After bin Laden: India sees opportunity in Afghanistan
India's prime minister is in Kabul to argue for an Indian role in the Afghan peace process. Pakistan could be worried that the mood in Kabul may have tipped in India's favor after bin Laden's death
India is seeking to expand its role in Afghanistan in the wake of Osama bin Laden's killing – but only modestly, showing that even a chastened Pakistan still holds significant leverage over war and peace here.Skip to next paragraph
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“We are a second-rate player. We don’t have the geography to be the principal player” in Afghanistan, says C. Raja Mohan, an Indian security analyst. But the international intrigue in Kabul has taken a turn in India’s favor after bin Laden. “Previously it looked like the whole thing was against us and now there are more possibilities.”
On a visit to Kabul today Prime Minister Manmohan Singh underscored India's support for Afghanistan, backing peace talks with the Taliban and pledging new aid that will bring its total support for the war-torn country to $2 billion.
"India is your neighbor and partner in development," Singh told Afghan President Hamid and other senior officials. "You can count on us as you build your society, economy and polity."
But by backing talks with the Taliban, Singh risked the displeasure of India's closest Afghan allies, which are against negotiating with the insurgent group and against a peace process that will rely heavily on Pakistan. Despite those ties, he appeared uninterested in backing the movement that would push hard against the Taliban – and by extension, Pakistani interests – in any talks.
Pakistan’s location makes it indispensable to both the US and the insurgents, offering supply lines to one and shelter to the other. While bin Laden’s killing doesn’t alter that geography, concedes Mr. Mohan, it has opened doors for a wider Indian involvement in Afghanistan by tarnishing Pakistan’s clout with Kabul and Washington.
For years, Pakistan has prevailed on Mr. Karzai – and his American backers – to not seek Indian help with security. Instead, India has given about $1.5 billion for economic development and pledged today to bring its assistance up to $2 billion. Now India is trying to cross into security cooperation by training police and helping the country form a female police battalion.
“So far we just limited ourselves to the economic things. If we do a little bit of [police] security it shows some boldness, but we still won’t do military,” says Mohan.
The Afghans want this sort of help but not for geopolitical reasons, says Nihar Ranjan Das, a research fellow with the Indian Council of World Affairs.
“They look to us not because they are against Pakistan, but because of our experience” building up institutions like the police over the past 60 years, he says.
But Pakistan fears Indian security involvement could leave Pakistan surrounded by hostile armed forces on both its eastern and western borders.