Could Karzai’s Last India Visit Reverse Afghan Reconciliation
21 May, 2010
By Bassam Javed
President Karzai visited India from 26 to 27 April en route to Thimpu for the SAARC summit. Mr. Karzai made amends to his schedule when India requested him to visit India prior his attending the conference in Bhutan. After having been snubbed by sixty odd nations at the London Conference over Afghanistan’s talks initiative for peace through reconciliation with the Taliban, India is mulling changes in its Afghan policy albeit with no changes in its ultimate goals and hence the invitation to Mr. Karzai.
The visit was exploited to convey to Indian masses that everything was not lost in Afghanistan and that India still possesses the room to maneuver therein to affect Afghan reconciliation efforts and to cement its influence in Afghanistan. There was a lot of shivery discomfort observed amongst the Indian think tanks when Karzai during his visit to Pakistan said that, “India is a close friend of Afghanistan but Pakistan is a brother of Afghanistan. Pakistan is a twin brother. We are conjoined twins, there’s no separation…” India is struggling to come out of the consternation over Karzai’s pronouncements especially with respect to Pakistan. Incidentally, this was the first trip of Mr. Karzai to India after his re-election wherein the latter wholeheartedly supported the northern alliance leader Abdulla Abdullah against Karzai in the last Afghan presidential elections.
The year ahead in Afghanistan is likely to see new beginnings and new endings as the country continues to straddle the difficult path towards stability. The major events scheduled for the year include a possible visit of Afghan president Mr. Karzai to Washington in a midst of uncertainty over the same, efforts to hold Jirga of tribal, regional and political representatives for a grand consensus to end the conflict by reconciling with the Taliban, scheduled conference on 20 July in Kabul as a follow up of London Conference to review the progress on the talks initiative and a tri-lateral meeting amongst Pakistan, Afghanistan and United States ahead of Afghan parliamentary elections in September. In view of these up-coming developments India wants to fine tune its Afghan policy as it sought inputs from Karzai on other developments like his interactions with Pakistan, Iran and the United States, modalities of the Jirga that Karzai wants to hold and the role being sought for the Taliban if they are included in the future Afghan government.
During the visit India tried to pressurize Karzai not to hold talks with the Taliban and the Pashtuns and also cautioned him on seeking Pakistani support for the same. Incidentally, the Indian Prime Minister had also conveyed India’s uneasiness to US President Obama a fort night ago over Afghan reconciliation or any power sharing deal with the Taliban when he met him in Washington. Karzai’s visit helped Indian Prime Minister proclaim boldly that India would do anything to make sure that the Afghan nation leads its own way and takes up its own decision free from all other foreign interference. Strange double speak statement coming from the leader of a country that has invested in Afghanistan with the sole purpose to influence Afghan decisions that run counter to its interests and strategically place itself on the corridors of flow of rich Afghan and central Asian states’ natural resources.
India, for years has sought to secure its influence in Central Asian geopolitical environments however, consequent to US President Obama’s declaration that US and NATO countries would start to withdraw from Afghanistan commencing middle of 2011, a sense of urgency is seen prevalent in the Indian Diaspora to gain leverage at the earliest. In pursuance of the same, India invested over a billion US $ to have an economic clout in Afghanistan and surged its presence in terms of intelligence operations through opening of new consulates which are being used to continue destabilization of both Pakistan and Afghanistan and their respective interests. The London Conference unexpectedly proved to be a real blocker in Indian endeavours in Afghanistan. India was caught unaware. Mr. M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former Indian diplomat put the development as this, “There is a genuine sense of disappointment – even disbelief – that the US perspective on reconciling with the Taliban evolved all too abruptly, contrary to what New Delhi was given to understand”. As per one of the Reuters’ report on the development that quoted Brajesh Mishra, India’s former National Security Advisor as having said that, ”The worry in New Delhi is caused by the feelings that US wants to get out (of Afghanistan) as soon as possible”.
As per the growing realization amongst the Indian scholars probably time has come for India to call it quits in Afghanistan. With the greater global isolation of India on Afghanistan’s reconciliation initiative with the Taliban for peace, inclusion of Taliban in the Afghan government and Afghanistan’s message to India that it no longer wants it to interfere in Afghan affairs unambiguously signals the Indian establishment to devise modalities for a sooner than later withdrawal from Afghanistan along with the other foreigners. India today also realizes that though it has invested notably in Afghanistan yet, somewhere during its campaign for ascendancy in Afghanistan it lost ambiguity.
What did India actually aim in venturing into Afghanistan? Was it to deny Pakistan its so called strategic depth even though the latter has tactical nuclear capability? Did India want any share in Central Asian States rich resources or was it an economic fumble in Afghanistan? India remains unsure itself. Actually India acted naïve in believing that the American and the other western countries could be bought outright by the nuclear deal, stalling the IPI gas pipe line, voting against its long time friend Iran, using them for its own diplomatic advantages through offers of lucrative long pending and baited military contracts worth billions of dollars and other niceties. The inevitability and other conspicuous signals that India would be marginalized one day in Afghanistan and that it never had any role in Afghanistan in the first place and that it would have to leave Afghanistan one day like the other foreign forces have accepted to, were always there. Though the London Conference on Afghanistan acted as a catalyst to prove the point to the Indians yet, it continues to crawl in the wilderness of Afghan brutal practices to reject foreigners from their homeland. Karzai’s visit to India only highlighted a wane effort by the latter to try to resurrect its ambitious long term influence in Afghanistan in an otherwise fading environment for India therein.