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India concerned about US-Pakistan talks on Afghanistan

india Updated: Mar 25, 2010 19:43 IST

India is not bothered so much about Pakistan's hunger for a nuclear deal with the US, but is closely watching the outcome of the strategic dialogue between Islamabad and Washington for any sign of a secret deal on Afghanistan's future.

"We are not worried about Pakistan's pitch for nuclear deal. That won't happen due to Pakistan's proliferation record. But we are closely following the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue, specially on issues relating to Afghanistan," a government source said.

"The situation in Afghanistan is of direct concern to India. Any deal with the Taliban can push that country back into medieval barbarism," the source said.

After the Jan 28 London conference that envisaged reintegration of the Taliban in the political mainstream, concerns have been raised in India's strategic establishment about a hidden deal between the US and Pakistan to the detriment of India's interests in that country.

"They (US) have given Pakistan a veto over the future of Afghanistan. It's a big setback for India," Satish Chandra, a former deputy national security adviser and a former envoy to Islamabad, told IANS.

The ongoing US-Pakistan strategic dialogue, Chandra pointed out, showed that the US was mollifying Pakistan to win its full support for the battle against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

On record, the US has lauded India's role in the reconstruction of war-torn Afghanistan and denied there were attempts to marginalise New Delhi in the emerging power play in that country.

But this hasn't cut much ice with strategic experts here.

"Pakistan wants to become the sole spokesperson of the Taliban. Pakistan has eliminated all potential mediators between the Taliban and the US so as to be the sole mediator with the Taliban," says Alok Bansal, a Pakistan expert at the National Maritime Foundation, a think tank. "It's a cause of grave concern for India."

Pakistan was one of only three countries that recognized the Taliban after it seized power in Kabul, the other two being Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This was when India, along with Iran and Russia, backed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

Once the Taliban was ousted from power after 9/11, Pakistan covertly took the Islamist militia and Al Qaeda remnants under its wings. At the same time India came out in full support of President Hamid Karzai, re-igniting an India-Pakistan proxy war in Afghanistan.

New Delhi is also concerned about a "multi-year security assistance package" the US has announced for Pakistan that could include cutting-edge weaponry running into billions of dollars.

India has time and again pointed out that the weapons the US has given to Pakistan are used against Indian assets, but Washington has not paid much heed.

"The Taliban is not going to be fought with these weapons. Where are they going to use these weapons?" asked Chandra. He then went on to answre his own question: "Against India."

National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon has been blunt, saying that giving military aid to Pakistan was like giving alcohol to an alcoholic. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao aired these concerns during her trip to Washington this month.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after talks with Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmmod Qureshi in Washington Wednesday: "Our goal is a multi-year security assistance package, including foreign military financing, based upon identified mutual strategic objectives, which would further strengthen our long-term partnership with Pakistan."

But she ruled out any mediatory role for the US in resolving the Kashmir dispute and described Pakistan's plea for "non-discriminatory access to energy" - an euphemism for an India-like nuclear deal - as a "complicated issue."