Untying the Afghan tangle just got more difficult for the US. Pakistan has objected to the expansion of US combat operations in Afghanistan. This, even as Anthony H. Cordesman, a leading strategic expert, has argued that unless Washington devotes far greater resources than it is doing now, Afghanistan may turn into a mission impossible.
A New York Times (NYT) story on Wednesday said Islamabad is opposed to the troop “surge” in Afghanistan. Expanded combat operations in southern Afghanistan, Pakistan says, will result in the spilling over of insurgency into Balochistan. Pakistani intelligence officials told NYT that they did not have sufficient troops to counter such a situation, unless they withdrew troops from the Indian border. That is something Islamabad is loath to do.
The Pakistani stance is duplicitous, to say the least. It has been known for a while that its strategy is to “wait out” an American departure from Afghanistan and then use the Taliban to rig a pro-Islamabad regime in Kabul. As detailed in the NYT story, Pakistan is protecting Afghan Taliban leaders such as Sirajuddin Haqqani, who operates under from north Waziristan. Haqqani was responsible for bombing the Indian embassy in Kabul in July last year.
What are the implications of this unfolding situation for India?
If Cordesman’s analysis is anything to go by, the US will have to turn its orientation from a counter-insurgency strategy to a nation-building effort. This requires sustained US presence in Afghanistan for many, many years, in addition to a massive dose of financial, administrative and training resources. It is not clear if the US has the will and the ability to do that.
Instead, there is a good chance that Washington may try to find a short cut to the problem by trying to hand a military defeat to the Taliban. To this end, it is likely to increase pressure on India to withdraw troops from its western borders to placate Pakistan for ramping up military operations in Afghanistan. That is a specious argument, but one which the US finds to be plausible.
India should resist this. For the danger in effecting troop reductions on our western border will be to embolden Pakistani efforts to shore up a flagging insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir. If that happens, it will wipe out all the recent democratic gains made in that state.
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