The breakdown of US-Taliban negotiations is a big blow to Pakistan, for it was dreaming of better ties with, and more economic aid from, America. Concomitantly, it offers India an opportunity to cement relations with the US. Moreover, the collapse of the talks couldn’t have come at a better time—in the bonhomie between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump at Houston.
This should translate into something big and concrete. New Delhi should seize the opportunity and accept Washington’s request of becoming its ally, at least in Afghanistan. We should get militarily involved in Afghanistan.
In fact, the US President has been urging India for quite some time that the latter should participate in the war against terror in Afghanistan. A few weeks ago, Trump said, “Look, India is right there [in the vicinity of Afghanistan]. They are not fighting it. We are fighting it. Pakistan is right next door. They are fighting it very little. Very, very little. It’s not fair. The United States is 7,000 miles away.”
He had a point: why should his country fight the fundamentalists in the other part of the world, especially when the nations in the vicinity are not doing that? Sadly, India is among those nations. On the one hand, we have the aspirations to become a global power; on the other, we adopt a passive attitude towards a severe problem, that of jihad, in our region. Because of our inaction in Afghanistan, we don’t have a say in the affairs of the land-locked, trouble-torn nation—the affairs that have a direct bearing on the Kashmir situation and India’s national security.
It needs to be mentioned here that it was not the first time that Trump complained about inaction on New Delhi’s part. In January this year too, he had ridiculed India for just being involved in Afghanistan’s reconstruction. He complained that Modi was “constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan.” He added, “I don’t know who is using it in Afghanistan.”
Again, Trump was right—on three counts. First, reconstruction doesn’t mean anything amid war; more important in Afghanistan today is peace, which the entire world, including India, believes that the Americans should do. Trump wants to know why? Taliban are thousands of miles away from the US; they don’t threaten the Americans, so why should they be bothered? Nobody has a clear answer. Everybody wants the Americans to do the dirty job of killing the most ferocious terrorists; and when they do that, the Americans are also lambasted and lampooned as having become the thanedars of the world!
Second, building libraries—and schools, roads, dams, even the parliament building—is meaningless if eventually the Taliban take over the country, burn books, turn schools into madrassas (and create more jihadists), destroy roads and dams, and use parliament not to usher in democracy but to make barbaric Wahhabi laws? There can’t be two views about the fact peace and stability should come before reconstruction and development.
Finally, India’s position in and policy on Afghanistan is silly and ineffectual: we are invested heavily in the war-torn country; we are spending a great deal in terms of men, money, and materials, but when it comes to determining the fate of the nation, we are not at the high table. The countries discussing the future of Afghanistan are the US, Pakistan (which actually is the bane of Afghanistan), Qatar, Russia, even China, but not India. We can have our say only if we join the war in Afghanistan as allies of America.
The Americans, indeed the entire West, want to fight Islamic terror, and so does India. Therefore, there is no reason that we shouldn’t be an American ally—at least in its war on terror. As mentioned earlier, Washington has been urging India to be one; we have been refusing to do that. Only an India-US alliance will convince the Americans to force the Pakistanis to behave themselves; without solid cooperation from us, Americans would just keep uttering platitudes and clichés.
The Americans asked our military engagement when US Defence Secretary James Mattis came to India last year. India, typically, ruled out the deployment of Indian troops to Afghanistan. The then defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman confirmed that our foreign policy remained mired in the bogs of panchsheel and non-alignment. “There shall not be any boots on the ground from India,” Sitharaman said at a joint press conference with the. “We have built dams, hospitals and roads; that has been India’s contribution and that will continue.”
As P. Stobdan, a foreign policy expert and former diplomat, wrote in a paper for the Institute of Defence Studies & Analyses (April 28, 2015), “India’s $2 billion commitment for Afghanistan [it has grown larger since then] seems to have been driven more by woolly ideas of ‘gaining goodwill’ rather than being based on a sound strategic assessment. India’s desire to help may have been genuine, but not everyone viewed it that way, nor has it worked that way, because politics does not necessarily work on the logic of showing benevolence, magnanimity and a display of riches.”
He rightly pointed out that our money has been wasted: “there are no visible strategic gains for all the resources spent. It seems as if all that money has gone down the drain. And India can at best console itself for having earned some good punya (merit) in Afghanistan; hopefully this will help the country in its future destiny.”
He went on to quote a Pakistani analyst who had said: “India trains Afghan forces but does not arm them… does not build houses—so morally weak army join the Taliban insurgents.” What is worse, Stobdan wrote, “what drove India to adopt such a course was respect for Pakistan’s sensitivity in the first place.”
So, Pakistan aids and arms jihadists who slaughter Indian security personnel and citizens, destabilizes Kashmir, and threatens to nuke us—and we respect its sensitivity! Our confused thinking and actions don’t end here. Our Prime Minister goes to attend his Pakistani counterpart’s private function, we continue full diplomatic and other ties with our western neighbor—and we expect the United States to declare it a terrorist state! This despite the fact that Pakistan was a US ally for decades, while we abused it as a ‘neo-imperial’ hegemon.
In October 2001, when the United States and its allies attacked the Taliban in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom, Washington was keen on active Indian participation—that is, the involvement of Indian military in its global war on terror. But the Atal Bihari Vajpayee exhibited exemplary caution and showed great deference to the non-alignment dogma; he offered cooperation only in terms of intelligence and logistics.
Similarly, the US expects India’s more assertive role in south east Asia to contain China’s imperial ambitions. In May 2016, a journalist from Wall Street Journal asked Modi, “The US is very keen on India, the rising power that India is, to be part of, if not an alliance, then at least a grouping that can stand up to some extent to China. Where do you see India taking a position on the global stage?” Modi answered, “There is no reason to change India’s non-alignment policy that is a legacy and has been in place.”
The guy who swears to obliterate the legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru calls the latter’s signature principle as his own policy! At any rate, the incumbent policy has adopted the essentials of Nehruvian foreign policy—namely, grand statements and photo-ops signifying nothing.
So, Mattis said in his statement, “We applaud India’s invaluable contributions to Afghanistan and welcome further efforts to promote Afghanistan’s democracy, stability, and security.” Further, he said, “There can be no tolerance of terrorist safe havens. As global leaders, India and the US resolve to work together to eradicate this scourge.”
Then there was Sitharaman with statements that we have heard a million times: “The same forces that find havens in Pakistan hit New York and Mumbai.” “There is growing convergence in the approaches of both our countries on this issue. We both recognize the importance of holding those who use terrorism as an instrument of state policy to account, and to dismantle the infrastructure that supports terrorism.” Such words mean nothing.
Our policy and decision makers must shed their doubts about an alliance with America; they ought to realize that it is in our national interest. This will help us check Pakistan’s nefarious designs against us. Indian soldiers in huge numbers stationed in Afghanistan will be Pakistan’s worst nightmare: it will be sandwiched between two hostile sides—Indian troops on its eastern border and Indian troops on its western border.
It would be pertinent to recall a decision that Sardinian King Victor Emmanuel took over a century and a half ago. He decided to ally with France and England in the Crimean War (1853–56), though that war involved no Sardinian or Italian interests. Count Cavour, though initially reluctant, fully supported the King. Cavour said, “Out of this mud of Crimea, a new Italy will be made.” The words proved to be prophetic. This seemingly ridiculous decision did help in the unification of Italy. For, after the war, it was on the winning side, thus winning benign neutrality of big powers to its unification efforts.
In international affairs, even today it is often the longest distance between two points that is the straight line. Unfortunately, foreign policy mandarins, still loitering in the deserts of non-alignment, are unable to recognize this truth. They fail to realize that making angry statements on Hafiz Saeed’s crimes and homilies at international forums would not contain Pakistan-exported terror; boots on the ground in Afghanistan will.
It can be argued that by getting involved militarily in Afghanistan, India would suffer casualties, so why should we fight somebody else’s war? The short answer is: it is our war as well. The events in Afghanistan and Kashmir are linked by the thread of jihad; we help others suppress Islamic terror in Kabul, the salutary effects will be felt in the Valley. Make no mistake, what we have in Kashmir is not separatism but a jihadist movement; and since it is umbilically linked with global jihad, the war against it has to be international in scope and endeavor.
We must recognize a simple truth: we may be able to destroy Pakistan—the costs may be too high, though, as it’s nuclear—but we can’t make it behave itself. Americans can do that. And they are transactional; they’ll do that only if do something for them.
They want us to help them in the War in Afghanistan which they are fighting since 2001. It needs to be mentioned here that casualties in this war have not been as big as in Kashmir. The biggest American ally, the UK, has lost 456 lives in the War, whereas in Kashmir the losses have been far higher. According to the website of the Ministry of External Affairs, “since 1990, the main theater of Pak-sponsored activity in India has been the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which has seen the loss of about 27,000 lives in the last 11 years.”
In other words, had India been an American ally, it would have cut its losses enormously. We can still do that. We just have to discard the Nehruvian dogmas. India and America should go beyond Houston, and become allies. The world’s largest two democracies ought to be allies anyway.