Tackling Taliban: Can India do it?

Posted on May 28, 2010 in Politics

Rohan Gupta:

Recently, Afghanistan has been in the news once again after Barack Obama announced his plans to withdraw US and NATO troops, due to growing dissatisfaction among their own people over the no. of army casualties, from Afghanistan which were placed there to assist the Hamid Karzai led government, battle the Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The US proposed strategy of reconciling with the moderate Taliban to bring about peace in the region has India and many other countries worried. The US strategy of eliminating al Qaeda and involving the Taliban in the political (democratic) setup eliminates the threat of terrorism for the western countries but further enhances the security and economic concerns for various regional countries like India, China, Russia, and the Central Asian countries.

The US strategic interest in Afghanistan, besides terrorism is also in the construction of a pipeline to transport oil and gas from Turkmenistan to the Arabian Sea, via Afghanistan and Pakistan, from where it can be shipped to the western countries. For the pipeline they need a stable and friendly regime in Afghanistan. Reconciling with the Taliban is the only way for the US to maintain a presence in the region without having to fight a war.

India’s interests however lie in completely eliminating the Taliban from Afghanistan to prevent it from being used as a breeding ground or safe haven for terrorist activities against its own people. Various countries in the region, like Uzbekistan, China and Russia, struggling with their own Islamic militant problems share the concern. Furthermore, India needs to establish good diplomatic relations with the government in Kabul, which seems unlikely in the presence of Taliban, to be able to have access to the energy reserves in the central Asian countries. Diplomatic relations with Afghanistan can also be used to put pressure on Pakistan.

However Pakistan is afraid of being surrounded on both sides by India and is extremely vary of Indian involvement, especially military involvement, in Afghanistan. Because the US is dependent on Pakistan for the construction of the pipeline (as it has to pass through Pakistan), it has been to limit India’s involvement in the region, with US and NATO support. India was not invited to the recent London Conference which was supposed to decide the future of Afghanistan. Indian offers to train Afghanistan National Army personnel and Police forces have also met with strong resistance from US and Pakistan.

Afghanistan borders various states rich in oil and gas reserves and hence becomes an important link between their resources and the rest of the world. Therefore its important geo politically is immense for all countries including India. Various attempts have been made by India to secure its interests in the region. We have invested close to 1bn$ in construction of infrastructure in Afghanistan. We are also helping in reconstructing the afghan parliament building. Buses from TATA have been instrumental in starting a bus service in the region. Indian NGO Sulabh International has undertaken various development measures to provide proper sanitation in the country.

While all these moves will prove important in the economic and social reconstruction of Afghanistan, hence building stronger diplomatic relations between the two countries many experts believe that India should pursue its interests in the region more aggressively to safeguard its present investments and future prospects. Some have suggested the revival of the alliance between Russia-India-Iran which supported the Northern Alliance and hence helped overthrow the Taliban in 2001. However various diplomatic and strategic hurdles need to be removed before any concrete plan of action can be made to ensure a friendly government in Afghanistan and keep the Taliban out of the region.