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American blood

Updated September 04, 2018

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THIS is about Afghanistan, but because of the similarity we will presently see, the 2003 Bush-Blair folly in Iraq provides the perspective. As Bob Woodward says in two of his books — Bush at War and Plan of Action — the neocons in the Bush administration had decided much before 9/11 that Iraq had to be ‘fixed’. There were reasons.

Israel considered Iraq its deadliest enemy. In 1981, it pre-empted Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions by destroying his only nuclear reactor (killing French engineers in the process). It also frustrated Saddam’s bid to build a supergun which could target Israel. Neither of the two operations cost Israel any casualties or a shekel, except for the fuel burnt by the planes in the flight to the outskirts of Baghdad, and the lodging and boarding expenses for the agents who murdered supergun builder Gerald Bull in 1990. The assassins were never found — a signature murder.

This, thus, is the basic war and peace principle of a country whose manpower is its Achilles’ heel. To wit, do not shed Israeli blood or empty its coffers. Make others do this for Israel’s benefit. Hence Iraq 2003.

Let the US ask India to send a couple of battalions to Afghanistan...

The US defence department says that by the end of June 2016, there were 4,424 total American deaths in the Iraq war, and 31,952 wounded. As to the cost, estimates vary, but it hovers on $2 trillion dollars. However, if future payments to veterans are taken into consideration it could go up to $6 tr.

Now to Afghanistan, where one is bewildered by a war-weary Washington’s keenness to give India a role in peacemaking. Is a peaceful Afghanistan in India’s interests? With Secretary Mike Pompeo due in Islamabad for talks with the new leadership, it is time the two sides assessed India’s track record in the AfPak region since the Cold War days and came to a realistic conclusion about New Delhi’s true aims in the strife-torn country.

A cursory look at India’s policies towards Afghanistan during the Cold War and its objectives now show an extraordinary continuity in strategy and tactics. Briefly, from the end of the Raj in the late 1940s to the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989, New Delhi was hand in glove with Moscow to orchestrate Kabul’s ‘Pakhtoonistan’ bogey, encourage Afghanistan’s ‘irredentist’ claims on Pakistan territory and foment ethnic tendencies in its north-western province to threaten the territorial solidarity of an American ally. Those were pre-terrorism days, and Kabul had no complaints of the ‘safe haven’ kind we hear from it today. Yet New Delhi, egged on by Moscow, relentlessly pursued policies which sought to use Afghanistan as a tool to destabilise Pakistan and keep the two countries involved in a state of perpetual confrontation.

To test the altruism of New Delhi’s peaceful intentions today, let Secretary Pompeo ask Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to send a couple of battalions to Afghanistan to fight shoulder to shoulder with their American comrades to help defeat the Taliban. Mr Modi will baulk at this for two reasons. Firstly, he knows Afghanistan is a bottomless grave for foreign invaders. Secondly, why should Mr Modi lose even a single Indian life when America is doing New Delhi’s job quite satisfactorily? Why should Mr Modi spend a single rupee and have Hodson’s Horse suffer casualties when America is quite charitable with the lives of its own young men and is ready to spend trillions to keep Afghanistan on the roil to India’s delight?

To repeat, why shouldn’t New Delhi embrace the art perfected by Tel Aviv and let America spill its blood to pull India’s chestnuts out of the fire?

India’s sole interest in Afghanistan is to ensure a country trapped in the quicksand of war, with pliable governments repeating anti-Pakistan rhetoric and exporting political instability and millions of refugees to its eastern neighbour, besides providing safe havens to terrorists who kill 132 Pakistani children.

Then there is the myth that America wants to “build” India as a countervailing power against China. India, of course, will grab the offer, take the maximum advantage of American naivety and squeeze invaluable economic, high-tech and diplomatic benefits, but it will never commit suicide by taking on China for Washington’s benefit.

India’s geopolitical interests lie to its west, for — to please China — it has written off Aksai-Chin, which it knows Beijing doesn’t consider negotiable, since it has built a strategic highway linking Xinjiang to Tibet. It is Pakistan and Pakistan alone that matters to India, and Afghanistan is a precious tool in its diplomatic and non-diplomatic war on Islama­bad. Peace is the one commodity New Delhi is not going to buy south of the Hindu Kush. It seeks a place in peace talks to perpetuate the status quo in Afghanistan.

The writer is Dawn’s Readers’ Editor and author.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2018