Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

About the author
Gentleman crusader
List of articles
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

In preparation for a US-NATO troop withdrawal, an international conference on Afghanistan should be held under UN auspices to encourage regional powers, including Pakistan, Iran, India, China, Tadjikistan, Russia and some others to play the leading role in building peace and reconciliation.

New Indo-AfPak Equation

India has a role to play in a regional combine to wage peace in Afghanistan. It could help broker progress in Pakistan’s tribal belt and, perhaps, between Palestine and Israel.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 6 June, 2011

The death of Osama bin Laden, the Prime Minister’s visit to Afghanistan and some primary education in Pakistan about the consequences of playing with jihadi fire could be creating a new Indo-AfPak paradigm.

The US launched its war on terror in Afghanistan after 9/11 in order to destroy al Qaeda and get Osama dead or alive. Osama is dead and a splintered al Qaeda has been reincarnated in related radical Islamist formations such as the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Toiba, and Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI), whose amir, Ilyas Kashmiri has also been killed. The US and NATO now have good reason to commence troop withdrawals from Afghanistan from July 2011, well before the US presidential polls.

The war is not won but, rather, appears to have reached an uneasy stalemate. All sides, India included, now seem committed in one way or another to Karzai’s policy of “reintegration and reconciliation”. This in turn implicitly distinguishes between moderate and extreme Taliban elements.

India’s endorsement of this view was reflected in Dr Manmohan Singh’s remarks during his recent visit to Afghanistan. He expressed India’s long standing historical and cultural ties with Afghanistan, said India was there for the long haul and announced an enhancement of Indian assistance to Afghanistan by a further $500 million to $2bn.

Recent Track-II interlocutors from Pakistan, though still in denial, admit to shock, shame, despair, fear and frustration over what is happening back home. Yet they discern signs of resilience among the people and growing recognition that civil supremacy must be restored. There is a dawning realisation that India is not the major threat nor Kashmir the “core issue” and that non-state actors and rouge elements within the establishment must be curbed. Heart is taken from the fact that the national assembly grilled the military for almost 12 hours after the Abbotabad and Mehran incidents. Yet, no one is in any doubt that the military is still in charge.

Though the US is hugely unpopular in Pakistan and much of the Islamic world, sober Pakistanis know that China cannot yet substitute it as an overall strategic partner. Nevertheless, recognising America as part of the problem even if part of the solution in Afghanistan and the region generally, it is necessary to search for other options.

Pakistan obviously has a close and legitimate interest in Afghanistan. It is concerned that India is somehow using its presence there to destabilise it via Balochistan and undermine its critical Pakhtun interest by buttressing the remnants of the Northern Alliance or Tadjik influence. It dare not take on the Taliban full scale in FATA for fear of the perceived threat from India in the east! These are fanciful notions; but hardened perceptions matter.

What then can be done? Perhaps the time has come for a frank Indo-Pakistan dialogue on Afghanistan when both sides can candidly set out their interests and concerns. India can then use its good offices to bridge the Pakhtun-Tadjik/non-Pakhtun divide and also bring President Karzai on board. India could also try and broker a make-boundaries-irrelevant formula for the Durand Line on the proposed J&K LOC model. The Durand Line is 120 years old and cannot be redrawn. But it can be made an even more porous border than it is at present by building cross-border institutions and arrangements for cooperative development and local governance without impairment of Afghan or Pakistani sovereignty.

In preparation for a progressive and accelerated, US-NATO troop withdrawal, an international conference on Afghanistan should be held under UN auspices to encourage regional powers, including Pakistan, Iran, India, China, Tadjikistan, Russia and some others to play the leading role in building peace and reconciliation in that troubled country.

The very ending of US-NATO military intervention and drone attacks will have a calming effect. These powers should however be part of a UN-led Reconstruction Plan for Afghanistan with World Bank and ADB backing aimed at rebuilding and modernising its economy, infrastructure and institutions of governance. Such a reconstruction plan should logically include Pakistan’s FATA region, a wild, undeveloped, ungoverned area that has become home to the Pakistan Taliban. India should not hesitate to contribute $1bn to a FATA fund in lieu of transit through Pakistan to Afghanistan, which is a member of SAARC.

Wider regional cooperation and infrastructure building could be promoted by undertaking projects like the Iran-Pakistan-India and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipelines, the building of a Central Asian-SAARC power grid based on Central Asian hydro-electric generation, water resource development of the Kabul and Helmand basins with Indian participation, and exploitation of Afghanistan’s iron ore and other mineral reserves for regional benefit. The growing Indian market could underpin such developments of which Pakistan could be a major beneficiary.

For this to happen, Afghan neutrality must be respected by all and the country restored to its position as a crossroads and a bridge to many worlds.

Afghans of all hues should welcome such a plan that would isolate extremist and radical elements, the drug mafia and sundry warlords. None of this should threaten legitimate US and other Western interests.

American intervention in Libya, Iran and elsewhere in West Asia has also proved disastrous. Regime change and propping up pliant dictatorships will not work much longer. The “Arab spring” marks a process of awakening and an urge for democracy. Al Jazeera possibly played a bigger role than anything else in promoting the movement for change. The Saudis and other monarchies are literally bribing their people with momentary support. This too will not work.

How is India positioning itself in this new situation? Our very considerable interest in the region and the presence of a 4.5m diaspora dictate a more pro-active role. Two policy strands suggest themselves. India, with Pakistan and Bangladesh represent not merely by far the largest but the most advanced, progressive and liberal Islamic community worldwide. Their tragedy has been to allow their soft, humanistic, sufi Islam to be radicalised by more fundamentalist Wahabi teachings largely imported from Saudi Arabia and funded by it. This process of ‘conversion” has spawned ideas of victimhood, lost glory, false piety, religious nationalism and revenge as part of a new crusade. This is paralleled by other forms of fundamentalism that have vainly tried to take over India.

The Muslims of South Asia have begun to see through the underlying fallacy of this approach. Situated as it is by and large within a liberal democratic framework, South Asia can play a part in redeeming world Islam by its example and through imaginative Indian diplomacy and use of its considerable soft power.

The other leg of this policy has to be a new, pro-active approach to the tragic Palestine-Israel divide. India has good relations with both sides – Arab and Jew – since ancient times. Netenyahu’s recent address to the US Congress had many positives but for his inability to bridge the crucial last mile, which rendered it almost totally negative. Can India not lend its good offices here to help close the gap? It has no axe to grind and could truly be an honest broker.

back to the top


See also

11-C Dewan Shree Apartments, 30 Ferozeshah Rd, New Delhi 110001, India