INDIA WAY TO AFGHANISTAN
June 29, 2012
Having placed into a tight spot by Pakistan on NATO reopening the US has come up with several options to pressure its so-called ally on war against terror into doing its bidding. Congress resolutions and actual measures is just one way to ramp up pressure on Pakistan. The US has decided to leave no stone unturned to force Pakistan to show flexibility on issues ranging from supply lines to imprisonment of CIA spook on Osama mission Dr. Shakil Afridi. The cost of entering into Afghanistan was high, staying the course extracted more finances and commitment from the US and allies, but the price of withdrawal is also not negligible. The French have estimated the cost of withdrawal at 150 million dollar which means that the price tag for the US would be even higher. The NATO has reached an understanding to get things in and pull them out through Northern route via Russia and Central Asia. This would be a bitter pill to swallow even if the deal gets through and things materialize on that front. The Northern route is more than twice expensive financially and troublesome logistically compared with the trail in Pakistan. The current stalemate between Pakistan and the US is not whether to keep the supply track closed or open, now the horns are locked at the issue of transit fee. Previously Pakistan was charging 250 dollar per container, but now it is demanding five thousand dollar. The US in Panetta’s words has refused to be “price-gouged” by Pakistan. There were indications that the US is willing to pay up to 1500 to 2000 dollars, but now it has been made clear that 500 dollars per container will be paid. This is a typical financial transaction involving haggling and bargaining. Amid this deadlock the US has decided to play India card with an open hand to curry favour with India but at the same time to cause some consternation in Islamabad. Knowing the sensitivity of Pakistan about India and that too about its role in Afghanistan, it is a big shot in the arms of Pakistanis. The US must be expecting some concrete forward movement from Pakistan on the issues freezing the relations because of her apprehensions about India’s growing ties with the Karzai regime.
Pentagon Chief Leon Panetta’s stinging statements in Delhi and Kabul leave little leeway for Pakistan to maneuver here and there. “The US is reaching its limits with Pakistan” stated Panetta the sharpest warning to Pakistan in these times of tense ties. The Chairman of Joints Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey went a step ahead by declaring that Haqqani Network still poses a major threat to the US and it reserves every right to carry out hot pursuit of militants inside Pakistan. The assertion is reminiscent of his predecessor in the saddle Admiral Mike Mullen who termed Haqqani Network a” veritable arm of ISI.” Given India’s favourable image in Afghanistan and the volume of its aid and investment in the country, it’s not difficult for the US to go for Indianisation of its Afghan policy. The downside for this approach for the US could be that Pakistan would be even more reluctant to suppress the militant outfits in FATA. Karzai government and the US are trying hard to woo the Taliban to get them to negotiating table to keep things calm in post-withdrawal scenario, but Pakistan may not feel obliged to go along to make this policy an effective one. On other hand India feels emboldened to enhance its profile in Afghanistan as now it has received clear backing from the US. Some concerted attempts were made at streamlining the Indian involvement in Afghanistan to placate Pakistan as things were difficult to manage there but the recent steps and statements demonstrate that the US is least bothered about addressing Pakistan’s concerns on India’s involvement over there.
India is going to play ball with the US with more agility and sincerity in Afghanistan in order to consolidate the bilateral ties while pursuing the same line of action it is going to squeeze Pakistan more by limiting its options in its Western neighbourhood. Afghanistan is not going to be an easy turf for India as China is also preparing to move in to fill the vacuum after the withdrawal of NATO forces. The SCO moot saw tangible regional input from Russia and China in Afghanistan to offset the Western influence in the country after 2014. The volatile situation in Afghanistan makes it an attractive venue for the contenders in regional power politics. India is already well-poised to take the lead in this gamesmanship owing to its cutting edge presence in the country which is undone by the vagaries of circumstances and follies of men. Pakistan has to change its policy line vis-à-vis Indo-US nexus to shape the agenda in its Western backyard. Crying foul about India’s presence is not going to help the cause. First of all Pakistan has to rebuild its image in the eyes of Afghan masses and ruling elite by investing in the length and breadth of the country conveying the fraternal spirit because this would bring an immediate dividends. Merely opposition to India in Afghanistan has to be replaced with the spirit of competition otherwise both countries will embroil in a zero sum game. The US has to realize that applying pressure on Pakistan by trumping up Indian involvement in Afghanistan may deliver the goods in short term but in long term it will further complicate the issues in Afghanistan. The lasting solution to Afghan problem is possible with a meaningful and positive engagement of all players involved. Pitching one country against another is a dangerous prescription leading to endless cycle of suspicion marked by violence and bloodshed.