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Avoiding an Afghan checkmate

Avoiding an Afghan checkmate
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First Published: Wed, Apr 27 2011. 09 53 PM IST
Updated: Wed, Apr 27 2011. 09 53 PM IST
If there was any time for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Kabul, it would be now. He has not a day to lose. If anything he has already lost time and initiative, to Pakistan in securing the right pieces on the Afghan chess board.
A week ago, on 16 April, Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai met Yousuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister of Pakistan. Significantly, the latter was accompanied by the director general of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Ahmed Shuja Pasha. If The Wall Street Journal is to be believed, Gilani told his host to “dump” the US as a partner and open his arms to China, whom his visitor dubbed an “all-weather” friend.
These are not happy developments. And in spite of president Karzai’s affirmation of friendship with India, he clearly has to watch his political future. Much of all this has to do with the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the jockeying for influence there in a post-US scenario. Islamabad’s interference in Afghan affairs is well-known and the recent upsurge in Taliban activity there is surely one development that complicates matters for him. What Pakistan would like is for Afghanistan to remain a preserve of the Taliban. Strong centralized institutions—a strong army and an effective presidency—are anathema to our western neighbour. It is, so far, succeeding in these ill-conceived and anti-Afghan objectives. If it does succeed, finally, it will spell bad news for India.
It is not clear what India can do diplomatically, at this stage. As this paper has argued on earlier occasions, it should have lent military help—in the form of ground troops—to Afghanistan much earlier. That time is long past now. As a result our ability to influence events there is much constricted. If, after the US withdrawal, Afghanistan does fall prey to Pakistani machinations, New Delhi would have no one but itself to blame.
Even at this late hour, there is time for a frank discussion and perhaps even cooperation with the US on the subject. Washington is finally realizing Pakistan’s duplicity: protestations of support for the “war against terror” and silent buttressing of the Taliban. This is an opportunity for India, however attenuated, to secure its interests. Prime Minister Singh should approach the problem boldly. This may well be his last chance to do so.
Has India lost the Afghan plot? Tell us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Apr 27 2011. 09 53 PM IST