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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 45, October 29, 2011

India’s Moment of Truth in Afghanistan

Saturday 5 November 2011, by M K Bhadrakumar

Recently I read an extraordinary book on Afghanistan, Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West’s Afghanistan Campaign by Sherard Cowper-Coles. Sir Sherard had everything going for him as a career diplomat in the British Foreign Service when he completed his term in Kabul and was appointed as the special representative of the British Prime Minister for AfPak. He was a close associate of late Richard Holbrooke, apparently had smooth working relationship with his American colleagues, indeed had a sharp mind and acute diplomatic acumen.

In our set-up he would have become a National Security Advisor—that is, if only he didn’t have a mind of his own. But he not only did have one but he also had the professional integrity and intellectual honesty to know he couldn’t faithfully serve the British policies in Afghanistan. So he did what any honest man would do—he quit the Foreign Service.

Sir Sherard’s forebodings about what lay in the womb of time in Afghanistan are more or less happening today right in front of our eyes. For that reason alone, his estimation of the tenth anniversary of the Afghan war merits close reading. In a nutshell, what emerges is that only fools rush in where angels fear to tread in the Hindu Kush mountains.

The Indian security establishment may have done colossal damage to the Indian foreign policy by entrapping our leadership in another proxy war in Afghanistan. They are good at playing up the insecurities of weak leaderships and making them their playthings. For them, it is also an easy route to escape the blame for their ineptitude and comprehensive failure in safeguarding national security.

But it is a dark day for any country when it fails to optimally use its diplomatic skills and intellectual resources. The inescapable fact is that the one-dimensional men in our security establishment shall now be driving the country’s Afghan policy.

The gravy train is leaving the Old Delhi Railway Station with gunny bags full of green bucks for the Afghan warlords. Come on, boys, let us have a jolly good time—at least until Manish Tewari’s Bill becomes India’s statute and our innocent parliamentarians finally acquire after 62 years of freedom the real democratic right to ask audacious questions to Smiley’s people as to where their slush money comes from and where it goes and what happens to the black hole, finally.

A bird in the tree whispers that the total amount disbursed to the Northern Alliance warlords in the late 1990s might alone have run into hundreds of millions of dollars. Our Hon’ble MPs may someday acquire the privilege to ask the PMO what enduring result such squandering of resources produced for the country’s national interests.

Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

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