US President Barack Obama has outlined his revised strategy for Afghanistan. Sending an additional 30,000 troops, he has decided against a decade-long, State reconstruction effort and has set an 18-month deadline for a decrease/withdrawal of US troops there.
For almost a decade, the US military footprint in Afghanistan was confined to just 34,000 troops. The Iraq diversion, locking up about 165,000 troops was responsible for the Taliban resurgence. It’s difficult to understand the failure of the US-Nato alliance to raise an adequate-sized Afghan National Army (ANA) to stabilise the nation and take over the bulk of the fighting from foreign troops.
The small size of the US-Nato garrison has meant excessive reliance on air power for survival and protection, leading to high collateral damage that has alienated the population. Also inexplicable is the miniscule size of the planned ANA, pegged at a target total of 134,000 by 2011, a ridiculously low force level for a country the size and ruggedness of Afghanistan. The US-International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) alliance has been forced to rely excessively on former resistance fighters and discredited warlords. The latter are at the root of the corruption and drug culture, and are undermining the credibility of the Hamid Karzai regime.
The Canadians estimate that, based on a force-to-space ratio analysis, a 850,000-strong force is needed to secure Afghanistan.
It is here that India can — and should — step in. It has a major stake in the security of Afghanistan. In the heyday of the Taliban, about 22 per cent of terrorists operating in Jammu and Kashmir were either of Afghan origin or had been trained there. India simply can’t afford a Taliban regime in Kabul, which will cause the dominoes to fall in Central Asia and Islamabad. What, then, can India do to prevent such a denouement after a US withdrawal?
India can assist rapid capacity-building of the ANA by offering to pay for, equip and train up to two Afghan divisions; and also raise, and arm, an armoured and artillery brigade. This Afghan force could be sent here for training, to be ready before the US withdrawal deadline. Having earlier raised three divisions of the Rashtriya Rifles in just a year, India’s up to the task.
After three decades of war and ceaseless bloodshed, and the humiliation of living in refugee camps, the Afghans are yearning to re-establish their state and live in peace. Pakistani designs on Afghanistan, of destroying it through the Taliban to secure a long-coveted strategic depth, must not be allowed to succeed.
GD Bakshi is a former Major General in the Indian Army
The views expressed by the author are personal