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India's Ongoing Concerns Over Pakistan and Afghanistan

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There is immense uncertainty and disquiet among the Indian diplomatic and military community, as well as among ordinary citizens, at what Indians see as continuing tacit US approval of Pakistani duplicity in the war on terror. Based on leaked Pentagon memoranda and recollections by those who were once in the inner circle of U.S. interaction with Pakistan, it is clear now that the US tacitly colluded in nurturing Pakistan's Islamic fundamentalists by looking the other way while evidence mounted that elements of the Pakistani government supported the Taliban and other jihadi movements. Pakistan certainly has created its own monster in doing so, and is now plagued by the scourge of fundamentalist elements within its borders and government. If Pakistan were the only country impacted by these actions, it would be bad enough, but the entire region has been impacted, with long-term consequences.

Ongoing military aid from the U.S. to Pakistan remains a sore point with India -- especially after it became clear that there is no way Osama Bin Laden could have lived as safely as he did in Abbottabad for so long without the complicity and knowledge of senior elements of the Pakistani military. Of course, if it were not for America's need to remain engaged with Pakistan because of the central role it plays in the U.S. war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's status as a nuclear power, US foreign policy toward Pakistan might be different. However, given the harsh realities of the Afpak region, and Pakistan's growing nuclear capability, the US has a rather narrow bandwidth of foreign policy options in dealing with Pakistan. The terrible dilemma which America finds itself in is best summed by a senior American diplomat who said recently that for the first time in U.S. history it is dealing with a nation "which is both an ally and an adversary."

As America finds itself in a most distressing dilemma in the AfPak region, a number of Indian security analysts and diplomats can only say "we told you so," though without the usual relish. American policy towards Pakistan in the post-Cold War years has made little sense to Indians, who cannot see how the US has been able to advance either of its two professed foreign policy aims: promoting a solidly pro-Western regime in Pakistan and strengthening the country's democracy and liberal values. In the Indian view, successive American regimes have put amazingly misplaced trust in the Pakistani leadership's ability or desire to reign in the Taliban and other militant elements on its soil. In fact, India has been miffed at the US over its ongoing suggestion that India offer concessions to Pakistan over the vexed Kashmir dispute, particularly since America - which has launched two wars in the name of pursuing the perpetrators of 9/11 - displays fleeting similar concern for accountability when India demands it from Pakistan.

At this point in time, any U.S. urging to placate Pakistan seems disingenuous at best and self-defeating at worst. Having gotten over their anger at past US actions that helped prop up the so-called "rogue elements" inside the Pakistani army, Indian officials continue to be very skeptical of the notion that these same entities can somehow be cajoled into jettisoning their pro-jihadist orientation.

At the broader level however, Indian analysts and diplomats perfectly sympathize with America's huge dilemma in Afghanistan - it can neither leave nor stay without paying an enormous price. For America to leave Afghanistan now or in the near future, even symbolically, while the Taliban are resilient, and when large swathes of the country have slipped or are slipping out of government control, risks creating the image of a hasty and inglorious exit - one which could embolden Islamic radicals everywhere. And yet, staying on in Afghanistan for an extended period is likely to confer on the Taliban greater legitimacy as freedom fighters against foreign invaders, and will further embroil the US in a war it really cannot win, let alone have the will and financial resources to continue to continue to fight.

But the most serious aspect is this: the complex political and historical strands in Pakistan, already raw and fragile, risk being provoked at any U.S. exit from Afghanistan, no matter how 'honorable' that exit is dressed up to appear to be. The impact on Pakistan is very likely to be to push this already-unstable and dangerously isolated country further toward chaos.

From India's point of view, Afghanistan can never be made secure for the U.S. as long as Pakistan remains a safe haven for Islamic jihadi groups. No matter who their declared target is for now, their unbending fundamentalism, which is opposed to any form of cohabitation with other lifestyles and beliefs, will inevitably seek to strike Western targets. As long as armed jihadis can be recruited in large numbers in Pakistan and move freely -- as they do -- across the AfPak border, Afghanistan will continue to have festering militancy that is deadly to U.S. interests.

Indian diplomatic corridors are full of stories of encounters with Pakistan's liberal elite who are now running scared. In private South Asian gatherings senior Pakistanis now readily admit to their Indian counterparts that sixty years of a terribly misguided education system and national policy -- which has encouraged deep ideological malice, violence and sense of religious strife -- has been disastrous for Pakistan in every way.

In many western quarters, Pakistan has now become the equivalent of a seriously dysfunctional and delinquent special child -- one who throws violent tantrums, is inherently dangerous to itself and others, and is guided by deeply ingrained habits rather than rational logic. Suddenly, American movies and TV shows have started casting Pakistan as the villainous country in the plot, while the blogosphere is full of less restrained and more openly anti-Pakistan comments. This sudden demonization of its bête noir actually provides no comfort to India, because a Pakistan pushed to the wall is hardly in its own interests. India would clearly rather have a fully functional, secure, peaceful and reliable neighbor.

At the same time however, U.S. pronouncements remain ambiguous if not worrying. Despite increasing proximity with the U.S. on a host of policy, geopolitical and cultural issues, there is lingering belief in India that the American foreign policy establishment - which has generously provided the Pakistani army with enormous amounts of aid, equipment, training and psychological confidence over the past 50 years - has not really learned from its disastrous track record in this region, or lost its inclination to play Big Power games. In its effort to craft a sensible policy in Afpak, it is still not too late for the Obama team to place a call to its new friend in South Asia. It will find India more than willing to lend a helping hand.


*Subhash Agrawal is a New Delhi-based political analyst and the editor of India Focus. Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions, a political risk consulting firm based in Connecticut (USA), and senior advisor to the PRS Group.