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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 14, March 27, 2010

Exploring Afpak Policy: An Indian Perspective

Saturday 27 March 2010, by Kamalakanta Roul



Terrorism is a categorical means of intimidation as manifested from economic volatility, political pendulum, poverty, unemployment, religious extremism, sectarianism, ethnic and cultural conflicts. It is deeply rooted in South Asia, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and has assumed a global character. In its global form terrorism has become a serious concern for the world community. After the unprecedented WTO attack on September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration started the war on terrorism in 2001 by sending the NATO military troops to Afghanistan to defeat the extremist Taliban and wipe out terrorism. Though his Administration defeated the Taliban and restored a civilian government, but the master-mind, the Taliban terrorists, were let off to hide in the tribal areas of FATA, Waziristan and Baluchistan. During America’s election campaign Barack Obama made a promise to defeat the Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan in the interest of national security. He declared the Afpak policy-I on March 27, 2009 and the Afpak policy-II on December 2, 2009 with a new strategy and boldness to wipe out terrorism which goes by the expression: ‘surge and exit’.

America’s unilateral foreign policy of military intervention illustratively asserts its self-defined goal of playing the role of a global leader and “remake” the world in its own image. The geopolitical interest of America lurks behind its strategic intervention in these states for the hegemonic power structure and dominant status. The present Afpak policy of the Obama Administration involves two main elements: (i) defeat terrorism for self-defence and self-determination with a goal to export its ‘values of democracy’ with the power of the gun, and (ii) lay the foundation of its own hegemony in the ‘fossil-fuel enriched area’ of South-Central Asia to enable its economy to bloom.

The Afpak policy-I has absolutely failed before delivering a positive result. The second phase of the Afpak policy has raised numerous questions about its ‘successful conclusion’. The present article examines mainly two questions relating to the invisible problems, prospects and impact of the Afpak policy on India as the well as South-Central Asian region. They are: first, will Obama’s Afpak policy succeed to dismantle terrorist havens in a prefixed short span of time with Pakistan as a special partner while repeatedly ignoring the role of India? Second, will the unilateral interventionist Afpak policy of America lead the world towards unipolarity? It is pertinent to note here that the London Conference on Afghanistan, held in January 2010, has squeezed the role of India while giving undue advantage to Pakistan as was the longstanding demand of Pakistan.

Conceptualising Afpak-I

As a part of implementation of his election manifesto, Obama released the first phase of his foreign policy on Afpak on March 27, 2009. He ordered 17,000 additional troops be sent to Afghanistan and announced that an additional, roughly 5000 troops, would be sent to train Afghanistan’s security forces. He also requested the US Congress to pass two bills—one that would provide $ 1.5 billion a year for five years to build schools, roads and hospitals in Pakistan and another that would create “Opportunity Zones” on border regions to develop the economy. He said America would not give Pakistan a “blank cheque” while arguing that Afghanistan was the central front in the war on terrorism. He indicated that the security situation in Afpak was based on shared responsibilities that would require a sustained international effort to go after the Al-Qaeda and to help with economic development in the region. “For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world,” he said. “I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal; disrupt, dismantle and defeat the Al-Qaeda in Afpak and to prevent their return to either country in future.” he added. Obama insists on having a dialogue with the ‘Moderate Taliban’ in Afghanistan. In Obama’s opinion, a moderate Taliban is a ‘Good Taliban’ who must be distinguished from the ‘Bad Taliban’. But when this issue was raised by the USA and UK at the London Conference, it was opposed by most of the countries, especially Iran. So the first phase of this policy made Obama the witness of a lot of coffins heading to America from the Afpak region.


The US President, Obama, unveiled the second phase of his Afpak policy on December 2, 2009. The centrepiece of his revised war strategy in Afghanistan is deployment of more US troops. He declared his war on terrorism in the Afpak border area. The main objectives of his policy are: (i) to reverse the Taliban gains in large parts of Afghanistan, (ii) to ensure better protection of the Afghanistan people, increase pressure on Afghanistan to build its own military capacity and a more effective government, (iii) begin troops withdrawal from July 2011. But officials hint at a complete pullout by January 2013 when Obama completes his term.

President Obama also chalked out his strategy for the Army surge and war in Afghanistan. These strategies are: (a) all 30,000 additional troops to be deployed in Afghanistan will take their positions by May 2010; this brings the US’ total forces to 100,000 (close to the number of Soviet troops that were in Afghanistan during its occupation in 1980); (b) his Administration is looking forward to the NATO allies committing 5000-8000 troops; (c) secure and protect prominent population centres including Kabul, Khost and Kandahar along with agricultural areas and transportation routes; two brigades are to go south, and the third to eastern Afghanistan; (d) surveillance drones and firming field intelligence to focus attacks by special operations on pocket of Taliban fighters; (e) drone strikes in Baluchistan, where top Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding; (f) expand development and reconciliation with less radical members of Taliban. The Obama Administration also requested the US Congress to release $ 65 billion for Afghanistan in 2010.

Indian Debates

Obama’s Afpak policy-II raised an animated debate on the success of its perspective in India. Indian analysts opined that Obama’s silence on Pakistan glossed over the real problem. According to them, Afghanistan is manageable; Pakistan is the real problem because both the Al-Qaeda and Taliban originate from and are nurtured there. Others argued that the troops surge is too little to enable them to “charge and hold” crucial areas inside Afghanistan. C. Raja Mohan argues: “India should react with its head rather than its guts, because the American escalation in Afghanistan will have huge and enduring consequences for India.” Pratap Bhanu Mehta suggests to “focus on Pakistan rather than Afghanistan”. Achin Vanaik says: “…America must be under pressure to get out of Afghanistan. They are the part of the problem, not the solution”. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated in Washington during his visit to the USA: “I hope the world community stays engaged in Afghanistan. Premature talk of exit would only embolden the terrorists.” India’s Defence Ministry feels “the July 2011 deadline in troop withdrawal will encourage terror groups, including Indian specific outfits, like LeT and JeM, to play the waiting game”. These signs are indicative of Obama not pursuing a policy which is different from the Bush policy of constantly appeasing Pakistan and use of an “iron-first-in-velvet-glove approach”.

Old Wine in New Bottle

Obama’s much waited Afpak policy is just a revised and enlarged version of Bush’s Afghan policy. After the attack on WTC, the Bush Administration aggressively took certain steps which were in clear violation of international law. The UN world body was ignored and this signified that it was being used in America’s interest. What is more important is that despite the clear criticism of America’s unilateral action in Afghanistan by its NATO allies like Britain, France and Germany, Bush didn’t pay any heed and went ahead with his aggression. The unfolding of a unipolar world was very profound in Bush’s policy. On the other hand, Obama’s style of Afpak policy was very different from that of Bush in the sense that Obama appeared to be very democratic taking the partners along as well as involving other nations in discussions. This is not to say that the ground reality has substantially changed in large measure; essentially it remains the same.

Thus, the present form of Afpak policy is a continuation of the previous Afghan policy of Bush, particularly in the context of induction of more military troops into Afghanistan, no plan to carry out drone attacks inside Pakistan’s non-tribal areas, engaging and aiding spiritless Pakistan averse to take on the Taliban extremists and following only an Al-Qaeda-centric approach, ignoring the ISI-military-terrorist nexus in Pakistan and the dream of a unipolar world under America’s global leadership. On the other hand, Obama’s policy seems to be different from that of Bush on the ground that he gives importance on economic development, corruption-free good governance in Afghanistan and the border areas of Pakistan, organises diplomatic talks with non-NATO states and finally he applies a policy of ‘divide and rule’ to demarcate and divide ‘Good Taliban’, that is, civilians, from the ‘Bad Taliban’, that is, extremists. So, in the wake of September 11, Bush used the first approach: embarked on a “global war” to eliminate violent jihadism. Now Obama is pursuing the second approach: through military escalation, he seeks to “finish the job” that Bush began there.

US Responsible

The antagonistic relationship between the then two superpowers drove many recently decolonised countries to remain non-aligned during the Cold War. India’s role in the NAM of being soft towards the Soviet Union goaded the cold warriors in Washington and the Pakistan Generals took full advantage and strengthened their security alignment with the US through SEATO, CENTO and other alliances. In pursuing George Canon’s policy of containment of the Soviet expansion America created the NATO in Europe, got involved in the Vietnam War and promoted military dictatorships in Latin America, Africa and Asia including several military governments in Pakistan, that is, from Ayub Khan (1958) to Musharraf (1999). These military rulers built a structural relationship with fundamentalist and militant groups. The USA has been blindly supporting the Pakistani leaders in their geopolitical interest in South-Central Asia which helps to groom the terrorist jihad in Pakistan.

The Carter Administration of the USA was providing huge sums to Muslim extremists to subvert the reformist Taraki Government of Afghanistan. A part of that effort involved brutal attacks by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-backed ‘Mujahideen’ against schools and teachers in rural areas. The CIA trained 100,000 radical Mujahideen for 40 Muslim countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria and Afghanistan to overthrow the Marxist Taraki Government. Finally the USA directly intervened in the Afghan war in 1980 to challenge the Soviet involvement and encouraged the extremist groups who later on became the ‘Bad Taliban’.

USA’s Interest

The USA has been focused on South-Central Asia since the day of intervention in the Afghanistan War in 1980. The Soviet Union intervened militarily in Afghanistan in 1979 after repeated requests made by the PDP Government of Taraki to help ward off the Mujahideen extremist and military groups. The USA became annoyed and forcibly intervened in the Afghanistan war to contain the Soviet expansion as a part of its geopolitical interest and power play. Central and South Asia is rich in natural resources, that is, oil, gas, mines and mineral reserves; that is why the USA wants to build her hegemony in this specific region, while claiming to be fighting terrorism. For this reason US leaders are plunging deeper into Afghanistan’s affairs.

A decade before 9/11, Time magazine on March 18, 1991 reported that the USA policy elites were contemplating a military presence in Central Asia. The discovery of vast oil and gas resources in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan provided the lure, while the dissolution of the USSR removed the one major barrier against pursuing an aggressive interventionist policy in that part of the world. It is argued that “if Washington had left the Marxist Taraki Government alone or supported it in 1979” there would have been no army of the Mujahideen, no Soviet intervention, no war that destroyed Afghanistan, no Osama bin Laden, and no 9/11 tragedy.”

Towards Unipolar World

The USA claimed to be the sole superpower of the unipolar world order after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It arbitrarily intervenes in the internal affairs of many countries without heeding the views of the world community. It wants to dominate the unipolar world and bring it under its global leadership. The USA’s one-sided interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and other countries reflect its real objective; this was the intention of Bush and his predecessors also. Obama declared his Afpak policy without consulting other countries, not even his close allies in the NATO group. He continues to takes unilateral decisions to send troops, to start a war against terrorism which is a global concern. America’s unilateral foreign policy of military invention was justified by Obama stating that “… we must draw on the strength of our values for the challenges we face may have changed but the things we believe in must not. That is why we must promote our values …”! This statement clearly asserts America’s self-defined goal of playing the role of a global supercop and “remake” the world in its own image. This is the goal of an imperialist power to export its ‘values of democracy’ with the power of the gun.

Pampering Pakistan

The Afpak strategy manifests America’s policy of appeasement towards Pakistan. Obama focused on Afghanistan and left much unsaid about Pakistan; and he has no plans to despatch troops to Pakistan or drone attacks in non-tribal areas where the terrorist leaders are believed to be hiding. He warned the Afghan Government in strong words but used soft words for the Pak rulers. He instructed Hamid Karzai to crack down on corruption, improve good governance, check narcotics production and enhance accountability whereas he didn’t find those evils in Pakistan. Obama should be aware that Pakistan is using terrorism as a state policy not only against the US and UK but against other countries as well. Hence the ambiguity of Pakistan’s relations with terrorist organisations can no longer be ignored. But America has given a frontline seat to Pakistan in the war against terrorism at the recent London Conference on Afghanistan.

Appeasing China

Obama had quite early in his presidency decided to establish a new ‘US-China strategic and economic dialogue’ in the pretext of their conflict-prone relations. During his first visit to China, he declared China as America’s most credible economic and political partner. Obama said they have their “mutual interest in the security and stability of Af and Pak”, adding that the two must work to bring about “more stable, peaceful relations in all of South Asia”. In other words, Obama appointed China as the new custodian of peace and stability in Asia, including monitoring India and Pakistan. Obama may feel China has the required credentials to look after peace and stability in all of South Asia. But it is a setback for Indian foreign policy because of China’s aggressive posturing against India in recent months. Thus, India should draw the attention of Obama to the fallacy of such a stand on China to meddle in South Asian affairs by giving it a supervisory role in the region. Obama has to rethink on this policy as China itself is a party to the dispute in the region.

High Hurdles

It will be very difficult for the Obama Adminis-tration to arrest the terrorists’ momentum in the Afpak border area without India’s categorical, diplomatic and physical support. There are many hurdles on the path of the war against terrorism. These hurdles are: (1) most of the terrorist sanctuaries are located in the non-tribal areas of Pakistan where Obama has no plan of drone attacks; the Taliban may escape to take shelter in these areas during the attack on Afghanistan whereas Obama plays down deployment of troops within Pakistan; (2) there is a nexus between the Army Generals, ISI and terrorists in Pakistan that is why the Pakistan Army may not fight the terror outfits wholeheartedly, something the Obama Administration has not taken serious note of; (3) Madrasas are the primary terrorist training institutions which are not recognised by Obama; (4) corruption, lack of good governance, accountability and non-Pashtun war lords are the hallmarks of the Karzai regime due to which his administration has lost the faith of civilians; (5) doubts are persisting whether the Afghan Army will be able to take up charge from the US troops in 2011; (6) the short time duration of ‘surge and exit’ has raised serious doubts over the victory of America in this war on terror; (7) the number of troops deployed and about to be deployed is not sufficient for the war on terror in the Afpak region; (8) NATO allies, specially France and Germany, are less enthusiastic about the war and not willing to offer more soldiers from their countries; (9) the Taliban vowed to step up stronger resistance and fighting on the day of Obama’s Afpak-II declaration on Afghanistan; (10) Obama’s plan of a massive escalation fails to impress Afghans as there was no enthusiasm among the people during Obama’s announcement; (11) escalation of troops enhances anti-American feelings among the civilians; (12) inefficiency of the Afghan forces; (13) Obama’s appointment of China as a monitor of South Asian peace and stability will have a reverse impact; (14) while the Karzai administration was sinking in corruption in the meantime the Taliban have revived their image as god-fearing, honest, clean and capable of ensuring stability and security in the villages; (15) the USA has not consulted any major partner in shaping the political strategies for its interventions; (16) the rocky relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan over the issue of cross-border terrorism will boomerang in the war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Hyper Activeness for India

India should not be overenthusiastic because America’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan may have huge and far-reaching consequences for India. The time is ripe now for India to introspect on the Afpak policy after the London Conference on Afghanistan where its role was ignored to placate Pakistan. Despite India’s ideological commitment against the forces of theocracy as well as a strategic interest in keeping the Taliban out of Kabul, America ignored New Delhi to be the premier partner in the war against terrorism whereas Pakistan has been warmly embraced. For India it is Pakistan not Afghanistan which is important for her security and stability. There is no doubt that Afghanistan’s stability has security repercussions for India but that does not mean that joining America’s operation will bring us more security because Pakistan has not been focused. Indian leaders and diplomats should be more decisive, determined and diplomatic in their strategy and decisions while America takes a segmented approach to the same issue.

India should be more cautious on the issue of the London Conference and recent developments relating to the Sino-US Joint Declaration. Another source of worry for India will emerge if the USA fails to defeat the Taliban or claims a partial success as victory. What will be the post-US Afghan scenario especially for India? “The situation will be like that of a patient whom the surgeon has left unstitched on the operation table.” In this scenario India’s security will be in peril in the context of infiltration, insurgency and cross-border terrorism.


Taking all these into account, it is quite clear that America’s unilateral foreign policy of military intervention asserts its ambition to be a self-defined global leader by setting a hegemonic power structure in the South-Central Asian region for its geopolitical interests and dominant status. Thereby America may be a global leader but its policy towards Afpak reflects its inability to understand the ground reality and the emerging trends of terrorism. There is no doubt that to reach the Taliban-Al-Qaeda sanctuaries, America has to go via the Madrasa-jihadi connection and India’s strategic participation. One is confident after vividly analysing different problems, perils and possibilities that like Afpak-I, the new one is bound to fail before bringing the war to a ‘successful conclusion’. Because Obama is refraining from despatching troops to Pakistan, the hotbed of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. He has no plan to conduct drone attacks in the non-tribal areas of Pakistan, and he made Pakistan a special ‘strategic partner’ in place of India. His appointment of China as a monitor of South Asian peace and stability and the perception of a short span of war would only help to expedite the total failure of his policy. America should look at Afghanistan and Pakistan through a single lens rather than separate ones as both are acrimonious. To assist civilians in the periphery of Afghanistan, America should be sincerely engaged in ‘nation-building’ rather than ‘troop-building’. As for India, it should seriously examine the real implications of Obama’s Afpak policy as it impinges on the security of the entire South Asian region.

Kamalakanta Roul is a Ph.D Scholar in the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi.

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