Afg & Iran -
|#307, 24 December 2009
Af-Pak: The Road Ahead
Chair: Amb Lalit Mansingh, Former Foreign Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs
Speakers: Amb KC Singh, Former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs; Dr Gulshan Sachdeva, Associate Professor, JNU; Maj. Gen. Dipankar Banerjee, Director and Head, IPCS; Brig. Arun Sahgal, Consultant, IPCS
India’s approach to international issues is based on two general assumptions, first a firm belief amongst the intellectuals and members of the strategic community that the US can do no right and second a belief in the Indian establishment that India can do no wrong. Af-Pak provides a test case for both these premises. What is lacking today is a clear cut analysis by the strategic community on what the US and US-NATO strategy means for India’s security interests, how India is affected by it, how India might benefit by it and the fallout of a possible US withdrawal in 2011. Today there is a growing sense of panic that once the US withdraws, it will enable Pakistan to acquire strategic depth in Afghanistan and this will only magnify India’s strategic problems.
Gulshan Sachdeva: Economic and Developmental Issues
Over the last four decades, Afghanistan has witnessed diverse nation building projects. The current project under the leadership of the US has produced mixed results with progress being registered in spheres of education, healthcare, tele-communications and women’s empowerment. At the macro-economic level, the introduction of a single currency has been largely successful, the exchange rate has also remained stable, overall economic growth has been fairly satisfactory and barring 2008, domestic inflation has largely been under control. However, the deteriorating security situation, opium cultivation, lack of aid effectiveness and rampant corruption continue to be areas of grave concern.
While security and persistent opium cultivations are important issues, excessive focus on these issues will adversely impact prospects for regional economic cooperation. There exists a firm belief in policy circles of Kabul that after thirty years of incessant turmoil, Afghanistan finally has an opportunity of realizing its potential as a land bridge between regions. The country is already a member of various regional economic forums such as SAARC, ECO, SCO, CAREC and CSATTF and has inked several international declarations reiterating the centrality of regional economic cooperation for all round development. Today, about 50 per cent of the 1200 kilometers of road that connect Afghanistan to its regional neighbours has been rehabilitated, while 75 per cent of the Afghan ring road, which will connect Afghanistan to the Asian Highway network, has been rehabilitated. Therefore, physical infrastructure for enhancing regional economic cooperation is being put in place.
Afghanistan’s neighbours too have been contributing to the Afghan reconstruction effort. So far India has completed thirty four projects in Afghanistan while there are another fifty ongoing projects. The 218 km Zaranj-Delaram road, the Parliament building project, Salma dam and the power line from Pul-e-Khurmi to Kabul are amongst some of the most important projects being executed by India as part of its US $1.2 billion aid package. Iran thus far has spent US $300 million, largely on infrastructure projects and capacity building. Pakistan too has committed US $300 million to the reconstruction effort. China on the other hand has been the largest foreign investor so far, investing US $3.5 billion to develop the Ayanak copper mine.
Success of these initiatives will have significant ramifications for peace and stability in the region. A stable Afghanistan will not only help transform Afghanistan into a trade and energy corridor with Central Asia and Eurasia but also help regional powers forge an alternative economic and security structure in a post-NATO scenario.
Dipankar Banerjee: US Strategy in Af-Pak: Prospects for Success
The absence of an appropriate counterinsurgency doctrine has been among the fundamental problems facing the US since 1975. The post-Vietnam doctrines took a decision to never make a commitment for external military involvement. The Collin Powell doctrine was based on a firm exit strategy and the premise that the army will never indulge in any nation-building activity. The Rumsfeld doctrine that followed talked about fifth generation which included elements of: high altitude bombardment and high tech warfare to destroy specific targets, deployment of minimum force and no holding of ground.
This was an anti-thesis of counterinsurgency that the US was actually required to engage in both in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2005 General David Petraeus along with a team of military experts came out with a new counterinsurgency doctrine. Called the Counter Insurgency Field Manual of the US Army and Marine Forces, this effectively redesigned the conduct of war. The Afghan war was recognized early on by Obama as the ‘necessary war’ unlike Iraq, and a winnable war that had deteriorated because of neglect over recent years. This redefinition impacted positively on Obama’s success in the Presidential elections. In March 2009 Obama unveiled his first Af-Pak strategy, which was developed and coordinated by Bruce Reidel. The strategy for the first time linked the Afghan war to developments in Pakistan. While defining the war as an “international security challenge of the highest order,” Obama at the same time reiterated that “as President my greatest responsibility is to protect the American people.” This immediately created a dilemma and doubt over the convergence of US interests and the interests of the international community.
The contours of the US strategy towards Pakistan were laid out in the Kerry-Lugar Bill which aimed to persuade Pakistan to fight and this has yielded a degree of success. In Afghanistan the US strategy was to separate the “core” from the “moderate” Taliban by eliminating the core and winning the moderates over. This is a classic counterinsurgency strategy but the question that remains unanswered is that does such a distinction really exist in Taliban ranks. The first Af-Pak strategy also committed 17000 troops for fighting and 4000 for training. However, this was really an interim strategy.
The second Af-Pak strategy was unveiled on 1 December 2009 and has been more carefully developed and based on firm recommendations from commanders on the field. Its aims are: to deny al Qaeda a safe haven, break the momentum of the Taliban insurgency and build capacity of the Afghan security forces and government. These aims are to be achieved in a span of eighteen months through capture, hold and develop, and by working with partners (the UN and allies) and third, act in close partnership with Pakistan. The strategy, however, is militarily suspect because the deadline of eighteen months for completion is unlikely to be realized, It also depends on full cooperation from a weak and ineffective Afghan government, and assumes a convergence of objectives with its allies especially Pakistan.
KC Singh: Regional Approach to Resolving the Afghanistan Crisis
The problem in Afghanistan since 1979 has been one of competing interests and visions of different powers both global and regional. For Iran, the bigger threat is the US and not the Taliban, and hence the possibility of Iran as an ally against the Taliban is not on the horizon in the immediate future. Russia has utilized its leverage over the Central Asian Republics for granting transit rights to the US for Afghanistan to gain concessions on missile defence, the Georgian question and NATO expansion. Having an alternative to supply line through Pakistan in light of the troop surge will become necessary but at the moment there appears to be no joint NATO-ISAF strategy for the same. Whether Russia realizes that Taliban ascendancy beyond a point is not in their interests remains to be seen.
China has announced a US $3.5 billion investment in the Ayanak copper mines. However, there is no commitment by China to provide security which will be provided by the US and its allies. For the Chinese this arrangement works well as long as the US is there and should they withdraw then their Pakistani allies will always open the door for them via the Taliban who in turn would need to have on board at least one member of the security council for protection in New York. Thus, the Chinese will allow the Afghan situation to boil or boil over as it will not impact their interests in a major way. Therefore, it is imperative for other members of the Security Council to sit down with the Chinese and re-draw the contours of the Afghan engagement and urge the Chinese to step up to the plate and provide security forces if they wish to benefit from Afghanistan’s mineral wealth. This will send out a strong message to the Taliban by pitting them against the P5 and have a strong psychological impact in bringing the players onto the negotiating table.
India’s situation is paradoxical; ideally India wants a multi-ethnic political solution to Afghanistan, economically self sufficient, and militarily and strategically self sustaining. However, this is a far cry and the question essentially boils down to Pakistan’s vision of Afghanistan, which is not just part of the problem but will have to be a part of the solution . Pakistan may be beginning to realize the dangers of Taliban ascendance. If the Taliban were to return they would be immensely emboldened having defeated a second superpower and may now look for gaining strategic depth into Pakistan rather than the other way around. However as of now Pakistan does not appear to have fully ingested the logic of this argument.
Brig Arun Sahgal: Possible Alternative Scenarios in Afghanistan
The deteriorating security situation, weakening governance, deepening ethnic divides, a resurgent Taliban, growing frustration within US forces, deepening dilemma within Pakistan on the Af-Pak strategy and persisting dilemma between Counterinsurgency and Counter-Terrorism within the US administration are likely to render only episodic and regional successes in the next 4-5 years. These factors give rise to the possibility of alternative futures. The first scenario can be characterized as that of lingering status quo predicated on the degree of success created by the surge and the responsiveness of the Afghan government. The milestones used to define success in this scenario would include the enhancement of the ANA sufficient to lead operations, the success of Pakistan military operations in FATA and the relative success of the policy of greater domination. In the likelihood of this scenario, the US can use this to declare military victory and begin the orchestrated withdrawal process that will continue much beyond the 18 month period.
The second scenario characterized as orchestrated withdrawal can be seen as a medium term scenario, ie 2-3 years post the surge. This scenario is predicated on the failure of the surge to deliver, weak governance structure despite best efforts, operational fatigue within the ANA, growing Taliban influence along with continued cross-border support, deteriorating security situation in Pakistan and increasing perception of the war being unwinnable. This could compel the US to pull out in order to avoid a Vietnam situation or alternatively push for another surge to complete the mission. This could lead to the third scenario of gaining ascendancy. This scenario could witness greater involvement of regional stakeholders along with a narrower objective for the US mission in order to break the resistance of the Taliban and neutralize the havens in FATA. This scenario however appears to be difficult and would require sustained commitment.
The above scenarios, particularly the first two, have serious implications for India. But because neither scenario will occur suddenly and unexpectedly, India has enough time to shape its response. Among the options that India must consider seriously include a dialogue with moderate forces within Taliban interested in nation-building, fostering alliance with Northern Alliance and continued support to ANA in order to gain strategic foothold, engage with China and Iran on working together on Afghanistan, effective steps to deal with disruptive forces that flow from Pakistan, establish dialogue with Pakistan leadership, both military and civilian, and lastly, engage with the US on developing Afghanistan.
- Including the 18 month time line has considerably undermined the mission and objectives of the Obama strategy but this needs to be seen in light of the enormous domestic pressure on Obama. Obama has no option but to pull out from Afghanistan. The goalposts of the strategy has shifted; it is now limited to defeating al Qaeda and is willing to tolerate any government in Afghanistan so long as the safety of the US is facilitated.
- The counterinsurgency doctrine – of capture, hold and develop – that has now been accepted in Afghanistan requires much larger force to actually implement. Currently there is a dysjunction between the strategy and the forces on ground despite the recent surge. The surge of 30,000 troops is not based on an assessment of the requirements on the ground but what Obama could sell to the Democratic Party at home.
- The Petraeus doctrine, of protecting the population from the insurgents, should have been implemented in Kandahar in the first place instead of Helmand district where the US went in to destroy the poppy cultivation. With the latest surge, the Americans are beginning to withdraw from Helmand and focus instead on Kandahar.
- For a country engaged in counterinsurgency operations in another country, laying down a time frame for the mission has deep psychological impact on the morale and motivation of the soldier, for the soldiers get caught in a dilemma between whether to get involved in the fight or simply stick out and protect their lives till the withdrawal. Given this, what kind of success can be achieved in Afghanistan?
- Despite the sensitivity of Pakistan, India must offer to train the Afghan army in large numbers because India has both the capacity and diplomatic influence. There are today a large numbers of regimental centers in the country each capable of training large contingents at any one time. The legacy of colonial regimental training in India together with the cultural affinity between India and Afghanistan can be utilized should India accept the responsibility. This could pay much greater dividends than training by any other western country. Training can also be imparted in neighbouring countries such as Tajikistan.
- Keeping aside India’s capability of training, the objective of undertaking such an exercise remains unclear. What does India seek to achieve from this? More importantly, given the myriad international problems facing India, ranging from climate change, trade talks, international terrorism, Indo-Pak tensions, nuclear deal-related issues and so on, the present administration is highly unlikely to get involved in Afghanistan. India also needs to develop a more broad-based policy in Afghanistan, something that it has failed to do despite having large diplomatic presence in the country. India committed a strategic mistake by remaining Karzai specific and distancing itself from erstwhile Northern Alliance leaders and refusing to engage with the Taliban and local leaders. India has failed to develop Pashtun assets. India, for instance, needs to examine more closely the locus standi of Abdullah Abdullah who is emerging as an important local leader.
- It is time India starts building public opinion at home on expanding its role in Afghanistan and exploring new ideas including talking with the Taliban.
Socio-Economic and Governance Issues in Afghanistan
- A regional approach is critical for achieving stability in Afghanistan post-US withdrawal but to get all regional powers on the same page is next to impossible. The only possible scenario appears to be blocs of regional powers coming together versus the others, and to this end, bilateral and sub-regional arrangements are more likely to bear fruit. India must engage with China, Iran, Russia and even the US on various issues including the likelihood of Pakistan imploding although this threat is to a large extent exaggerated. However, the management of the Pakistan Army is undergoing a significant change with rising radicalization within the force, and this is going to be a matter of serious concern.
- India needs to engage more closely with the US; so far it appears that India does not even share the same perceptions as the US on Afghanistan. To this end, suggestions’ including assistance to ANA is an excellent idea and will be welcomed by the US. India should have tried to operationalize the alternative route after having helped build the Delaram-Zaranj road in order to reduce the dependence of Americans on Pakistan.
- More than governance and security issues, what is of greater significance is capacity building within Afghan institutions. India need not have engaged in big large projects that are hard to sustain but should have focused on capacity building instead. Training of Afghan professionals in various fields would have helped both India and Afghanistan in the long term. The multi-ethnic character of the ANA is likely to emerge as a very important political, and not just security, aspect in the resolution of the Afghan situation. India therefore, has a stake in maintaining its cohesiveness.
- The Taliban insurgency is likely to continue for some years in the future. The Afghan state will have to be built with the insurgency raging. In this regard, India can provide guidance given its experience in Jammu and Kashmir and parts of its Northeast.
Raghav Sharma and Devyani Srivastava
Research Officers, IPCS
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