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Step on it in Kabul

India has huge stakes in the outcome of the Afghan polls. But it needs to be more active.

india Updated: Aug 22, 2009 00:49 IST

it is only half-seriously said that a successful election in Afghanistan is one where more people vote than die trying. The very act of holding a presidential election in the midst of a full-fledged war and one of the world’s highest concentrations of militants is, to an extent, a success on its own.

However, the credibility of the democratic process and the character of the government that it throws up is absolutely crucial to the success of the present multinational struggle to bring stability and representative government to Afghanistan.

While the process will probably survive the accusations of corruption, it is far less certain that the next government in Afghanistan will show the nation-building qualities that the country so desperately needs.

There are few countries that have a greater stake in Afghanistan being ruled by a government that genuinely reflects Afghan interests than India. Whenever Afghanistan has not had such a regime, whether because of Soviet occupation or Taliban rule, the results have been disastrous for India. The Soviet defeat inspired Pakistan to foment secessionism in India and the Taliban provided the men, money and camps to prolong the violence in Kashmir through the late 1980s and early 1990s.

No one is certain what would happen if the so-called neo-Taliban were to seize power in Kabul again, but it will almost certainly not result in policies favourable to India’s security. About the only difference today, from what existed before 2001, is that it isn’t even clear whether such a regime would be in Pakistan’s interest.

While Indians are fond of criticising the US blunders in Afghanistan, the truth is that whatever government exists there today will survive only so long as US men and matériel continue. This is one reason India has committed its largest overseas aid programme to Afghanistan and the country is home to the largest overseas deployment of Indian troops anywhere.

Nonetheless, so long as India has no active military presence in Afghanistan, it has minimal influence over the course of developments there. So, India provides assistance, applauds any forward developments and urges Western soldiers on — but little else. New Delhi is understandably reluctant but, given the stakes, there is a strong case for saying that we need to become more active in one of the few countries in the neighbourhood which harbours so much goodwill for us.