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Words are all we have

comment Updated: Dec 15, 2013 23:21 IST

Hindustan Times
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New Delhi’s inability to provide even a fraction of the weapons, let alone funds, that Afghan President, Hamid Karzai has requested is evidence of a larger failure in the Indian national security system. The increased militant violence India is facing along the Line of Control and inside Kashmir is strongly correlated with the scheduled US withdrawal from Afghanistan. In the same way, the relative peace India has experienced with Pakistan over the past decade is a consequence of Rawalpindi’s fears of hostile troops along both its main borders.

To maintain this state of affairs, India should be seeking to provide Mr Karzai and his successors the few billion dollars of aid and arms supplies that he needs to keep the Taliban and ultimately their backers, the Pakistan military — out of Kabul. This would likely bog down Rawalpindi in its own Afghan quagmire and earn India many more years of strategic leverage over Pakistan. Unfortunately, New Delhi has neither the money nor the weapons.

The money is a consequence of the government’s fiscal problems and the inability of India to put together a coalition of like-minded overseas funders. The weapons are a consequence of having India’s defence production confined to a handful of State-owned companies who do little more than assemble imported weapons and who have limited capacity to make even the few items that they do. Because of contractual restrictions on the re-export of weapons, India cannot even buy arms from third countries and send them to Afghanistan.

Like many of India’s neighbourhood politicians who have dared to call themselves friends of India, Mr Karzai has been finding that New Delhi is an ally who is more generous with words than with material help. Afghanistan is one of the few countries whose future trajectory could either boost the political cancers that afflict Pakistan or help constrain them.

Given that the US troop withdrawal has been visible on the horizon since the election of Barack Obama, India can be faulted by not having worked much to find means to buttress an independent regime in Kabul. Unfortunately, events in Afghanistan will now largely happen with only minimal Indian influence even though their repercussions on India could not be more severe.