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Not quite a welcome guest

Pakistan wants to convince the US that it must contain India’s influence in Kabul in exchange for help in Afghanistan, Ravi M Khanna writes.

india Updated: Jan 17, 2013 22:15 IST
Ravi M Khanna

No matter who triggered the recent tension between India and Pakistan, New Delhi should consider last week’s defiance of Islamabad as the first signal of how the relations are going to be after the US withdraws next year from Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan with a major role in stabilising that country. During the Afghan crisis, Pakistan developed a strategy to use any tension with India as leverage in its relations with the US. So whenever the US urged it to move its troops from the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir to its border with Afghanistan to stop the militant infiltration into that country, Islamabad cited tensions with India as a reason for not fulfilling the US’s demand and demanded more military aid as a pre-condition.

The last time Pakistan army chief AP Kayani used this strategy, he got millions of dollars worth of weapons, including night patrol vehicles and night vision glasses. The general may need to use that strategy again in the near-future, before or after the next year’s Nato pullout from Afghanistan. After that the US wants Pakistan to focus on its border with Afghanistan, move more troops from the LoC to that border and prevent Taliban infiltration to create a stable Afghanistan. So the responsibility of containing terrorism against the West would largely be in the hands of the general who is known for his shrewdness, foresightedness and anti-Indian stance. And if there is tension at the LoC, Gen Kayani can use that to extract more military aid from the US.

It’s no coincidence that the latest Pakistani provocation comes within a month after Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai signed a strategic agreement under which India will train Afghan army officers, a move Gen Kayani has been opposing for long. According to a US official, Pakistan was furious that the Americans did not halt the agreement.

So the strategy to convince the Americans to contain India’s growing influence in Afghanistan is not new. In fact, Gen Kayani presented a 14-page proposal to the US three years ago and it began with a question: why is Washington getting its men killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan when the dirty work can be done by Pakistan? Pakistan, he said, can also make sure that Afghan soil is not used to hatch terror plots against the West. All he needs from the US, he said, was strategic advice, money and better weapons. This was the time when the US administration was looking for ways to end the Afghan war. And Gen Kayani was desperate to convince the Americans that they should let him ‘manage’ Afghanistan in order to make sure that he can win any proxy-war with India in Afghanistan so that Pakistan is not flanked by India from the East and West.

No one knows how much of that proposal was accepted by the US. But it seems that both sides got what they wanted. Washington has found a way to pull out of Afghanistan by announcing that the Afghan forces are capable of providing security. And Gen Kayani has been able to improve his relations with the US before Senator John Kerry takes over as the new Secretary of State, and also sees his dream of controlling both Pakistan and Afghanistan coming true, at least in the short run.

But he is also aware that the regional powers such as India, Iran and Russia and the Central Asian republics are bound to oppose any major Pakistani involvement in Afghanistan.

Ravi M Khanna has covered South Asia for the Voice of America as its South Asia bureau chief and also as the South Asia desk editor in Washington from 1986 to 2011. The views expressed by the author are personal