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The Afghanistan challenge

Saturday was just another day in Jalalabad, capital of the Nangarhar province that sits on the major highway linking Kabul to Peshawar in Pakistan. It also lies close to the Khyber Pass. This makes it easy for the Taliban to move to and fro after mounting attacks in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

On August 4, three bombers in a car, crashed into a check-post in front of the Indian consulate in Jalalabad, which killed the assailants and eight children who were at a mosque located near by. The Indian foreign office spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said that the incident had “once again highlighted that the main threat to Afghanistan’s security and stability stems from terrorism and the terror machine that continues to operate from beyond its borders”. The finger was clearly pointing towards Pakistan.


Terror tactics: On August 4, three bombers in a car, crashed into a check-post in front of the Indian consulate in Jalalabad, which killed the assailants and eight children. Pic/AFP

It took less than an hour for analysts to peddle the theory that the Jalalabad attack was an act of proxy war between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan. That India has committed no act of aggression in Afghanistan has failed to come to the notice of these analysts. Neither its non-state actors (read aid agencies) nor its state actors (diplomats and troopers guarding Afghan interests) have taken even one aggressive action against Pakistani state or non-state actors.

Delhi isn’t part of the Doha talks where Afghanistan’s future is to be discussed between Afghanistan, the US and Pakistan. India has no great designs in Afghanistan. What it certainly doesn’t want is the non-democratic return of a Taliban-led Afghanistan, and its violent and regressive ways.¬†

India has poured in almost $2 billion dollars in aid to Afghanistan, and to administer this aid it has consulates in Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar and Jalalabad besides its embassy in Kabul. This bothers Pakistan a lot. Pakistani media is replete with articles and TV shows dedicated to India’s imaginary grand design in Afghanistan and how its consulates are funding and orchestrating terror in Balochistan and now even in its interiors. Retired Pakistani generals unabashedly talk of Afghanistan as if it is a Pakistani backyard, not just its so-called strategic depth.

The same non-state actors, who have for decades waged Pakistan’s undeclared war against India in Kashmir, have now turned their attention to Indians in Afghanistan. Pakistan wants India out of Afghanistan. The message to India is clear: if you move, it will hurt; so just lie still and take it.

Even as this message is delivered in Afghanistan, the Nawaz Sharif government has sent out pretty pink feelers tied with heart-shaped balloons to restart the stalled peace process with India. Dates for talks have been hand delivered, no less; discussions are on for Sharif and Manmohan Singh to meet at the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September. Track-2 denizens have laid out the road map all strewn with brotherly love.

But the harsh reality is that you would walk this perilous path only if you were blind. The goal posts have changed and Nawaz Sharif should realise that the UPA government has tried well beyond Indian tolerance levels to offer options to Pakistan. Very few in India believe that the Jalalabad attack was by forces who don’t want Sharif to move forward on peace talks with India. Sharif and his team are very much part of those “forces”. He is “Fateh Kabul” who took the Taliban to Mecca and then to Afghanistan. Sharif’s elections speeches in the 1990s were all about how the Pakistan People’s Party lost Dhaka, but he won Kabul.

While the administrator in Sharif realises that doing trade with India is to his advantage, he will never tolerate Indian presence in Afghanistan. Strategic expert Bharat Verma says, “Attacks against India by ISI and Pakistan government are going to increase. Afghanistan is going to face a strategic vacuum with the exit of US forces. Pakistan wants to step in. India was not deploying military there; it even refused lethal weapons when Afghanistan asked. Pakistan wants to wipe out an Indian footprint in Afghanistan and they will succeed because you can’t do reconstruction in a war zone without military support. That support for our reconstruction work was being provided by NATO forces, now that is gone.”

India has stayed on in Afghanistan despite losing precious lives in attacks on its embassy and a guest house in 2008 and 2009. It would be an insult to their memory -- and to Indians and Afghans still risking their lives in Afghanistan -- if our establishment is seen hobnobbing with people responsible for their deaths.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash 

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