Bomb blasts have curious effects. In conflict zones they often cause mayhem. But seldom do such events have the potential to force policymakers to chew their words. The explosion near the Indian embassy in Kabul on Thursday was one such event.
Reports from Kabul put the death toll at 17, and 76 persons injured in the incident. The blast was the second such attack directed at the Indian embassy in a little over a year. Unlike the last attack in July 2008, the fortified perimeter of the embassy ensured that no lives were lost. That protection, however, is not available to our foreign policy establishment.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Barely 24 hours before the Thursday attack, foreign secretary Nirupama Rao told the audience of an international seminar on Afghanistan that India would support “reintegrating individuals with the national mainstream” in that country, as reported in the Business Standard. This was a barely concealed way of saying that India is in favour of cherry-picking acceptable elements of the Taliban for inclusion in the Afghan power equation.
It is, of course, another matter that in making such an argument we are slavishly taking a cue from the present US administration. The ruse being that there are “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban.” This false distinction ignores the fact that US and Indian interests in Afghanistan may differ. The US simply wants to pacify Afghanistan and exit quickly. Afghanistan is a friendly neighbouring country that needs India’s assistance and help; something that requires sustained Indian presence in that country. By making nonsensical arguments about inclusion of those who abjure violence into the Afghan mainstream, we are deluding ourselves. Such elements have been, and always will be, proxies for Pakistan, and not peace.
This is no time for speculating the source of such arguments: It is clear that there is US pressure on our government to be “less active” in Afghanistan. The point is, if we are to safeguard our national interests, long- and short-term, then we have to make an independent assessment of what is required. It is doubtful if the second United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has thought of this.
Have we, for example, consulted the Northern Alliance, the coalition that fought the Taliban, before arriving at a conclusion to support a “moderate” Taliban? Are our policymakers aware of the dangers of taking a path that has the potential to create an anti-India course in Afghan politics? We should eschew any woolly thinking: Merely because something is a fashion of the time, however alluring, does not make it beneficial.
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