The Great Game and India

The latest version of The Great Game in Afghanistan is at an interesting point. The next 18-24 months are very crucial for the region and for India. US has set a deadline of July 2011 by which its troops would start withdrawing from Afghanistan. This has obviously raised concerns about the security situation in the neighborhood. Strategists are postulating several scenarios for post July ’11 period. As far as India is concerned, the worst possibility is that Taliban would become much more stronger and Pakistan would gain a “strategic depth” that it had when Taliban ruled Afghanistan before 9/11. India has good relations with the current regime in Afghanistan. If Taliban gains more influence in future, it would be bad news for India.

To counter Taliban, many believe that India should have a big military presence in Afghanistan as that would give us some leverage. This might sound good but is actually a very bad idea. One must keep in mind that US, whose military budget is greater than India’s national budget, had to finally leave Afghanistan after brokering a deal with Taliban. India does not have the resources to have a strong military presence in Afghanistan. Besides even if we succeed in influencing Afghanistan, terrorists can still continue their operations from Pakistan against India. The “strategic depth” in Afghanistan would always come at a very high price with very less or no reward for both India and Pakistan.

Besides, the roots of terrorism as correctly diagnosed by Obama administration lie in Pakistan and not in Afghanistan. After a very long time, US has a favorable regime in Pakistan which is ready to crawl if asked to bend by Uncle Sam. Drone attacks have increased in post Musharraf Pakistan and we would get to see a lot more action within Pakistan against terrorists by US in the near future.  Besides if Indian interests are hurt in Afghanistan beyond a certain threshold, India always has the option of doing what it did after the Parliament attack in 2001. When India mobilized army on Pakistan border, Pakistan had to divert its forces from Afghanistan to its Indian border. This had affected the US campaign against Taliban in Afghanistan. India would always have this option which would be more effective and cheaper than having a strong military presence in Afghanistan.

Lets hope that good sense prevails and India does not end up taking the outsourced job of policing Afghanistan at the cost of our own interests.