What India risks if it gets on board Trump’s Afghanistan project | Opinion
President Trump may have been uncomfortable with his teleprompter, but his speech will have sounded mellifluous to ears in New Delhi, mainly because he went farther than any American President in identifying Pakistan as one of the main causes of Afghanistan’s problems. This open acknowledgment of reality is long overdue, and most welcome: good not only for Afghanistan, India and the US, but just possibly also for Pakistan, which has needed a bracing reality check for many years.
But what is Delhi to make of Trump’s invitation to play a bigger role in Afghanistan? India has many interests in that country, that benefit them both. These have been developed painstakingly, against difficult odds, and for the most part bilaterally. One of the strengths of India’s involvement in Afghanistan is that it is seen unambiguously as INDIAN involvement.
Having developed these ties, India will have to decide whether it wants to be seen as part of the American project. This carries many risks, and potentially quite a few rewards. But any calculation of these has to start with an assessment of America’s long-term commitment to its own project.
India has to trust that Trump will do what Bush nor Obama didn’t, and go the distance, sticking to his word on Afghanistan. Let us be under no illusion that his stated goals can be achieved in a couple of years. The history of Afghanistan suggests it will more likely take decades, even with the sustained best efforts of the US and its allies.
Delhi’s quandary: What if Trump or his successor changes their mind and pulls out in 5/10 years? Even if the task is unfinished, it would be easy for the next occupant of the White House to dismiss the Afghanistan project as Trump’s folly, and spin a withdrawal as in America’s interest. Obama did that in Iraq, to his great political gain.
But an American change of heart would leave India badly exposed: unlike the US, India can’t simply pull up stakes and leave Afghanistan to the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, the Islamic State, and any other wolves in the pack that Pakistan nurtures. The US may bear the greater share of the cost of Trump’s project, but the stakes are higher for India.
So, much as the American President would like India along for the ride in Afghanistan, Delhi has much to ponder before climbing on board.