Pentagon report is proof that India’s Afghan policy is on the right track

The importance of Pentagon’s report lies in its timing. It is the first one released under President Donald Trump and is taking place as the geopolitical playbook in Afghanistan is once again being rewritten

editorials Updated: Jun 23, 2017 19:12 IST
Hindustan Times
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani during Sixth Heart of Asia Conference (File Photo)(PTI)

In geopolitics, a friend in need is when you should be a friend indeed. The half-yearly Pentagon report on the status of Afghanistan has declared India the most reliable friend of the Kabul regime. This is merely a statement of fact: Even the United States has been wayward in comparison to the continuity that has marked Indian support. The report’s importance lies in its timing. It is the first one released under the Donald Trump presidency and is taking place as the geopolitical playbook in Afghanistan is once again being rewritten.

The Trump administration is still carrying out a major Afghan policy review. But all the evidence points to the US recommitting itself to upholding the Kabul government. While Mr Trump believes the US must get out of Afghanistan eventually, he has rejected his predecessor’s ill-conceived public deadlines for withdrawal – declarations that hardened the resolve of the Taliban and their Pakistani backers. Washington today accepts that only strength on the battlefield will convince the Taliban to hold sincere talks. Earlier this month, Pentagon chief James Mathis was authorised by the White House to decide on the level of US troop deployment in Afghanistan — and more troops are already on their way.

All of this is music to India’s ears. While India’s most extensive overseas aid and military training programme is with Afghanistan and it recently provided helicopter gunships, New Delhi has severe limitations as to what it can do to help Kabul militarily. At the start of the year the Afghan government was unusually isolated. Iran and Russia, traditional opponents of the Taliban and Pakistan, began shifting to a view that undermining the US in Afghanistan and wooing Pakistan made more sense. Kabul’s regional allies were reduced to India and a few Central Asian governments. In such circumstances the US decision to hold the line in Afghanistan, if even for the short term, is welcome.

The Trump administration’s final Afghan policy is still awaited though the few straws in the wind are positive. The great game, in any case, is changing again. Iran and Pakistan have seen relations sour after recent violence on their border. India will seek to encourage the US to ensure its tough stance against the Taliban encompass Pakistan as well.

In all this, New Delhi’s commitment to Kabul, as the Pentagon acknowledged, is notable for its stability. Afghanistan was known as the graveyard of empires. Today this should be updated to the graveyard of grand strategies. Which is one reason India is right to keep its Afghan policy short and simple: Support an independent Kabul regime.

First Published: Jun 22, 2017 15:34 IST