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Indian presence in Afghan harms Pak

Pakistan is the net loser economically due to the presence of India and many of the international agencies in Afghanistan.

india Updated: May 14, 2006 16:44 IST

Although the killing of Indian telecom engineer Suryanarayan has sent shock waves across India, one should remember that Indians are not the sole or special targets in Afghanistan.

They are among people of different nationalities - 1,400 - killed this year alone.

That this happens four years after the Taliban were ousted is a sad commentary on the ineffectiveness of the United Nations that supervises a 20,000 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), officered by NATO member-nations.

This also includes the United States that has a significant presence not only in Afghanistan but in the vast region, and Pakistan, which claims to fight against the terrorists and the Taliban at one level but nurses them at the other.

Although the Taliban's dislike for India and its presence in Afghanistan is well known, the term "Taliban" appears to be loosely used by most quarters when it comes to the killing of Suryanarayan.

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran has taken care to condemn "terrorists, like Taliban".

Available accounts strongly indicate that Suryanayarana was trapped in the Afghan badlands by mercenaries who are serving interests inimical to India.

Could these interests be those affected by India's growing presence in Afghanistan with projects and distinctly visible assistance worth $650 million that has added to India's popularity and respect among the Afghan people?

It is no secret that the worst hit by the Indian presence is Pakistan that has had an annual $2 billion worth of trade, both legal and illegal, with Afghanistan.

Much of the cement and steel and other material that is going into the building of infrastructure in Afghanistan is being brought from other sources and is being routed via Iran.

Pakistan is the net loser economically by the presence of India, Iran and many of the international agencies and enterprises.

This adds to its chagrin of India operating four consulates in Afghanistan, two of which, at Jelalabad and Kandahar, are located near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Islamabad has been protesting this and has been even accusing India of carrying anti-Pakistan activities from these consulates.

Jawed Ludin, Afghan presidential aide, put it succinctly: "There are common enemies who India and Afghanistan have who do not want India here".

No marks for guessing who these "enemies" could be. This is, perhaps, an answer to President George W Bush's poser to President Pervez Musharraf about the extent of the latter's commitment to fight terrorism.

There can be no question of India quitting Afghanistan since it is working in the larger interests of the world community.

Indeed, the role of not only the government of India but also private Indian entrepreneurs in taking up difficult tasks in the worst, at times hostile, terrain has not been adequately appreciated by the world community.

Instead, there has been a tendency by most players to view it through their coloured prism of the much-talked "Great Game".

An estimated 2,000 Indians are working on "India-aided projects". For their protection, 500 Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel have been deployed after last November's killing of M Ramankutty.

This static security has so far prevented any attack on any of the project sites.

Suryanarayan, working for a Bahrain firm and not on an Indian-aided project, was, unfortunately, not guarded by the ITBP. That he was travelling would make him even more vulnerable.

India cannot guard its civilians in a place where heavily armed military contingents of the US and the NATO have failed.

Yet, it proposed raising its paramilitary presence and reminded President Hamid Karzai when he was in New Delhi last. But Kabul seems hamstrung by protests from Islamabad with which it must willy-nilly co-exist amidst distrust and disturbances.

While holding on and holding out, India would need to prioritise its presence and the location of its projects.

It may be wise to stick to Afghanistan's relatively safer northern and central regions, avoiding the east and the south that border Pakistan.

(Mahendra Ved is a New Delhi-based journalist whose writings on Afghanistan include "Afghan Turmoil: Changing Equations" and "Afghan Buzhkhashi: Great Game and Gamesmen")