On an even keel
India must ensure that a US withdrawal doesn't allow Pakistan to convert Afghanistan into a vassal State.india Updated: Sep 25, 2012 21:53 IST
The US officially ended its three-year-old "surge" in Afghanistan. The surge was the tactical deployment of 30,000 additional troops with the purpose of giving the government of Hamid Karzai enough security to build an expanded Afghan National Army and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
The end of the surge marks the end of US willingness to militarily support a liberal and progressive Kabul regime. Nation-building, as it were, is no longer part of the international agenda regarding Afghanistan.
It is important not to assume that Afghanistan will inevitably become a Taliban playground as the US withdrawal continues. The US is likely to keep several thousand Special Forces soldiers and a fleet of drones in Afghanistan for years to come. The Karzai government will receive several billion dollars a year in foreign assistance.
The sense is a stalemate. Neither Mr Karzai nor the Taliban can win. But there is also no evidence that Kabul is in a position to constructively bring the insurgents to the negotiating table - one of the unfulfilled goals of the surge. This means that the US withdrawal is likely to be accompanied by more violence.
As the US disengages, the main external player will increasingly become Pakistan. But Afghanistan today will be a lot harder to control for Rawalpindi than it was in the 1980s. Which is the core of the Afghan dilemma when it comes to India. Pakistan wants security guarantees regarding Afghanistan that would convert Kabul into a vassal State. India's desire is for a Kabul that is not dominated by Islamicists.
Bridging the gap between Pakistani paranoia and Indian interests will be crucial to place Afghanistan on an even keel. This will be determined on the battlefield partially vacated by the US. India is unwilling to be involved through boots on the ground. But there are other ways it should seek to ensure that a US withdrawal does not mean an Afghan terrain that tilts in the direction of the Taliban closest to Pakistan.