September 27, 2022

The Default in Kabul (Part III) – Foreign Policy

In the overall context, we need to craft a balanced foreign policy which should not be dictated by any country including the US. American interests in India are to sell us arms and get our cooperation on waters of the Indo-Pacific especially in Western Pacific. The US has little to say about the Chinese aggression in Eastern Ladakh during 2020.

By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

That fact that Pakistan’s strategic importance to America vis-à-vis India will always remain higher would be clear to any student of international affairs. It is naïve to get carried away by the surprise being feigned by the Biden administration over formation of the Taliban government having UN-designated terrorists – what did they expect after signing the Doha deal with Mullah Baradar and  fighting Taliban for two decades? America still wants counterterrorism cooperation with Taliban; obviously there are no compunctions of holding parleys with Afghanistan’s Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani who is also US-designated terrorist with a price on his head.     

America has not said one word against Pakistan, not even after its offensive in Panjshir leave aside ISI’s proxy war on India and Afghanistan. But then America also used NATO member Turkey to sponsor terrorism in Iraq-Syria. Under the circumstances, India can continue raising Pakistani terrorism and Afghanistan becoming a haven for terrorism at the UNSC, UNGA, BRICS, SCO, wherever.

Ashley Tellis of Carnegie Foundation says Taliban win in Afghanistan is big setback for India but India’s importance for the US has sharply increased. Tellis forgets that Taliban did not win Afghanistan but the US handed it over on a platter. Besides, India’s importance for sure has gone up for the US because destabilising South Asia (India included) meets America’s national interests – just like destabilising West Asia. In 2012, Tellis said, “India being continuously subjected to terror actually suits many … India is a sponge that absorbs global terror.” He didn’t elaborate “suits many” includes America.

Wonder if our politicians read the book ‘The Revenge of Geography’ authored by Robert H Kaplan. Had our foreign policy experts done so they would have discovered it says, “An Afghanistan that falls to Taliban sway threatens to create a succession of radicalised Islamic societies from the Indian-Pakistani border to Central Asia. This would, in effect, a greater Pakistan, giving Pakistan’s ISI the ability to create a clandestine empire composed of the likes of Jalaluddin Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and the Lashkar-e-Taiba: able to confront India in the manner that Hezbollah and Hamas confront Israel.”

Wonder if our politicians read the book ‘The Revenge of Geography’ authored by Robert H Kaplan. Had our foreign policy experts done so they would have discovered it says, “An Afghanistan that falls to Taliban sway threatens to create a succession of radicalised Islamic societies from the Indian-Pakistani border to Central Asia. This would, in effect, a greater Pakistan, giving Pakistan’s ISI the ability to create a clandestine empire composed of the likes of Jalaluddin Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and the Lashkar-e-Taiba: able to confront India in the manner that Hezbollah and Hamas confront Israel.”

Above is exactly what the US has deliberately orchestrated despite the so-called strategic partnership with India and designation as non-NATO ally. Why our diplomats and External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar could not visualise this – too enamoured with the US, too scared to rightly advise Prime Minister Narendra Modi, or just couldn’t care less with wards and relatives studying or settled in the US?

India-Iran-Russia backed the Northern Alliance during the erstwhile Taliban rule for valid reasons. There was need to keep building this partnership post 2001 since Pakistan was the dog in the manger which the US refused to leash – and still refuses. The India-Iran-Russia partnership was all the more important because Pakistan hampered India’s connectivity to Afghanistan and beyond and terrorism spreading from Afghanistan into Iran and Central Asia was a strategic meeting point between the three nations.

Above was a fit case for India to initiate a ‘Quadrilateral India-Russia-Iran-Afghanistan Dialogue’ to enhance cooperation and review the situation periodically. Had we maintained regular dialogue with Iran and Russia, we would have known how they intended dealing with Taliban and would they also collectively assist anti-Taliban forces in case of Taliban victory. If there was consensus on the latter, drones operating from Tajikistan painted in Tajik colours could have played merry hell into Pakistani forces attacking Panjshir. Iran now wants to probe Pakistan’s role in capture of Panjshir although Taliban’s genocide in Panjshir Valley is in full swing, to which the world is mute.

Above was a fit case for India to initiate a ‘Quadrilateral India-Russia-Iran-Afghanistan Dialogue’ to enhance cooperation and review the situation periodically. Had we maintained regular dialogue with Iran and Russia, we would have known how they intended dealing with Taliban and would they also collectively assist anti-Taliban forces in case of Taliban victory.

A bureaucrat who had served as private secretary to a former Prime Minister writes that Russia and Iran aligned themselves with Taliban to embarrass the US as part of an anti-Islamic State (IS) alliance. The fact is that Iran and Russia foresaw the geostrategic change being forced by America while we merrily sat on the fence with total reliance on the US. Resultantly, Iran and Russia continued to operate their embassies while we evacuated ours under Taliban escort to the airport (despite Taliban advice not to close the embassy) in face of the Taliban offensive.

When US imposed sanctions on Iran, there was no reason for us to stop all oil imports; we could have done nominal reduction to keep the US happy – after all we are still importing the S-400 systems from Russia. Prime Minister Modi even canvassed a second presidential term for Donald Trump at Houston – a first for any prime minister. In the bargain we lost development of Farzad-B oil field in Iran (discovered by ONGC in 2008) and for the first time Iran called Kashmir a freedom struggle.

Our default in Afghanistan in terms of intelligence and sub-conventional has been covered in Parts I and II of this series, which also covers that R&AW and our Special Forces should have been in touch with all stakeholders in the region. Our diplomats can learn from China and Pakistan that strategic employment of Special Forces is extension of a nation’s foreign policy. Wars will continue to remain dirty requiring commensurate responses.

Late ambassador RS Kalha had written, “It is often said that idealism has no place in making of foreign policy. But the argument is not that idealism should not be a stand-alone factor, but that the costs of always following an inward looking policy may be that much higher. Therefore, the most effective foreign policy for any country, whatever its weight, is one that balances realism and idealism – that in effect makes idealism realistic.” Witness how China despite being the main investor and defence supplier in Myanmar is intimately linked to the United Wa State Army, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in conjunction Pakistan, and the United Liberation Front of Southeast Asia.  

“It is often said that idealism has no place in making of foreign policy. But the argument is not that idealism should not be a stand-alone factor, but that the costs of always following an inward looking policy may be that much higher. Therefore, the most effective foreign policy for any country, whatever its weight, is one that balances realism and idealism – that in effect makes idealism realistic.”

-Late Ambassador RS Kalha

In the overall context, we need to craft a balanced foreign policy which should not be dictated by any country including the US. American interests in India are to sell us arms and get our cooperation on waters of the Indo-Pacific especially in Western Pacific. The US has little to say about the Chinese aggression in Eastern Ladakh during 2020. In the words of Brahma Chellaney: “The Doha deal was a sellout to Pakistan and Taliban. Yet, ironically, India endorsed it, including witnessing its signing. Biden ignored India and EU that sought a conditions-based US withdrawal. Yet India has not said a critical word about Biden’s blunder.”

Finally, whether to recognise Taliban, reopen diplomatic mission without officially recognising Taliban, maintaining dialogue through our embassy at Doha or close the Afghanistan chapter altogether (hopefully not), is a decision India must take. After our embassy was closed in Kabul, Taliban leader Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai requested a meeting with our ambassador at Doha and the meeting did take place. India needs to take its own decision in the matter without latching on to the US or EU. American objectives and national interests do not match ours in South Asia and the EU was hosting seminars on the Maoist insurgency in India few years ago with ulterior motives. Also while Modi assumed first premiership in May 2014, UK hosted a NATO summit in September 2014 where the discussion was not only how to limit the economies of China and Russia, but also India.

The author is a veteran of Indian Army. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

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