Karzai’s preference of India over Pakistan would prove to be a costly affair in the long run
By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
In second week of September, the US had proposed strategic partnership to Hamid Karzai government. The underlying motive behind the offer was to make Karzai agree to the US plan to leave behind 10,000 to 30,000 US troops including military trainers in 3-5 permanent military bases in Afghanistan as a back up force so as to help Karzai in stabilizing the situation and enabling the ANA to operate independently. The proposed accord envisages Taliban at best sharing power as junior partners only. It also envisions induction of Indian military into Afghanistan under the garb of peace keeping force and trainers and to fill up the vacuum created by departing troops. The perceived arrangement will allow USA, India and Afghanistan to collectively continue with covert war against Pakistan with major focus on Balochistan. In addition, Indo-US-Israeli nexus would also continue with its efforts to destabilize Xingjiang province and Tibet to keep China pressurized. In other words, the spotlight will remain focused on Pakistan and China.
It was also intended by USA to give a message to Pakistan that it was not quitting Afghanistan and meant business. This message was considered necessary in the backdrop of a widely held perception that spate of ISI motivated attacks against US-NATO forces in Afghanistan were aimed at making ISAF move out expeditiously. Karzai is still mulling over the US proposal since he knows that the public backlash as well as that of Taliban over allowing USA to retain military bases would be very severe. Since Karzai held high hopes that sooner than later he will achieve a breakthrough and make the Taliban agree to sit and talk and work out a political settlement, he was not giving his formal approval to the US plan.
String of Taliban attacks in August-September hitting the Kabul city several times, murder of Burhanuddin Rabbani, failure of ANA and NDS to keep the Taliban at bay from the capital and the decision of the US to withdraw all foreign troops from Afghanistan by end 2014 propelled Karzai to negotiate long-term strategic agreement with India. Afghanistan has not signed pact of this nature with any other country including USA. He is looking forward to sign similar deal with EU and is also trying to solve the Afghan tangle through regional framework.
Deplorable response of ANA against offensive acts of Taliban must have given a reason to the US to redouble its efforts to compel Karzai to agree to its plan of retaining military bases beyond 2014. Reality has dawned upon Karzai and he realizes that he will not be able to rule at his own after the departure of foreign troops or even live in Afghanistan. He knows that the ANA is incapable of standing up to the Taliban challenge and sooner than later the Taliban would regain power. This apprehension is likely to impel him to give his consent to the US plan and sign Afghan-US strategic partnership accord.
Indo-Afghan strategic agreement complemented by Afghan-US strategic agreement will render US-Pakistan-Afghanistan trilateral composite dialogue irrelevant and instead will make Indo-Afghan-US nexus relevant. It will help Karzai in keeping the Taliban out of power for some more time. Depending upon the evolving situation, the US plan can be suitably modified to hold only those military bases that are located outside Taliban dominated regions of southern and Eastern Afghanistan and in collusion with India, continue with covert war against Taliban and Pakistan and also provide full support to ANA in its efforts to capture as much territory from the Taliban.
Indo-Afghan Strategic partnership inked in New Delhi on 4 October has reinforced Pakistan’s apprehension that India wants to position itself as a key player in Afghanistan and that the US is fully supporting Indian ambitions. India’s sustained efforts have finally been crowned with success and now it has placed itself at the centre stage of the endgame in Afghanistan. While Pakistan government apparently seems to be unperturbed with this development and is putting up a complacent posture, the GHQ is rightly concerned over the paradigm shift in the regional equation and must have got busy in assessing its impact on the security of Pakistan and how best to counterbalance it.
It must not be forgotten that unlike Gen Musharraf who dealt with abrasive Karzai firmly, President Zardari has always been nice and friendly towards Karzai and has considered him as his dear friend. He as well as the PM and Gen Kayani have been visiting Kabul quite frequently in their bid to cultivate good neighborly relations, but Karzai instead of reciprocating has been vitiating the atmosphere by hurling caustic statements and accusations. The only time he expressed his love and affection for Pakistan was when he sought release of Mullah Baradar, or when he needed Pakistan’s assistance to convince the hard line Taliban to agree to negotiate with him.
Notwithstanding that Pakistan and Afghanistan are immediate neighbors and their relations are rooted in common history, culture and tradition, and that Pakistan has not only been rendering colossal sacrifices for the wellbeing and stability of Afghanistan since 1979, and that it has suffered the most on account of instability in Afghanistan, the leadership of that country has remained inimical towards Pakistan. The five-year rule of Taliban was the only period when Pakistan could say that its western border was safe. It was this sense of confidence which prompted former Army Chief Gen Mirza Beg to float the idea of strategic depth. Indo-Afghan accord has buried this concept for good.
Although our leaders are playing down the implications of this accord and are hoping that Afghan leadership will demonstrate requisite maturity and responsibility, the fact of the matter is that Northern Alliance heavy regime led by Karzai has constantly maintained an aggressive and hostile posture against Pakistan and has remained heavily tilted towards India. It has been an active partner in the covert war orchestrated by intelligence agencies of India, USA, Britain, Israel and Germany and has been on the forefront to spoil Pak-US relations. It is naïve on part of PM Gilani and FM Hina to say that Indo-Afghan accord will not have any adverse impact on Pakistan. This agreement has been signed at a time when Pak-US relations are at its lowest ebb and the USA is in a truculent mood. Both Afghanistan and the US are accusing that the ISI is linked with Haqqani network and is involved in murder of Rabbani. Karzai has preferred India over Pakistan ignoring the fact that his country is neither geographically contiguous to India, nor has common religion, culture and traditions.
He describes India as a ‘great friend’ since India has helped Afghanistan in development works and in establishing intelligence agency RAAM and shaping up NDS and training of police. RAW has taught members of RAAM how to motivate and train saboteurs and to cultivate agents in other countries. Large number of training camps and centres established in Afghanistan for the training of Balochistan and FATA specific terrorists are jointly managed by RAW and RAAM. Indian Army instructors had been training Northern Alliance fighting force in Iran in second half of 1990s and Indian Army had planned and coordinated the ground offensive against Taliban on 7 October 2001. Indian military academies are now imparting training to ANA officers, and vacancies for various courses are being offered liberally.
India has been continuously striving to poison the ears of the countries of South Asia against Pakistan but failed to sow the seeds of discord. The reason is that all are wary of India and have no confidence in it since RAW has been actively involved in all the SAARC countries. It is for this reason that India has not succeeded in signing a strategic accord with any of the neighboring countries since no South Asian country consented to gang up against another regional country. India will however redouble its efforts in the aftermath of its success with Afghanistan to induce its neighbors to follow suit in return for multiple benefits.
While the relationship of India and Afghanistan has been steadily warming up since 2002, India made its place with the help of its investments worth about $2 billion. So far Indian assistance was confined to trade, investment, science & technology, education, agriculture, health, transportation and roads. New fields of security, intelligence, mining and hydro carbon explorations have now been incorporated. The accord is likely to grow in scope and may include new areas of cooperation in coming years. Guilty conscious Karzai and Manmohan tried to placate Pakistan by asserting that the accord is not directed against any other state. This by itself is an admission that there is something more than what the eye can see.
Karzai, who can not leave the Presidential Palace without the US approval could not have gone to India to sign such an important document. Certainly he was sent by the US to pressurise Pakistan to succumb to American desires.