As 60 countries start deliberations on the future of Afghanistan in London from Thursday, India is, as usual, underprepared to meet the challenges. Pakistan wants us out of Kabul and the world is getting ready to integrate the Taliban into the Afghan mainstream. The signs are not good for India.
Some things are clear. Afghanistan is important to India’s long-term security. A friendly government there is key to this. In case a Taliban or a Taliban-like regime acquires power, it can only be to our disadvantage. Once Islamabad is assured of a friendly government in Kabul, it will unleash all the terrorists at its disposal on India. This will only mean more trouble in Jammu and Kashmir and it will embolden terrorist groups to attack our cities with greater frequency.
Pakistan’s objectives in Afghanistan are clear and it has pursued them with vigour. Two examples should suffice. It managed to keep India out of the recent talks in Ankara,Turkey, on the future of Afghanistan. It has also spared no diplomatic effort to tell the US and Britain that any solution to the Afghan problem that involves India is unacceptable to it. And the world is listening.
In contrast, our stand is marked with confusion. In October, foreign secretary Nirupama Rao argued, in code language of course, about the need to “reintegrating individuals with the national mainstream” (read Taliban) in Afghanistan. We have been steadfast in refusing to send Indian soldiers to Kabul to help the Nato-led mission there. Yet, all the while we have said the US and other countries should not withdraw until the Afghans can secure their country on their own.
India has a surfeit of ground-level goodwill in Afghanistan. But that is about to be squandered due to lack of foresight. Our strategic outlook has been a low-cost, no-gain one. This is a polar opposite of what Pakistan has done: Even at the height of arm-twisting by the US, it did not stop giving support to the Taliban. It always knew that one day the US would leave Afghanistan and the Taliban would come in handy. That day is coming, soon.
There should be no confusion about this. When it comes to Afghanistan, what Pakistan gains will only be at the cost of India. While nothing can be ruled out, as matters stand now, Pakistan has an upper hand over the situation.
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