Afghan president seems to favour Pakistan over India - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 18 December 2010

Afghan president seems to favour Pakistan over India

By Ajai Shukla
Kabul, Afghanistan

[Business Standard, 18th Dec 10, carried a slightly shorter version of this article]

In what will come as a shock to the Indian public, which has supported New Delhi’s political backing and US $1.3 billion developmental aid programme to Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai’s steadfast support for India is being apparently overtaken by his growing alignment with Pakistan.

The signals were unmistakable at a just-concluded “track two” India-Pakistan-Afghanistan trialogue, organised this week in Kabul by an Indian think tank, the Delhi Policy Group. After strongly supporting the first three rounds of the trialogue, over the last two years, the Government of Afghanistan effectively ignored this fourth round, as did the Pakistani embassy.

President Karzai himself, while ignoring the trialogue along with his ministers and senior policymakers, had enough time to have a one-on-one conversation with Pakistani journalist and TV anchor, Naseem Zehra, who peeled off from the trialogue for this exclusive chat with the president.

“Karzai has clearly decided that his survival depends upon hedging his bets with Pakistan”, says an Afghan foreign ministry official in Kabul. “He believes his support from America is running out, and New Delhi is unwilling to go beyond humanitarian aid and provide a more muscular presence.”

These Afghan sources describe an insecure and frightened Karzai who is worried that, with India having decided to confine itself in Afghanistan to soft power and developmental aid, an American troop pullout would see him isolated and at the mercy of the Taliban. His post-American survival, therefore, depends upon building good relations with Pakistan and Iran.

“Every Afghan president is haunted by the spectre of Najeebullah”, explains an Afghan official. Mohammad Najeebullah, who was the president of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal, was captured by the Taliban when they swept into Kabul in 1996. He was tortured, brutally killed, and his mutilated body was hung up by the Taliban in this city’s Aryana square.

Foreign ministry sources identify Karzai’s first major pro-Pakistan gesture as the sacking, on 6th June, of Amrullah Saleh, head of the Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security. Saleh, an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s backing for the Taliban, was ordered to resign after an abortive rocket attack on a peace jirga (conference) that was meeting to approve negotiations with the Taliban. Interior Minister, Hanif Atmar, was also asked to resign.

That also provided the opportunity to hand over the Afghan National Army (ANA) to a more Pakistan-friendly officer, say Indian officials in New Delhi. The stridently anti-Taliban and anti-Pakistan ANA chief, General Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, was asked to hand over command of the army and take over the interior ministry.

At that time, Karzai’s spokesperson, Waheed Omer, insisted that the only reason for Saleh’s removal was a security lapse at the jirga. But most Afghans perceived it as a sop to Pakistan in exchange for “facilitating” a dialogue with the Taliban.

Meanwhile India continued diplomatically, but firmly, to oppose Karzai’s key internal initiative, which was dialogue with the Taliban. “There is no moderate Taliban just as there is no good terrorist,” remains India’s official position, voiced by numerous officials in multiple forums worldwide.

In retrospect, say Afghanistan experts in New Delhi, Karzai’s evolving approach towards Pakistan was evident even before Saleh’s removal. In January this year, Karzai excluded from his new cabinet his longstanding foreign minister, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, who had been unsparing in his criticism of Pakistan. Zalmai Rassoul, who has been far friendlier towards Pakistan, was appointed in Spanta’s place.

Two months later, in March, the Afghan president declared during a visit to Islamabad, “India is a close friend of Afghanistan but Pakistan is a twin brother.”

Meanwhile, the Indian government continues to rely on the United States and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which currently maintain security across Afghanistan while building up Afghan capabilities. New Delhi is keen to provide training assistance for the ANA and the police, but Washington has resisted an Indian military presence, in deference to Pakistani fears.

On 15th Dec, the US government released a major review document, which outlined Washington’s plans for the withdrawal of more than 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan. Keeping many more cards in Washington’s hand than were put down on the table, the review suggested that a “responsible” US withdrawal would begin as scheduled in 2011 (read, not many troops will be pulled out next year), leading towards the handing over of security responsibility to Afghan forces in 2014. The review was optimistic that this past year’s “troop surge” of 30,000 additional American soldiers was weakening Al Qaeda and arresting the Taliban’s momentum.


  1. We do not have either the Russians or the Iranians with us and we can not or we will not exercise the option of standing on our feet.What the hell are we doing in Afghanistan anyway. We should run away from there with our tail between our legs while we still can, while the Americans are still there to prevent whole scale slaughter of Indians. Total, utter and absolute failure of our foreign policy which will cost us very dear in Kashmir and South Asia.

  2. It's about time this corrupt drug-dealer was booted off. He doesn't even have a power base in Kabul, forget all of Afghanistan. To the Americans, he is just the lesser of evils there.

  3. I think Karzai was always softer to Pakistan and that is why he was installed as President. However whenever any impasses emerges, India can always play the Northern Alliance card, this time more strongly and more pro-actively.

  4. Do you realise the Taliban didn't exist in 1996? A quick check of facts would have been a good idea.

  5. It should not come as a surprise that the Afghan president wants to save his skin, hence wants to make a deal with the Pakistanis & Pashtuns.

    Hamd Karzai alone is of no use to us.

    We need to build the real power brokers. The Northern Alliance. It is a given that the US will give Afghanistan to PA. Once the US leave, the Taliban with PA regulars will over run Afghanistan.

    There is no need to have physical military presence in Afganistan. Spend money to arm the anti-Taliban to the teeth. If Pakistan, which is a failed state, can sustain the Taliban, India can do better.

    Build up the Northern Alliance forces. Arm them heavily. Have a deal with the northern 'stan' countries to base either Indian/Russian jets to assist Northern Alliance forces if Taliban forces attack.

    We are trying to preserve a unnatural nation. The non-Pashtuns will never reconcile with Pashtuns and vice versa. To bring peace, they need to be separated. If this means division of Afghanistan. So be it. Who gives a damn if Afghanistan is broken into 10 or 100 pieces. Divide the Afghanistan into Pashtuns and non-Pashtun region. Declare that non-Pashtun regions will have military backing from Russian, Indian forces(if US wants to join let them).

  6. As long as our PM who unfortunately is a Sikh, stop thinking about the prosperity of Pakistan and start thinking like a real leader who can ensure the safety, progress and prosperity of the People of India, nothing is going to change. If he is a real leader, the first thing he must have realized is that how to destroy a fundamentalist, terrorist nation that's a threat to the Indian nation and the people of India. But our PM lack any vision and courage to further India's interest using crooked methods.

  7. Goat presents herself to wolves !!!

  8. What can India do besides offering rusting T-55 and training to afghans from a military angle?

  9. Abdullah Abdullah is was our only hope but he was 'defeated'.Karzai and his brother is worse than Raja any day of the year.We have to go beyond our humanitarian policy and build a more covert power by having a clean and credible opposition to Karzai.Its India's responsibility towards the Afghan people to help them help us.Recently released documents and books suggests to the fact that the Afghans doesn't believe in fighting for a government that is headed by Karzai.

  10. Evidently, Taliban and India's reluctance to be more invested are reasons enough to cozy up to Pakistan. But I wonder what role China's extensive investments in Afghanistan may have played in helping force this outcome.

    India seems to have been successfully outmaneuvered by the tag team of Pakistan/China. Have we locked ourselves out of our northern neighbourhood for good?

  11. What else can he do?? Is India willing to provide military aid? He has to side with the pakis to save his a$$!!

  12. Mertz!

    The Taliban didn't exist in 1996? It's a good thing that you publish only on the internet. In the real world, you would have egg all over your face.

    The Taliban took over Kandahar in 1994, Kabul in 1996, and fled Kabul on 13th Nov 2001.

    Btw, I was there in Kabul the day they left.

  13. As it was supposed to be a historical duty of arabianized Afghans to intervene in to India, which resulted in formation of Pakistan. So in turn now it is the duty of India to intervene in Afghanistan to stop the existence of Pakistan for the sake of long standing peace and regional power balance in Asia.

    Unfortunately similar actions were taken by outsider forces like USSR and USA, so they failed.

    The day American forces go out, Karzai himself will be taking shelter back in America and heading a defunct government in exile. He can not withstand the onslaught of the Talibani-Paki axis.

    All the concerned neighbors shall be made aware of such an eventuality and India and CIS nations actively helping Northern Alliance and Hazara shall encircle Kandhar and also blockade the naval routes to Karachi. For better results the routes joining Sino with pak can be blasted if the need be. This is to be continued till the Talibani-Paki axis is completely decimated.

    If somehow this is not done immediately after the withdrawal of Karzai, then Talibani-Paki axis will naturally and obviously attempt to expand and create all damages on their eastern front, so much so that India may find it difficult to digest and think in terms of severe alternatives.

  14. Sir, any update on P-15A and IAC?

  15. Ajaiji, why you allowing pakis to be named as Indian to post like 'P Mukherjee'? It is not difficult for you to understand that he is a paki?

  16. Mertz-

    Mullah Omar created the Taliban around early to mid 1994. He had christened his organization "Taliban" around then.

    He captured almost whole of the Kandahar province by the end of 1994... before spreading the cancer further.

    So, you may want to check the facts first. But then again, this comment is in line with the information in your other comments.. so no surprises :)


  17. It is an ill-conceived policy targeted not on Afghanistan but Pakistan, which is bound to fail. What strategic interests do we have there? Spend billions on education and infrastructure in own country instead. We lack any staying power in such Big game scenario and that is a fact. Afghanistan will never return to the friendly neighbor in near future. GOI and its foreign ministry mandarin must know when to pull their hands out. Will it not be worth the effort to invest in central Asian republics instead??? KK

  18. @Anonymous(20 December 2010 05:03)

    Hahahaha, simply because I express my disgust of our weak kneed and effeminate approach towards Afghanistan in particular and Central Asia in general, you are provoked into calling me a Paki? And that too from a guy who does not dare to name himself, now isn't that amazing.
    We were dead right in identifying Afghanistan as being strategically crucial to our interests. Now we are inches away from throwing it all away. All I am saying is that the time has come to put our money where our mouth is.
    Is that too difficult to comprehend or does that entitle me to further damnation?

  19. oops...indeed an egg or two on my face...i seemsed to have missed a decade...apologies.

    The NA has been desperate to make peace with pak. They have done all they can....and met the conditions pak laid down for them...which is back away from india, make no statements against pak and secure their side of the border...which they have. Furthermore the countries to the north of Afghanistan are desperate for pak to help them control the mujhaddeen+talibans. Otherwise they are gone...their populations are waking up!!! This is what russia fears, but is powerless to do anything. If it does, it knows it will get sucked in and will again be defeated. The indians don't really count in this game. why: no land border; are not trusted by iranians or russians completely....and india is lacking one other critical thing...big balls. The chinese don't have them either but they are piggy backing onto guys!!! I will tell you what i have said many times before, india will have no real say in the central asian space without the consent of pak.

  20. What's wrong in India giving money to the Afghans. It is the
    solemn duty of the Hindus to pay JIZIYA to the Muslims. They have been doing so for 1000 years now. Kaangress is just continuing the duty.

  21. No need to worry about Afghanistan till USA is there. Worry about Pakistan. If possible break-up Pakistan into tiny bits. That should/must be the policy India needs to pursue till end. As shown by history, Islamic invaders have always started invasion by taking over weak kingdoms first and then wait till the strongest became weak internally either because of corrupt and ignorant Monarchs. Indian Strategic Community experts need to make plans to implode Pakistan internally, even with the threat of Nukes looming large. The Muslim Nukes will always haunt us whether Pakistan survives as a Nation or not. Hence we need to take action sooner rather than later. Looking at how the Indian Politician are ignorant about the systematic progress being made by China and now Sri-Lanka, and internal divisive politics preached by Digvijay and Congress, I doubt this nation can think clearly for a solution to neutralize external threats. Most likely the attempt will be to bid for time and prepare for a self-defeating defensive strategy.

  22. P Mukherjee:

    I don't think anonymous picked up on your sarcasm, and neither did I. But now that you've clarified your position, I agree with you.

    India needs a strong military presence in Afghanistan. I don't know if the US government realizes it, but a stronger Indian military presence in Afghanistan IS in the USA's interest.

  23. An Indian military presence in Afghanistan is definitely needed and it is high time India thinks seriously about it. Otherwise we risk losing Afghanistan to anti-India forces

  24. India needs military presence in Afghanistan as well as re-build its relations with the Pathans (Pashtuns) and re-enforcing our relations with the other Afghani communities. In short, we need to play the role of power balancer there. Afghanistan is historically, culturally and strategically important to India and there can be no peace in India if there is no peace there or for that matter, in Pakistan as well. We need to be proactive in our striving for peace in our neighbourhood and our country and our society has to shed its disappointing attitude towards the military and diplomatic corps.We need to be ready to contribute and make sacrifices if needed, for the sake of peace in the Indian sub-continent.

  25. @ kulari94 (21 December 2010 12:08)
    Afghanistan is important to us as it is the door way to Central Asia (CA). It has long land borders with and therefore direct access to 3 of the 5 CA nations. CA is vital for our future energy needs and a friendly government in Afghanistan permits trade and transit. It also denies so called 'Strategic depth' to Pakistan and curtails Chinese influence in that vital part of the world.
    Contrary to some posters here, Pakistan is not the only key player here. The other two are Russia and Iran. We have allowed our friendly relations with Iran to be downgraded by submitting to USA. This has to be corrected immediately. A friendly Iran is totally vital to us to counter Pakistan's influence in OIC, for support for membership to Shanghai Cooperation Organization and a host of other issues. Chabahar port should be completed earliest as that is our entry point into the region. Russia calls the shots in CA and is vital to India and we have to be conscious to Russian sensitivities.
    At the end of the day we simply have to put troops on the ground, whatever the grounds or the pretext maybe, to convince everyone relevant to Afghanistan/CA that we are serious stakeholders in that region. Only then will we be taken seriously.


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