Quetta , but Pakistan says he is in Afghanistan .  The ISI says that only two of the top ten leaders named by the US are in Quetta . Two are in Afghanistan ; the other six have been killed.  Pakistan insists that the two in Quetta pose no threat to Afghanistan .  The US generals in Afghanistan are not happy with Pakistan for its failure to end the sanctuaries for the Afghan Taliban on its side.  It is also patent that Pakistan backs Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is operating from North Waziristan and training militants to fight in Afghanistan .  Haqqani, the US intelligence believes, along with ISI elements, was the planner of the July 2008 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul . 

The presidential election in Afghanistan (on August 20, 2009 ) may result in Hamid Karzai getting a second term as president.  This, according to M.K. Bhadrakumar (‘Hindu’), has discomfited the West, which is backing Ashraf Ghani, former World Bank official, and former finance minister, though he is not very popular.  This op-ed writer predicts that a violent reaction may follow Karzai’s victory.  Karzai’s vice-presidential partners include Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who was close to the Russian intelligence and Karim Khalili, the incumbent second vice-president, a Hazara who is close to Iran .  Fahim has offered a three-year ceasefire.  But neither of them is likely to support a possible dialogue with the Taliban.  Karzai also supports the Uzbek, General Rashid Dostum, who is inveterately opposed to the Taliban. 

But the Pakistani intelligence is pressing the West into a dialogue with the Taliban.  The Pak record of cooperation with the Taliban features several instances of intrigues against some of its leaders, but the ISI penchant for the “good Taliban”, despite burnt fingers, has been minimised by the Americans, because they still need Pakistan to carry of the campaign against the Afghan insurgency.

Can Pakistan convince the West to start a dialogue with the Taliban?  If it can, the West may opt for a regime change in Afghanistan .  Thomas Friedman, in a recent op-ed in the ‘New York Times’, highlights the troop surge, but argues that it is a limited mission, which needs to be developed into a full, nation-building project.  That would take a long time to succeed, involving development of local areas with a judicial system.  The US has dropped counting the number of enemies killed in action as an index of progress.  But the fact is that the Afghan government is perceived as corrupt, and hence the Afghans prefer the Taliban to government agencies.  The prospects of the AfPak strategy must be viewed with reservation.  The US may decide to leave, since its primary target is to debilitate the Al Qaeda and neutralise it, such that the US homeland continues to be secure from terror strikes like those of 9/11. 

The underlying assumption will be that the regional players should cooperate to ensure Afghanistan ’s security.  India needs to plan for the time when the US leaves and the Taliban regains ascendancy in Afghanistan , which is the Pakistani objective.  India ’s diplomatic strategy should reach out to Iran , Russia , China and the Central Asian Republics , all of which have a common interest in stabilising Afghanistan without a dominant Taliban.

The Way Forward

By Ambassador Satinder Lambah, PM’s Special Envoy

Afghanistan is an amazing and absorbing country which has gone through a very long history as a geographical crossroads, from Alexander to Genghis Khan to Babar to the British in the 19th century, the Soviet intervention in the 20th century and now the US-NATO intervention against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.  The country has emerged in our time from being a client state (1979) to the status of a fledgling democracy. 

The security situation has been deteriorating since 2006, with the civilian population, the militants and the US-NATO troops all sustaining more casualties.  The figures for violent incidents are up in the south and east of the country.  NATO is a divided house: its members are reluctant to put more troops on the ground and there are not enough troops to combat the insurgency.  The US is sending 17,000 more troops, with some civilian support.  The Afghan National Army is not capable of pursuing an effective campaign without NATO support. 

The Taliban has the advantage of sanctuaries, shelter and recruitment potential in Pakistan .  The links between the Tariq-e-Taliban Pakistan TTP) and the Afghan Taliban are close.  With the Pakistan state’s loss of control over FATA, there is a fillip to the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan .  The growing extremism in the NWFP and even southern Punjab is causing serious concern.  The distinction between the Taliban, the Al Qaeda and groups like the LET is becoming meaningless, since they are all fused, both operationally and ideologically.  The terrorist spread is menacing.  The LET, with its offshoot the JUD (active in J & K), have been designated as a terrorist group by the UNSC under the Resolution 1267, which is a positive step.  But the terrorist footprint extends to the whole region, including India .  The present impasse is that the Taliban cannot capture power in Afghanistan ; but that the NATO cannot defeat the Taliban. 

Two problems have complicated the situation.  First, the narcotics problem. Afghanistan is a narco state, with drugs producing 50 percent of its GDP: 93 percent of the world’s supply of heroin comes from Afghanistan .  A UN survey estimates that the area under poppy cultivation has come down, with more provinces becoming poppy-free.  But in the southern and eastern parts of the country, there is an increase in poppy cultivation.  The nexus between narcotics and terrorists is well known.  The reasons include the higher returns for the farmer for growing poppy, poor border controls, and official collusion. 

The refugee problem persists long after 2001, when 7 million Afghans fled to neighbouring countries.  Though 5 million refugees are said to have returned (by the UNHCR), there are still about 3 million in Pakistan, Iran, the northern neighbour countries, even India, with about 9200 Hindus and Sikhs; they claim Afghanistan as their homeland, but cannot yet go back because of insecurity and lack of employment prospects. 

The presidential election will be held on August 20, under an independent Afghan commission aided by the UNDP.   President Hamid Karzai is the front-runner, along with several other candidates.  The prominent ones are the former Foreign Minister, Abdullah Abdullah and the former Finance Minister Ghani.  Karzai’s vice-presidential team includes Fahim as deputy, which is not congenial to the West, but he is likely to swing the Tajik and other minority votes for Karzai.  If in the first round no candidate polls at least 50 percent of the votes, a second round of the two leading candidates will be held.  The results are to be announced in September/ October. 

Afghanistan occupies a strategic location close to Central Asia , which is rich in minerals, oil and gas included, and has been a zone of contention among the major powers for centuries.  It is where the six ‘Stans’ ( Tajikistan , Turkmenistan , Uzbekistan , Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are located as separate republics after the Soviet break-up).  So the neighbours have an important bearing and impact on the present crisis.  Two new elements have to be noted: Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, both of which have caused much of the disruption in the region.  The Russian shadow also falls on it.  Organised crime, drug traffic and authoritarian regimes are unfortunate features here.  After 9/11, the Central Asian republics became frontline states in the Afghan war. 

  At first Russia welcomed the US role in Afghanistan , but has changed its attitude in recent years, with the advance of NATO eastward to the Russian border and the US influence gaining ground in Central Asia .  Russia has the most extensive and complex economic and other interests in the Central Asian republics.

  Next we should note the growing role of China in this region.  China borders some of them.  With the tribes freely crossing the borders, China has its own concerns to secure.  Hitherto the small republics north of Afghanistan have had a low profile there. 

  Iran has long had an important interest in Afghan stability.  It supports the Afghan Shia minority.  In 2001, Iran supported the US-led war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.  That year, the Bonn Conference would not have reached the favourable agreement on Afghanistan ’s governance without the Iran delegation’s backing.  It was Iran which proposed the inclusion of the word “democracy” for the projected Afghan government, to the pleasant surprise of the US .  Iran is crucial for ensuring a stable Afghanistan .   It is a member of two trilateral commissions, ( Pakistan , Afghanistan and Iran ;  and Turkey , Iran and Afghanistan ).  Russia is also taking part in such a group ( Russia , Afghanistan , Pakistan and Tajikistan ).  These interactions deserve India ’s close attention.

Pakistan is a critically important neighbour.  Pakistan ’s objectives in Afghanistan are:  1)  Strategic depth.  2) Making Afghanistan more dependent on Pakistan .  3)  Settling the Pakhtunistan issue.  4)  Smooth trade and transit to Central Asia .  5)  Source of recruiting jihadis for action in Kashmir . 6)  Negating India ’s influence in Afghanistan .  Rafat Hussain, a scholar in the Institute of Strategic Studies , Islamabad , has recently written that Afghanistan and Pakistan never enjoyed smooth relations except during the four years of the Taliban regime.  The factors making for friction are the Durand Line, the British drawn border in the Pushtun region which Afghanistan never accepted, and divergence in the strategic outlook of the two neighbours as well as their different ideas of their shared faith, Islam.  Afghanistan has long shunned foreign influence and interference, while Pakistan has been an American-protected ally at some periods and especially at present.  Pakistan is pro-Taliban because the Taliban is anti-India and anti-secular. 

 The concept of ‘strategic depth’ which Pakistan seeks in Afghanistan is intended to give the former certain advantages in a conflict with India :  Pakistan will have time to transfer key military equipment to a place of its choosing.  Logistical support would be available.  Places west of the Durand Line would be safe from attack.  Large safe havens would be ensured.  These scenarios are unlikely, but the army tends to conjure them. 

Terrorism and Talibanisation have spread through Pakistan .  Major cities like Karachi and Lahore have hidden terrorist networks and even Islamabad is not immune. 

The conflict in Swat is a development of the Afghan situation.  In recent military operations, the Pakistan army has used air power and artillery tanks against the Taliban insurgents, apparently a paradigm shift in strategy.  This is due to a late realisation that the Taliban is posing a threat to the Pakistan state.  The Swat offensive was also due to international concern and Pakistan ’s desperate need for financial support, which is tied to the effectiveness of its drive against the Taliban.  But the drive has produced various problems for Pakistan , threatening regional stability and  communal relations.  The Pushtun refugees from Swat and other area, numbering 2.3 million at the peak, are unwelcome in Sind and Punjab , causing them bitterness as fellow-citizens.  They are igniting a regional divide. 

Further, the tactical cooperation among the jihadi groups in Pakistan has become closer.  Pakistan is still reluctant to take action against the India-centric jihadi groups. 

The Swat operation obliged Pakistan to move some troops from its eastern border with India to the western border with Afghanistan .  It indicates a measure of trust in India ’s peaceful intentions.  For the first time since 1971, there are signs of growing fatigue among the Pakistan troops who are now called upon to fight their own people.

 From our point of view, international opinions inclining towards Pakistan ’s wish of initiating talks with the Taliban is of some concern, because it is a sign of drift in the campaign against Afghan insurgency and it also makes the Afghan government appear weak.  India has asked, how can we distinguish the “good Taliban” from the “bad Taliban”?  But the ultimate aim of the pragmatists is to reach some kind of compromise, though the West is not willing to spell it out now.  In fact, the US and Pakistani priorities are different.  One is right to say that “the watch is with the US , but time is on the side of the Taliban. 

The US considers Pakistan too important to ignore its concerns.  Stability in the region is not easy to establish.   Pakistan will continue to receive US military and economic assistance.  This reliance continues, despite Admiral Mullen’s candour on Pakistan ’s double dealing.  One positive for India is that the crisis has exposed Pakistan ’s policy of assistance to terrorists, which is now under greater international scrutiny.

China ’s objectives are to prevent the export of terrorism to Xinjiang and in the long run to sponsor a gas pipeline reaching its cities from Central Asia .  China ’s minority communities bordering these states have ethnic links which have to be rightly channelled.

. China has been sensitive to its ally Pakistan ’s difficulty in curbing Islamic activity in other countries.  But China may play a more active role in helping Afghan stability in future.

Russian objectives are to prevent the export of terrorism to Chechnya , and to guard against the spread of drug addiction, which is already very high among Russians.  Russia enjoyed the discomfiture of the US in Afghanistan , but it now wants to see the country brought to order, since the unrest of the Taliban insurgency can infect “the soft underbelly” of Russia . 

The main US objective is to eliminate the Al Qaeda structure.  The Americans may revive their idea of sponsoring a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the longer term. 

India for its part wants to ensure that there is no export of terrorism and extremism from the region and no outside interference in Afghanistan .  The Afghan government should exclude the Taliban.  The country should rely on an integrated army and police.  Human rights should be protected.  The UN could assist in the reconstruction, which should be given the main emphasis.  India has had a long term and strategic interest in Afghanistan .  Afghan leaders up to Karzai, though from diverse regimes, had personal or familial connections with India , including education in India .  We have good relations with the different strata of society.  The Taliban and the ISI oppose the Indian presence. 

  India has an open and visible aid programme for reconstruction, spanning all the provinces of Afghanistan , amounting to $ 1.3 billion so far.  The projects are targeted by the Taliban militants.  They have benefited the Afghan government and are welcomed by the people.  The Ministry of External Affairs produced a handy brochure on the Indian assistance programme which we circulated at recent international meetings.   The main ones are as follows:

The highway from Zaranj  to Delaram in the southwest of Afghanistan , 218 km in length, will provide a gateway to the Indian Ocean via Iran and its port of Chahbahar , which would greatly improve the country’s trade prospects and has already begun to boost the movement of cargo.  It was completed at a much lower cost than what it might cost  Western sponsors.

The Salma dam power project (42 MW) in Herat province under construction.  This will provide irrigation to numerous tracts. 

A power transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and a substation at Chimtala for additional power from the northern grid to Kabul .  This line has been built over difficult mountainous areas. 

Construction of the Afghan parliament house in Kabul , a symbol of our democratic linkage.

Restoration of the telecom infrastructure in 11 provinces (completed).

Expansion of the national TV network for Kabul and the provincial capitals.

  There are also many smaller projects which contribute to the health, education and social needs of the Afghans, especially children and women.  Wheat consignments, food aid to schools, the Indian Medical Missions in the capital and other cities, the Indira Gandhi Institute for Child Health, solar panels, a cold storage centre, a computer training centre, vocational training for youths, and ITEC placements in India are some of the different areas where India is helping the reconstruction and capacity building of Afghanistan. 

  The aid programme is the way forward for India to secure its interests in the Afghan state and win the trust of its people, in spite of the prospect of an eventual Afghan government which includes some Taliban members.  We are renewing contacts with out traditional friends, the Pushtuns.


Ambassador A.M. Khaleeli opened the discussions by stating that Iran has influenced Afghanistan considerably over several epochs.  The only period of stability which it enjoyed was when the Hindu and Iranian civilisations cooperated there.  The Afghans are a tribal people with their own virtues and codes of behaviour.  They have left their influence in the northern parts of undivided India. 

Afghanistan can be influenced only by a unified country.  Pakistan cannot make a lasting mark in Afghanistan or dominate it.  Iran will have a continuing influence.  The intruders are the Americans.  India should favour the exit of foreign intruders.  When the Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan, they were the intruders, who did not serve our interests there.  India could have warned the Soviet Union against intervention.  The Taliban movement started from there (1979) 

India should keep in touch with the Taliban, good or bad.  It is good diplomacy to maintain such contacts.  The Americans will leave Afghanistan eventually.  They are mainly motivated by oil and gas resources in the region, which can be transported to other countries.  In the long term, if gas pipelines are built from the region, India could benefit.  The main factor making for instability in Afghanistan is Pakistan.  Pakistan cannot manipulate a stable Afghanistan. India should systematically impress this on the Pushtuns and the Taliban, and thus undo the mischief of the British drawn Durand Line.  When the US quits, we would not like the Russians or the Chinese to take over in Afghanistan.  The Indian interest is to be more correct.

A question was asked regarding the extent of Arab influence on Afghanistan and how it would affect Indian interests.  Dr. D’Souza replied that undoubtedly there was considerable Saudi Arabian influence on the Islamic insurgents through funded ‘charities’.  But Turkey and India were in favour of an Afghanistan which would not exploit religious extremism as its ideology.  Other Muslim countries could also help the moderating trend.  Amb. Khaleeli added that the Arabs, particularly the Saudis, have spread the Deoband type of Wahabi Islam among the Afghan Sunnis, appealing to tribalism.  But the Afghan Muslims, Sunnis included, have long enjoyed cultural links with the Iranian civilisation and Persian is spoken widely in the country. 

The next question was about the rising profile of Russia in the region.  Is the US attitude changing by accepting the SCO as a useful agency for stabilising Afghanistan?  Are the US-Russian strains easing?  Amb. Lambah replied that Russia was reasserting its interests in the region and that the SCO can play a positive role.  China’s presence is also more evident in Central Asia.  The US is aware of these developments and attended the Moscow summit of the SCO at a junior level.  The US clearly wants more international cooperation in Afghanistan.

To a question about possible supply routes to Afghanistan, other than the dangerous route from Pakistan across the border, Dr. D’Souza replied that the northern route is difficult to rely on.  The Iran route via the Indian built highway in Afghanistan is potentially usable, being shorter;  and less costly for cargo.  But it is problematic due to Iran’s controversial nuclear programme, which is opposed by the West and other countries.  India is stalled for the present, but has a neutral stand and will make its own decisions on bilateral relations with Iran as with other countries.  Much depends on how the Iran crisis evolves.

Amb. Lambah said, in answer to a question about cultural ties with Afghanistan, that India maintains active cultural relations, with exchanges of troupes of artistes between the two countries.  He added that some Indian TV serials were highly popular among Afghans.

A questioner suggested that India should not go in for big infrastructure projects in Afghanistan which draw Pakistan’s opposition, but replicate the kind of project that the hospital for children (IGCHA) in the provinces, along with small vocational training centres.  He believed that the benefits of the highway project by India had been exaggerated.  Existing routes would have sufficed.  He further suggested that India had come in for criticism, not only from Pakistan, but also from the US, for its several consulates in Afghanistan.  He said that Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy, had asked India to dismantle the consulates which caused tension with Pakistan, which believed them to be Indian outposts for espionage and the instigation of rebellion.  Amb. Lambah corrected the questioner about Holbrooke’s call for dismantling the consulates.  There was no such call by him.  Of the four Indian consulates, only those in Jalalabad and Kandahar are near Pakistan.  They have existed since the 1950’s.  They are staffed by very few personnel.  India has a zero tariff arrangement with Afghanistan for its dry fruit export.  Every consignment needs to be certified by the consulate.  The Pakistani criticism should not be taken seriously.  Dr. D’Souza said that the Jalalabad consulate had a staff of four.  Pakistan multiplies the number at will.  Regarding the Indian projects, she pointed out that most of them were small ones.  High visibility projects like the Salma dam were located in the relatively more stable parts of the north.  She added that women’s groups are being enabled by India to oversee and carry out small projects.  This is an important area of assistance.

To a question on Afghan students coming to India, Amb. Lambah stated that, in addition to the ITEC programme, India is offering 500 more scholarships.  Next year the number of Afghan students on India would be 700 to 800.

Amb. C.V. Ranganathan spoke next, favouring a regional solution which India and others could initiate, after due consultations, to stabilise Afghanistan.  He was concerned that India should avoid the trap of insisting that the new Afghan government should be totally free of the Taliban representatives.  Like Amb. Khaleeli, he would like India to establish its own contacts with the Taliban. 

The American interest in the region is limited.  The US wants India to be a more active player.  It would be a positive diplomatic initiative If India could put together a group including Russia, Iran and possibly China (whose interests intersect with India’s in several areas).  That way, we would be exercising autonomy and independent judgement in foreign policy.  The US could perhaps persuade Pakistan to join such an initiative.

  Amb. A. Madhavan requested the panelists to say whether, in their opinion, the US would really leave Afghanistan, as suggested by some; particularly if the Americans, being keen on tapping the oil and gas resources in Central Asia (where they have strategic interests), prefer to stay on.  Amb. Lambah answered that the US is not so tempted by oil and gas through Afghanistan in view of Turkmenistan’s long term agreement on gas with Russia.  If the Americans stay, oil and gas would be subsidiary to their main interest, which is to see that the kind of threat which 9/11 signalled is eliminated successfully, in their judgment.

Ambassador S.J.S. Chhatwal, Member, Governing Body and Chairman, Programme Committee, ICWA, was invited to speak.  He began with a historical reference to the British Raj and its foreign policy goal in the later half of the 19th century, to ensure that Afghanistan would be a buffer state between British India and the expanding Tsarist Russian Empire.  In 2008, he had led a delegation of scholars to Kabul for five days, to establish contacts with Afghan researchers and scholars.  Formerly, Afghan scholars and researchers used to study in India. The academics from Kabul University and the intelligentsia feel marginalised in Afghanistan.  No think tank remains in Kabul.  The ICWA team persuaded the scholars to form one, albeit under the aegis of the Afghan foreign office, to promote bilateral contacts.  A memorandum of understanding was signed. 

Amb. Chhatwal shared his impressions of the present Afghan situation.  1) During the Taliban regime, a scholar disclosed to him, Afghanistan was like a colony of Pakistan.  Afghan scholars now go to Pakistan for study and research.  They speak chaste Urdu, not Hindustani any more.  Pakistan has used the lure of money to make the Afghans (Pathans) Islamist in outlook.  2)  They do not expect much from India in the academic field.  3)  China is investing more funds and technology in Afghanistan, since the space is vacant and there is little Indian private investment coming in.  China has bought rights to an Afghan copper mine at a low price.  It will establish growing influence in the country.  India, it is true, has done a lot, and generated popular goodwill.  The power transmission line we have built was notable; it was turned down for collaboration at the project stage by western companies.  4) The Indian built highway to Iran will not be open to the NATO powers and the US, since Iran has specifically refused to allow the road to be used as the allied transit route for their Afghan operations.  5)  India has done well in giving 2.5 million tonnes of wheat as food aid to Afghanistan, a highly appreciated gesture.  We have to see that the cost of transportation is not at an excessive rate.

Ambassador Sudhir Devare, Director General of the ICWA, spoke next. He lauded the Asia Centre’s initiative in holding the seminar and the in-depth presentations.  India, with its large aid programme in Afghanistan, is positioning itself for a useful role in that strategic area.  India would probably consider diverse investment possibilities, looking beyond Afghanistan towards Iran, the Central Asian republics, and Russia.  This policy will pay dividends. 

The ICWA, revamped after the Act of 2001 as a body of national importance, is planning an extensive outreach. It will set up branches or collaborate with institutions in the main cities, some of them already started.  The headquarters at Sapru House, New Delhi will hold a conference on our immediate neighbourhood, which includes China.  The seminars held so far have covered Nepal and Sri Lanka, with Indonesia next in the list, to be followed by Afghanistan. 

Ambassador A.P. Venkateswaran, Chairman in his brief concluding remarks, thanked the speakers for their illuminating presentations. 

Lt. Gen. Ravi Eipe, Director expressed thanks on behalf of Asia Centre to the speakers and to ICWA for collaborating in holding this seminar.


The seminar produced highly informative and clear-cut presentations by all the four speakers.  They reinforced and complemented their separate interpretations of the crisis in Afghanistan.  The subsequent discussion brought out some differences of opinion and emphasis, but also clarified the issues of national concern for us, mainly Pakistan’s political disarray and double-dealing on fighting terrorism. Every question from the floor was answered constructively and sensitively by the panelists.   India’s interests as a stakeholder in the Afghan-Pakistan region were uppermost in all the presentations.  They took due note of India’s interest extending to the adjacent region of Central Asia and Iran.  Valuable final remarks by the ICWA Director General Sudhir Devare and Governing Board Member Surbir Chhatwal added to the substantive content of the seminar. 

   Afghanistan is moving into a phase of painful stabilisation, challenged by serious security threats from the largely Pushtun insurgents of the Taliban and the remnants of the Al Qaeda.  The Taliban has forged loose links with other ethnic groups of rebels against ruling regimes.  It has become hardened by sustained defiance of the US-NATO onslaught since 2001 and has re-entered the fray as an implacable foe of both the Karzai government and its external backers, the reluctant and weary multi-national combine led by the US. The US itself has begun to doubt the rationale of the Afghan war, which has claimed a high price in its prestige, leadership, money and trained personnel.  The ambiguous, Janus-faced role of Pakistan as the indispensable frontline ally of the US, which is simultaneously the clandestine mainstay of the Taliban, is the problem of problems in the present Afghan crisis.  The AfPak strategy, undefined though it is, was acutely analysed by the speakers: none could forecast success for it, despite the augmentation or “surge” of mostly American troops and civilian personnel to defeat the stubborn insurgency in Helmand and other troubled provinces. 

Since this seminar at the end of July, Pakistan’s army has conducted purposeful and heavily armed operations in the sanctuaries in Swat valley and other places along the Afghan border, in order to rout the virtual Taliban takeover of tribal villages and the imposition of offensively punitive behavioural codes in the name of a distorted Sharia law.  The TTP, which had been put together by Baitullah Mehsud from a congeries of rebel groups, now called the Pakistan Taliban, has turned against its patron and mentor, the Pakistan army and the ISI, as well as the civilian government.  The American drone attacks multiplied in the tribal belt, from secret bases located in Pakistan, with the collaboration of the Pakistan state and military, but the high-tech precision targeting also killed countless civilians and drove out refugees (IDPs) by the thousand, generating new problems that are socially divisive and politically intractable.  In result the US drive against the insurgency has made the Americans viscerally unpopular with the Pakistani public.  The TTP over-reached itself in its newfound run as masters of Pushtun Pakistan, only to fall foul of hapless fellow tribal villagers.  The reported death of Baitullah Mehsud in a drone strike on August 5, though still unacknowledged by the TTP, has led to a violent succession dispute among the tribal factions.  Both the US and the Pakistan army now take satisfaction at having inflicted a near-mortal blow on the TTP rebellion against the state, but the disappointment is that the leaders of the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda still remain in hiding in somewhere in the Afghan-Pakistan tribal belt.  The chief gain this summer for the countries and forces ranged against the insurgency is that the Pakistan state, comprising both the military and the civilian government, is now determined to eliminate at least the Pakistan Taliban. 

But this consolation is flawed insofar as the militants, whose targets are Indian rather than Afghan or American, are still dear to the ISI as “assets”.  Anti-Indian Pakistanis also enjoy India’s discomfiture after every gory terror strike.  Pakistan is yet to be convinced to renounce reliance on the sponsored “jihad” against secular, democratic India. This jihad is distorted as an “Islamic” mission with the predatory objective of prising out Kashmir from the Indian Union.  At the root of India’s Afghan problem is the fact that the US feels beholden to Pakistan, despite the latter’s known perfidy and feels obliged to pamper it with flowing grants, arms and other help.  India sides with the US and its NATO allies in wanting to restore stability in Afghanistan.  It is also earnest in contributing to Afghan reconstruction and development; but India is sadly hampered by the hostility of Pakistan to the Indian presence and influence in Afghanistan, a perversity which the US is not only tolerating but covertly supporting.  The US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Robert Blake has reassuringly asserted that the US highly values India’s important role in Afghanistan (August 15, ‘Dawn’ report of an interview).  But the inescapable conclusion is that India cannot tag along with the US in its AfPak policy in the key aspect of indulgence to Pakistan’s remote control terrorism.  This contradiction in the policies of both the US and Pakistan has inveigled India into a tacit acquiescence of the idea that the Afghan state can be stabilised only by a broad-based government which includes the “good Taliban”, as opposed to the “bad Taliban” who are dead against a compromise with the West and US-dependent Pakistan.  The fact that one cannot distinguish the good from the bad Taliban will not deter either Pakistan or the US in seeking such a compromise.  For Pakistan this is a gateway to the revival of a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and the concept of “strategic depth” in case of a confrontation with India.  For the US, the compromise offers a wedge of light at the end of the dark Afghan war tunnel, an exit strategy that saves face.  The inference may follow that the US is no longer able to trust Hamid Karzai as president of Afghanistan to run an effective, clean and popular government.  The ancillary inference is that the US is contemplating regime change scenarios in Afghanistan, whether under Abdullah Abdullah or Fahim. 

In this background, India’s Afghan policy has to be at a remove from the US policy, but run parallel with it in cooperating to stabilise Afghanistan, establish its polity on democratic lines with human rights for all citizens.  India too, as some speakers at the seminar suggested, should have its own contacts among the Taliban or Taliban-sympathising Afghans, many of whom are understandably opposed to foreign military presence and patronage.  It is possible that such contacts are already active.  The suggestion that India should initiate groundwork for a new Afghan conference among regional powers is worth exploring by diplomatic probes, unless this is already being done.

        Since India has a long-term vision of closer economic interaction with Afghanistan, we could seriously take up laying the informational foundation and contact building for possible or potential projects which would help the Afghans to lessen their dependence on other countries, each of which has its own interest and agenda.  Our aim should be to enter the economic space vacated by Western investors, not with the view to buying up and exploiting a precious mineral resource as China has done, but to collaborate with Afghan partners, governmental or locally effective representatives.  Our investment in select projects of a medium industrial and technological range could be ventured by a meld of private and public sector enterprises acting together or separately.  If a project is framed with providing employment and training for local youth as the Indian aim, we would be better received by the people. The rich experience that Indian engineers and technicians have already gained in projects big and small in diverse fields like electric power, highways, airline maintenance, transport, medicine and health care should be tapped methodically by a group of select experts to advance this objective, unfazed by the current unrest and turmoil in Afghanistan.


The presidential election on August 20 may not result in a decisive victory for Karzai or the other two credible candidates in the face of Taliban-led disruption and violence.  Some observers foresee a confusing Iran-like domestic polarisation in the country.  The fact is that the plurality of tribal affiliations and their networks in the adjacent countries, especially in Pakistan across the Durand Line, poses an insoluble problem of Afghan national identity which can be tackled only by compromise among the tribes and understanding among the neighbours.  Afghanistan can recover its role as a neutral and peaceful state in that strategic area west of Pakistan and east of Iran, if it is a long- term project of international cooperation through the UN rather than any single power.  India can use every means in its widening diplomatic scope, such as the SCO, the firmer bilateral relations with the US and Russia, the commonalty with China as an Asian power with similar interests, a scope which does not exclude either Pakistan playing a more constructive role or Iran as an influential Afghan neighbour.  This implies that India should encourage Pakistan to be more trustful of our policy and intentions as a benign regional power that allows it latitude but no quarter for sponsoring subversion and terrorism against us.

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