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  • Fantasising ‘Afghan Good Enough’

    Where does Pakistan figure in ‘Afghan good enough’ if Pakistan’s centrality in the Western approach is taken into account? Not working towards a ‘Pakistan good enough’ would simply mean that ‘Afghan good enough’ is not ‘good enough’.

    June 22, 2012

    Ganesh Pol asked: What are the important factors that pushed Italy to sign a long-term strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan?

    Reply: The phrase ‘long-term strategic partnership’ is tautological. Though liberally used today in international parleys and joint declarations, the term ‘strategic partnership’ is however meant to be comprehensive, all-encompassing and long-term. It is suppose to have a pre-defined road map, time-frame, with well-articulated objectives.

    Italy has had a long Afghan connection. Not only the deposed Afghan King Zahir Shah spent almost three decades in exile there, Italy also hosts an influential Afghan expat community.

    Italy, being an important member of the International Security Assistance Force [ISAF], has around 4,000 soldiers posted in Afghanistan and is the lead nation of the Regional Command – West [RC- W] of the ISAF, which is headquartered in Herat. Like the US, Germany, the UK, etc., Italy also has a Special Envoy for the Af-Pak region to coordinate its national and multilateral efforts. The current incumbent is Francesco Talò. Italian troops too have suffered casualties in Afghanistan.

    Being an EU/NATO member, signing a strategic partnership with Afghanistan is not unprecedented for Italy. Other European countries too have signed partnership agreements with Afghanistan. Recently, on May 16, Germany and Afghanistan signed a bilateral agreement in Berlin, by which the former has assured long-term military assistance to the latter. As it is evident from the recent developments like the NATO Summit in Chicago, the Western forces engaged in Afghanistan are in a withdrawal mode. However, at the same time, the contributing nations of the ISAF want to maintain close contacts with Afghanistan and assist in re-building the Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF].

    Most crucial factor, which has definitely influenced Italy, is the imminent fall-out of the impending withdrawal of the ISAF from Afghanistan. For Europe, it means a wave of Afghan refugees at its doorstep. A fresh wave of Afghan refugees may be inevitable given the fear of a Taliban takeover of Kabul and subsequent reprisal against the supporters of the current government and civilian population in a post-withdrawal scenario. Long-term factors are rise in drug trafficking from Afghanistan, terrorism, and more importantly, the operational connections of young Islamic radicals in Europe with the extremist forces with terror potential active in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region.

    Will Karzai Survive 2014?

    In times of back door diplomacy and brokerage of deals, Karzai’s political skill and experience in balancing the divergent interests of various stakeholders may assure him a role in fashioning Afghanistan’s new political arrangement.

    May 22, 2012

    The Battle for Kabul has Begun

    The planned Western draw down over the next two years is threatening to once again plunge Afghanistan into greater chaos and anarchy, with Kabul as the centre stage.

    April 18, 2012

    Afghanistan: Bad Options, Worse Outcomes

    The Indian policy establishment needs to start factoring into its security calculus the fallout of a Talibanised Afghanistan and eventually a Talibanised Pakistan.

    March 20, 2012

    The Perils of Strategic NCO and Tactical General

    War is a too serious a business to be left to NCOs and Generals must be involved both at the strategic and tactical levels to ensure the moral and disciplined manifestation of a professional military.

    March 15, 2012

    Rakesh Neelakandan asked: What are the strategic implications for India if Western forces leave Afghanistan?

    Vishal Chandra replies: Western forces are not going to completely withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014. Although both the US and the NATO may announce the end of combat mission and withdraw much of their conventional forces by 2014-15, they are likely to maintain some military presence even as they move into a more supportive role. The US Administration has alluded to the possibility of maintaining a strong presence of Special Forces, and continued special operations against militant/insurgent groups, in years beyond 2014. The nature and level of future Western engagement in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region would, however, depend on the strategic partnership agreement currently being negotiated by Washington and Kabul. NATO is likely to remain involved in training and funding the Afghan army and police for years beyond 2014.

    In the long run, much would depend on how effective the training and mentoring process of the Afghan army and police is; and on the level of international aid and support for the development of institutions and critical infrastructure in Afghanistan. As of now, the prospect of Taliban and other Pakistan-backed Afghan militant groups taking over Kabul or simply overrunning the country seems remote. Despite growing uncertainty over the Western mission, it is still early to be commenting on the likely situation in the region or the implications for India in the next few years. One would have to wait and see how the US deals with Pakistan as Western forces draw down, and how politics within Afghanistan evolves in the run up to the next presidential and parliamentary elections due in 2014-15.

    Ganesh Pol asked: Can you explain the 'red lines' drawn by India as talks with the Taliban, led and owned by Afghanistan, are initiated?

    Vishal Chandra replies: It is for the elected government of Afghanistan to draw the red lines or lay down terms and conditions for negotiating with the Taliban. The Afghan Government has stated that the Taliban must accept the Afghan Constitution, renounce violence and sever all ties with al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations. These three pre-conditions for an Afghan-led peace and reintegration programme were endorsed during the International Conference on Afghanistan held in London in January 2010. The Conference was attended by more than 70 countries (including India) and international organisations.

    Udhayan C C asked: India had a border with Afghanistan which is now with PoK. Why can’t we reclaim it by force?

    Priyanka Singh replies: The Wakhan Corridor in the Badakhshan province separates Afghanistan from Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).The corridor is approximately140 miles long and between 10-40 miles wide. Besides PoK, it shares border with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan, China, Tajiskistan and is thus of immense strategic value.

    The strategic significance of PoK cannot be denied in the present context and it is absolutely justified that India should reclaim PoK, but probably not by force. India’s stance on PoK has not been very forthcoming in the past so many years. Compulsions at the international level coupled with a rather defensive approach at the domestic level have meant that claims over PoK have not been adequately highlighted as part of the overall Kashmir issue. Hence, before we start thinking in terms of reclaiming our territory by force, a lot needs to be done on the policy front. We need to reshape and strengthen our policy on PoK which supports our legitimate claim on PoK. There is need to create awareness regarding India’s claim over PoK, not only at the international level, but also to a certain extent at the domestic level. Resorting to use of force without exploring all other possibilities would be unwarranted.

    More importantly, India’s claim on PoK should not be confined solely to strategic interests in Afghanistan. True, PoK will give India unfettered access to Afghanistan and more importantly to Central Asian markets. However, the strategic dimension should be preceded by the legal claim, which is that PoK is an integral part of India currently under illegal occupation of Pakistan.

    The Bonn II Conference on Afghanistan: A Step Forward Amidst Uncertainty

    Bonn II made it somewhat clear that there is at least an evolving discourse and a fleeting sense of realisation in Western capitals that Afghanistan cannot simply be abandoned once again.

    December 19, 2011