ASIA CENTRE BANGALORE
Mr. A.P. Venkateshwaran Former Foreign Secretary
Mr. Peter Sinai IFS (retd)
Lt. Gen (Retd.) Ravi Eipe
Support Asia Centre
1843 First Floor, 6th Cross, 20th Main, J.P Nagar, Bangalore Karnataka 560078, India;
Call: (+91 80) 26595150, 26593689
Seminar Summary Reports
"A Historical Perceptive" by Amb. Akbar Mirza Khaleeli "A Strategic perspective" byVice Admiral (Retd) P J Jacob "A Media perspective" by Shri Kesava Menon.
"A Security Assessment" by B. Raman
"The Current Scenario" by Shri K V Rajan, IFS (Retd)
"Implications for India" by Maj. Gen (Retd. Ashok K. Mehta
"Current Situation and its import" by Shri Gururaj Rao
"The Political Scenario" by Dr. Arvind Kumar
"Analysis of Political events" by Dr. Smruti Pattanaik
"Implications for India" by Maj. Gen (Retd.) Dipankar Banerjee
"Strategic Analysis and Opinions "by Maj. Gen (Retd.) Ashok K. Mehta
" Vision and Reality" by Ambassador Shri Rajiv Sikri (Retd)
" Historical Perceptive and Current Realities"
"Defence Cooperation Aspects" by
"A strategic review" by Dr. Brahma Chellaney
" A historic perspective"
"India's options in the global senario" by
"Indo-US core interests" by
Look East Policy
" India's Look-East Policy: Vision and Reality" by Ambassador Shri C.V Ranganathan (Retd)
" Impediments to India’s Look-East
Policy – China’s Reservations and Suggested
"Maritime Aspects of our Look-East Policy" by
The Regional Contest
By Dr Shanthie D’Souza,
This important subject may be analyzed by
examining the key factors of instability in
The international military intervention
involves two forces, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)
The Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PTRs),
intended to aid and strengthen local authorities, are not so effective because
they do not sufficiently let the Afghans decide the kind of small project they
should take up first. If a village
requires drinking water supply ensured, a PRT building a school is not much
appreciated. The people have no great expectations of PRTs.
When militants attack a settlement, PRTs are of little consequence.
We must remember this if
The security situation remains grim.
The Taliban is constituted of diverse elements, young men out of work,
those with grievances against the state, even thieves, not only the Islamists.
The US forces need to secure the supply lines for logistics.
The AfPak strategy has not been very effective.
Obama would like it to succeed and use it for his re-election campaign.
But the Americans do not stomach a long war.
The outlook is that the
If as a consequence of the AfPak strategy, the
Pakistani civilian government is weakened through the Pakistani backlash
Lastly, the aim of integrating
By Shri Hormis Tharakan
There is a gap in
perception, perhaps a growing one, between the
But the Pakistani
intelligence is pressing the West into a dialogue with the Taliban.
The Pak record of cooperation with the Taliban features several
instances of intrigues against some of its leaders, but the ISI penchant
for the “good Taliban”, despite burnt fingers, has been minimised by
the Americans, because they still need
assumption will be that the regional players should cooperate to ensure
By Ambassador Satinder Lambah, PM’s Special Envoy
The security situation
has been deteriorating since 2006, with the civilian population, the
militants and the US-NATO troops all sustaining more casualties.
The figures for violent incidents are up in the south and east of
the country. NATO is a divided
house: its members are reluctant to put more troops on the ground and
there are not enough troops to combat the insurgency.
The Taliban has the
advantage of sanctuaries, shelter and recruitment potential in
Two problems have
complicated the situation. First,
the narcotics problem.
The refugee problem persists long after 2001, when 7 million Afghans fled to neighbouring countries. Though 5 million refugees are said to have returned (by the UNHCR), there are still about 3 million in Pakistan, Iran, the northern neighbour countries, even India, with about 9200 Hindus and Sikhs; they claim Afghanistan as their homeland, but cannot yet go back because of insecurity and lack of employment prospects.
The presidential election will be held on August 20, under an independent Afghan commission aided by the UNDP. President Hamid Karzai is the front-runner, along with several other candidates. The prominent ones are the former Foreign Minister, Abdullah Abdullah and the former Finance Minister Ghani. Karzai’s vice-presidential team includes Fahim as deputy, which is not congenial to the West, but he is likely to swing the Tajik and other minority votes for Karzai. If in the first round no candidate polls at least 50 percent of the votes, a second round of the two leading candidates will be held. The results are to be announced in September/ October.
Next we should note
the growing role of
concept of ‘strategic depth’ which
Talibanisation have spread through
The conflict in Swat is
a development of the Afghan situation.
In recent military operations, the
Further, the tactical
cooperation among the jihadi groups in
The Swat operation
From our point of view, international opinions inclining towards
From our point of view, international opinions inclining towards
Russian objectives are
to prevent the export of terrorism to
The highway from Zaranj
to Delaram in the southwest of
The Salma dam power
project (42 MW) in
A power transmission
line from Pul-e-Khumri to
Construction of the
Afghan parliament house in
Restoration of the telecom infrastructure in 11 provinces (completed).
Expansion of the
national TV network for
There are also many smaller projects which contribute to the health, education and social needs of the Afghans, especially children and women. Wheat consignments, food aid to schools, the Indian Medical Missions in the capital and other cities, the Indira Gandhi Institute for Child Health, solar panels, a cold storage centre, a computer training centre, vocational training for youths, and ITEC placements in India are some of the different areas where India is helping the reconstruction and capacity building of Afghanistan.
The aid programme is the way forward for
A.M. Khaleeli opened
the discussions by stating that Iran has influenced Afghanistan
considerably over several epochs. The
only period of stability which it enjoyed was when the Hindu and Iranian
civilisations cooperated there. The
Afghans are a tribal people with their own virtues and codes of behaviour.
They have left their influence in the northern parts of undivided
can be influenced only by a unified country.
Pakistan cannot make a lasting mark in Afghanistan or dominate it.
Iran will have a continuing influence.
The intruders are the Americans.
India should favour the exit of foreign intruders.
When the Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan, they were the
intruders, who did not serve our interests there.
India could have warned the Soviet Union against intervention.
The Taliban movement started from there (1979)
keep in touch with the Taliban, good or bad.
It is good diplomacy to maintain such contacts.
The Americans will leave Afghanistan eventually.
They are mainly motivated by oil and gas resources in the region,
which can be transported to other countries.
In the long term, if gas pipelines are built from the region, India
could benefit. The main factor
making for instability in Afghanistan is Pakistan.
Pakistan cannot manipulate a stable Afghanistan. India should
systematically impress this on the Pushtuns and the Taliban, and thus undo
the mischief of the British drawn Durand Line.
When the US quits, we would not like the Russians or the Chinese to
take over in Afghanistan. The
Indian interest is to be more correct.
A question was
asked regarding the extent of Arab influence on Afghanistan and how it
would affect Indian interests. Dr.
D’Souza replied that undoubtedly there was considerable Saudi
Arabian influence on the Islamic insurgents through funded
‘charities’. But Turkey
and India were in favour of an Afghanistan which would not exploit
religious extremism as its ideology. Other
Muslim countries could also help the moderating trend.
Amb. Khaleeli added that
the Arabs, particularly the Saudis, have spread the Deoband type of Wahabi
Islam among the Afghan Sunnis, appealing to tribalism.
But the Afghan Muslims, Sunnis included, have long enjoyed cultural
links with the Iranian civilisation and Persian is spoken widely in the
question was about the rising profile of Russia in the region.
Is the US attitude changing by accepting the SCO as a useful agency
for stabilising Afghanistan? Are
the US-Russian strains easing? Amb.
Lambah replied that Russia was reasserting its interests in the region
and that the SCO can play a positive role.
China’s presence is also more evident in Central Asia.
The US is aware of these developments and attended the Moscow
summit of the SCO at a junior level. The
US clearly wants more international cooperation in Afghanistan.
To a question
about possible supply routes to Afghanistan, other than the dangerous
route from Pakistan across the border, Dr.
D’Souza replied that the northern route is difficult to rely on.
The Iran route via the Indian built highway in Afghanistan is
potentially usable, being shorter; and
less costly for cargo. But it
is problematic due to Iran’s controversial nuclear programme, which is
opposed by the West and other countries.
India is stalled for the present, but has a neutral stand and will
make its own decisions on bilateral relations with Iran as with other
countries. Much depends on how
the Iran crisis evolves.
Lambah said, in
answer to a question about cultural ties with Afghanistan, that India
maintains active cultural relations, with exchanges of troupes of artistes
between the two countries. He
added that some Indian TV serials were highly popular among Afghans.
suggested that India should not go in for big infrastructure projects in
Afghanistan which draw Pakistan’s opposition, but replicate the kind of
project that the hospital for children (IGCHA) in the provinces, along
with small vocational training centres.
He believed that the benefits of the highway project by India had
been exaggerated. Existing
routes would have sufficed. He
further suggested that India had come in for criticism, not only from
Pakistan, but also from the US, for its several consulates in Afghanistan.
He said that Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy, had asked
India to dismantle the consulates which caused tension with Pakistan,
which believed them to be Indian outposts for espionage and the
instigation of rebellion. Amb.
Lambah corrected the questioner about Holbrooke’s call for
dismantling the consulates. There
was no such call by him. Of
the four Indian consulates, only those in Jalalabad and Kandahar are near
Pakistan. They have existed
since the 1950’s. They are
staffed by very few personnel. India
has a zero tariff arrangement with Afghanistan for its dry fruit export.
Every consignment needs to be certified by the consulate.
The Pakistani criticism should not be taken seriously.
Dr. D’Souza said that the Jalalabad consulate had a staff of four.
Pakistan multiplies the number at will.
Regarding the Indian projects, she pointed out that most of them
were small ones. High
visibility projects like the Salma dam were located in the relatively more
stable parts of the north. She
added that women’s groups are being enabled by India to oversee and
carry out small projects. This
is an important area of assistance.
To a question
on Afghan students coming to India, Amb.
Lambah stated that, in addition to the ITEC programme, India is
offering 500 more scholarships. Next
year the number of Afghan students on India would be 700 to 800.
C.V. Ranganathan spoke
next, favouring a regional solution which India and others could initiate,
after due consultations, to stabilise Afghanistan.
He was concerned that India should avoid the trap of insisting that
the new Afghan government should be totally free of the Taliban
representatives. Like Amb.
Khaleeli, he would like India to establish its own contacts with the
interest in the region is limited. The
US wants India to be a more active player.
It would be a positive diplomatic initiative If India could put
together a group including Russia, Iran and possibly China (whose
interests intersect with India’s in several areas).
That way, we would be exercising autonomy and independent judgement
in foreign policy. The US
could perhaps persuade Pakistan to join such an initiative.
Amb. A. Madhavan requested the panelists to say whether, in their opinion, the US would
really leave Afghanistan, as suggested by some; particularly if the
Americans, being keen on tapping the oil and gas resources in Central Asia
(where they have strategic interests), prefer to stay on.
Amb. Lambah answered
that the US is not so tempted by oil and gas through Afghanistan in view
of Turkmenistan’s long term agreement on gas with Russia.
If the Americans stay, oil and gas would be subsidiary to their
main interest, which is to see that the kind of threat which 9/11
signalled is eliminated successfully, in their judgment.
Member, Governing Body and Chairman, Programme Committee, ICWA, was
invited to speak. He began
with a historical reference to the British Raj and its foreign policy goal
in the later half of the 19th century, to ensure that
Afghanistan would be a buffer state between British India and the
expanding Tsarist Russian Empire. In
2008, he had led a delegation of scholars to Kabul for five days, to
establish contacts with Afghan researchers and scholars.
Formerly, Afghan scholars and researchers used to study in India.
The academics from Kabul University and the intelligentsia feel
marginalised in Afghanistan. No
think tank remains in Kabul. The
ICWA team persuaded the scholars to form one, albeit under the aegis of
the Afghan foreign office, to promote bilateral contacts.
A memorandum of understanding was signed.
shared his impressions of the present Afghan situation.
1) During the Taliban regime, a scholar disclosed to him,
Afghanistan was like a colony of Pakistan.
Afghan scholars now go to Pakistan for study and research.
They speak chaste Urdu, not Hindustani any more.
Pakistan has used the lure of money to make the Afghans (Pathans)
Islamist in outlook. 2)
They do not expect much from India in the academic field.
3) China is investing
more funds and technology in Afghanistan, since the space is vacant and
there is little Indian private investment coming in.
China has bought rights to an Afghan copper mine at a low price.
It will establish growing influence in the country.
India, it is true, has done a lot, and generated popular goodwill.
The power transmission line we have built was notable; it was
turned down for collaboration at the project stage by western companies.
4) The Indian built highway to Iran will not be open to the NATO
powers and the US, since Iran has specifically refused to allow the road
to be used as the allied transit route for their Afghan operations.
5) India has done well
in giving 2.5 million tonnes of wheat as food aid to Afghanistan, a highly
appreciated gesture. We have
to see that the cost of transportation is not at an excessive rate.
Director General of the ICWA, spoke next. He lauded the Asia Centre’s
initiative in holding the seminar and the in-depth presentations.
India, with its large aid programme in Afghanistan, is positioning
itself for a useful role in that strategic area.
India would probably consider diverse investment possibilities,
looking beyond Afghanistan towards Iran, the Central Asian republics, and
Russia. This policy will pay
revamped after the Act of 2001 as a body of national importance, is
planning an extensive outreach. It will set up branches or collaborate
with institutions in the main cities, some of them already started.
The headquarters at Sapru House, New Delhi will hold a conference
on our immediate neighbourhood, which includes China.
The seminars held so far have covered Nepal and Sri Lanka, with
Indonesia next in the list, to be followed by Afghanistan.
A.P. Venkateswaran, Chairman in
his brief concluding remarks, thanked the speakers for their illuminating
Gen. Ravi Eipe, Director expressed
thanks on behalf of Asia Centre to the speakers and to ICWA for
collaborating in holding this seminar.
seminar produced highly informative and clear-cut presentations by all the
four speakers. They reinforced
and complemented their separate interpretations of the crisis in
Afghanistan. The subsequent
discussion brought out some differences of opinion and emphasis, but also
clarified the issues of national concern for us, mainly Pakistan’s
political disarray and double-dealing on fighting terrorism. Every
question from the floor was answered constructively and sensitively by the
interests as a stakeholder in the Afghan-Pakistan region were uppermost in
all the presentations. They
took due note of India’s interest extending to the adjacent region of
Central Asia and Iran. Valuable
final remarks by the ICWA Director General Sudhir Devare and Governing
Board Member Surbir Chhatwal added to the substantive content of the
Afghanistan is moving into a phase of painful stabilisation,
challenged by serious security threats from the largely Pushtun insurgents
of the Taliban and the remnants of the Al Qaeda.
The Taliban has forged loose links with other ethnic groups of
rebels against ruling regimes. It
has become hardened by sustained defiance of the US-NATO onslaught since
2001 and has re-entered the fray as an implacable foe of both the Karzai
government and its external backers, the reluctant and weary
multi-national combine led by the US. The US itself has begun to doubt the
rationale of the Afghan war, which has claimed a high price in its
prestige, leadership, money and trained personnel.
The ambiguous, Janus-faced role of Pakistan as the indispensable
frontline ally of the US, which is simultaneously the clandestine mainstay
of the Taliban, is the problem of problems in the present Afghan crisis.
The AfPak strategy, undefined though it is, was acutely analysed by
the speakers: none could forecast success for it, despite the augmentation
or “surge” of mostly American troops and civilian personnel to defeat
the stubborn insurgency in Helmand and other troubled provinces.
this seminar at the end of July, Pakistan’s army has conducted
purposeful and heavily armed operations in the sanctuaries in Swat valley
and other places along the Afghan border, in order to rout the virtual
Taliban takeover of tribal villages and the imposition of offensively
punitive behavioural codes in the name of a distorted Sharia law.
The TTP, which had been put together by Baitullah Mehsud from a
congeries of rebel groups, now called the Pakistan Taliban, has turned
against its patron and mentor, the Pakistan army and the ISI, as well as
the civilian government. The
American drone attacks multiplied in the tribal belt, from secret bases
located in Pakistan, with the collaboration of the Pakistan state and
military, but the high-tech precision targeting also killed countless
civilians and drove out refugees (IDPs) by the thousand, generating new
problems that are socially divisive and politically intractable.
In result the US drive against the insurgency has made the
Americans viscerally unpopular with the Pakistani public.
The TTP over-reached itself in its newfound run as masters of
Pushtun Pakistan, only to fall foul of hapless fellow tribal villagers.
The reported death of Baitullah Mehsud in a drone strike on August
5, though still unacknowledged by the TTP, has led to a violent succession
dispute among the tribal factions. Both
the US and the Pakistan army now take satisfaction at having inflicted a
near-mortal blow on the TTP rebellion against the state, but the
disappointment is that the leaders of the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda
still remain in hiding in somewhere in the Afghan-Pakistan tribal belt.
The chief gain this summer for the countries and forces ranged
against the insurgency is that the Pakistan state, comprising both the
military and the civilian government, is now determined to eliminate at
least the Pakistan Taliban.
this consolation is flawed insofar as the militants, whose targets are
Indian rather than Afghan or American, are still dear to the ISI as
Pakistanis also enjoy India’s discomfiture after every gory terror
strike. Pakistan is yet to be
convinced to renounce reliance on the sponsored “jihad” against
secular, democratic India. This jihad is distorted as an “Islamic”
mission with the predatory objective of prising out Kashmir from the
Indian Union. At the root of
India’s Afghan problem is the fact that the US feels beholden to
Pakistan, despite the latter’s known perfidy and feels obliged to pamper
it with flowing grants, arms and other help.
India sides with the US and its NATO allies in wanting to restore
stability in Afghanistan. It
is also earnest in contributing to Afghan reconstruction and development;
but India is sadly hampered by the hostility of Pakistan to the Indian
presence and influence in Afghanistan, a perversity which the US is not
only tolerating but covertly supporting.
The US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Robert Blake
has reassuringly asserted that the US highly values India’s important
role in Afghanistan (August 15, ‘Dawn’ report of an interview).
But the inescapable conclusion is that India cannot tag along with
the US in its AfPak policy in the key aspect of indulgence to Pakistan’s
remote control terrorism. This
contradiction in the policies of both the US and Pakistan has inveigled
India into a tacit acquiescence of the idea that the Afghan state can be
stabilised only by a broad-based government which includes the “good
Taliban”, as opposed to the “bad Taliban” who are dead against a
compromise with the West and US-dependent Pakistan.
The fact that one cannot distinguish the good from the bad Taliban
will not deter either Pakistan or the US in seeking such a compromise.
For Pakistan this is a gateway to the revival of a Taliban-ruled
Afghanistan and the concept of “strategic depth” in case of a
confrontation with India. For
the US, the compromise offers a wedge of light at the end of the dark
Afghan war tunnel, an exit strategy that saves face.
The inference may follow that the US is no longer able to trust
Hamid Karzai as president of Afghanistan to run an effective, clean and
popular government. The
ancillary inference is that the US is contemplating regime change
scenarios in Afghanistan, whether under Abdullah Abdullah or Fahim.
this background, India’s Afghan policy has to be at a remove from the US
policy, but run parallel with it in cooperating to stabilise Afghanistan,
establish its polity on democratic lines with human rights for all
citizens. India too, as some
speakers at the seminar suggested, should have its own contacts among the
Taliban or Taliban-sympathising Afghans, many of whom are understandably
opposed to foreign military presence and patronage.
It is possible that such contacts are already active.
The suggestion that India should initiate groundwork for a new
Afghan conference among regional powers is worth exploring by diplomatic
probes, unless this is already being done.
Since India has a long-term vision of closer economic interaction
with Afghanistan, we could seriously take up laying the informational
foundation and contact building for possible or potential projects which
would help the Afghans to lessen their dependence on other countries, each
of which has its own interest and agenda. Our aim should be to enter
the economic space vacated by Western investors, not with the view to
buying up and exploiting a precious mineral resource as China has done,
but to collaborate with Afghan partners, governmental or locally effective
representatives. Our investment in select projects of a medium
industrial and technological range could be ventured by a meld of private
and public sector enterprises acting together or separately. If a
project is framed with providing employment and training for local youth
as the Indian aim, we would be better received by the people. The rich
experience that Indian engineers and technicians have already gained in
projects big and small in diverse fields like electric power, highways,
airline maintenance, transport, medicine and health care should be tapped
methodically by a group of select experts to advance this objective,
unfazed by the current unrest and turmoil in Afghanistan.
presidential election on August 20 may not result in a decisive victory
for Karzai or the other two credible candidates in the face of Taliban-led
disruption and violence. Some
observers foresee a confusing Iran-like domestic polarisation in the
country. The fact is that the
plurality of tribal affiliations and their networks in the adjacent
countries, especially in Pakistan across the Durand Line, poses an
insoluble problem of Afghan national identity which can be tackled only by
compromise among the tribes and understanding among the neighbours.
Afghanistan can recover its role as a neutral and peaceful state in
that strategic area west of Pakistan and east of Iran, if it is a long-
term project of international cooperation through the UN rather than any
single power. India can use
every means in its widening diplomatic scope, such as the SCO, the firmer
bilateral relations with the US and Russia, the commonalty with China as
an Asian power with similar interests, a scope which does not exclude
either Pakistan playing a more constructive role or Iran as an influential
Afghan neighbour. This implies
that India should encourage Pakistan to be more trustful of our policy and
intentions as a benign regional power that allows it latitude but no
quarter for sponsoring subversion and terrorism against us.
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