How the Afghanistan war became tangled in India vs. Pakistan rivalry
India-Pakistan tensions muddy US efforts in Afghanistan, where Pakistan's cooperation is needed. One key issue: Islamabad is wary of India's broadening regional role.
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India's stake in Afghanistan
Indian officials bristle at any suggestion that Afghanistan is not a vital interest.Skip to next paragraph
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"We are first and foremost in Afghanistan for the same reasons as the rest of the international community: to prevent it from becoming a safe haven for terrorists," says a senior official in India's foreign office.
Under the former Taliban regime, an Indian airliner was hijacked in Kabul and Kashmir jihadis trained in Afghan camps. India also cites historically close relations with Afghanistan, as well as the access to Central Asian trade as important.
But the worst nightmare for India, and the main reason India advocates for a regional agreement, says the official, would be an unraveling of Afghanistan as NATO leaves. He says to guarantee Afghanistan's sovereignty, an effort has to be regional. India argues that other nations have key interests: Iran does not want to see a radical Sunni government return; China worries about similar extremists developing ties with its neighboring Muslim minority.
To help stabilize Afghanistan, India has pledged $1.3 billion in assistance since the Taliban's ouster. It has also implemented some 50 development projects including a road to Iran and transmission wires to Uzbekistan. The country's involvement has come with risk: Militants have launched multiple deadly attacks on the Indian embassy.
"They have an investment there now as far as they are concerned. If things go badly there, you can bet that they will [send] military advisers," says Weinbaum.
India has not contributed militarily to the coalition effort because Afghan President Hamid Karzai has not sought its help, perhaps under US pressure not to antagonize Pakistan.
Quietly the US has talked to the Afghan government about listening to Pakistan's concerns, says Weinbaum.
But publicly the US has mostly celebrated Indian involvement in Afghanistan, not called for less.
Partly this is because India shares American antipathy toward the return of a radical Islamic government, and partly because the US wants to deepen its ties to India.
Asking India to leave "would be contrary to any diplomatic political norms," says Michael Semple, an expert on the current peace process. Instead, a legitimate way to address Pakistan's concerns is by "providing an effective check on any threatening or unhelpful activities."
The Afghan government appears to be taking further steps to ease Pakistan concerns about India. Mr. Karzai last year removed his intelligence chief, a powerful Tajik who was seen as wary of Pakistan and more sympathetic to India. Karzai also sent former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani as head of a High Peace Council to Pakistan earlier this month.
Mr. Rabbani remains a powerful figure among the ethnic minority factions that resisted the Taliban in the 1990s, and though he has received Indian help in the past, he said the right things to put Pakistan at ease.
"What Mr. Rabbani said today was quite meaningful: that no third country would be allowed to damage Afghanistan-Pakistan relations," said Mr. Basit after meetings Jan. 5 between Rabbani and the Foreign Ministry.
"The Afghan government has assured us that they would never allow their soil to be used against Pakistan," added Basit. "But one would also like to acknowledge the fact that there are areas that are not under the Afghan government's control and that can be taken advantage of."
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