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Thursday, December 10, 2009

To Deploy Or Not To In Afghanistan

There is a surprising revival of the idea of deploying Indian troops into Afghanistan to apparently help Afghans fight Islamic terrorists along side with US (and NATO) troops. It's a revival because former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee considered the issue when US was planning to invade Afghanistan, then under Taliban and al Qaeda control, post-9/11, and thought otherwise.

So what changed to make the revival possible with the situation in Afghanistan actually deteriorating, not improving. The only change seems to be change in US leadership, from Bush to Obama. It's strange that we would consider deployment of troops in Afghanistan to help Obama, even as Obama himself hasn't done much to improve relationship between US and India. Obama's Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, ignored coming to India during her Asia trip. Obama has again provided aid and comfort to Pakistan despite India's misgivings. There were no significant agreements during recent PM Manmohan Singh visit to US - no finalization of Nuclear Agreement, no anti-terror cooperation agreement, or no hi-tech transfer agreement. Beyond Obama having first state dinner of US for Manmohan, nothing of substance happened between the countries, since the change of guard in US. So the reconsideration of deployment of Indian troops to Afghanistan is surprising.

We commented on Nitin's Acorn blog as to why the idea of troop deployment in land locked Afghanistan is not a great idea unless the deployment on a semi-permanent, meaning on 10-20 year, basis. (Nitin twitted recently that there is wide agreement in India's strategic circle that India needs to deploy troops in Afghanistan!)

And then we will be dependent on US and more importantly, Iran, for deployment. What if one pulls out or other vetoes – do we still stay there or did we waste blood and treasure for nothing?

Given the state of our economic development, our people will simply not fund a semi-permanent force...

Unless Pakistan cleans up its own act, India’s best options are (a) covert ops in Afghanistan (and in Pakistan), and (b) hope for the state of Pakistan to collapse enabling US to it clean up, with our active help. But the latter won’t happen as long as US keeps providing the state of Pakistan with aid and comfort.
We are better off fighting the Islamic terrorists in Pakistan, by going from the eastern border of Pakistan, with US deployment in Afghanistan guarding the eastern Afghan border and Iran guarding its eastern border. That's the only way to squeeze the terrorists, and their infrastructure, in Pakistan. Any other action will be a fight of attrition and will take a long time - one or two decades - and will end in a stalemate, unless Pakistan acts to clean up its act.

The more fascinating question to us is why is there a revival of the debate about troop deployment in Afghanistan. Who started it and why, when nothing changed in India itself?