McChrystal and India

September 24, 2009


Increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India, Gen McChrystal stated in his report. -Photo by Reuters
'Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment. In addition, the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian.'

These words of Gen Stanley McChrystal, which are a part of his assessment of the war in Afghanistan, are perhaps as significant as any other in the report for two reasons. One, it is clear that peace in Afghanistan cannot prevail unless the interests of the Pakistani state are taken into account. And from that perspective, enhanced Indian interests in Afghanistan are inimical to peace in the region. Lest there be any doubt about this, Gen McChrystal has himself stated this in his report 'Increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India.'

Two, several factors have combined to force the Obama administration to revisit the very purpose of its mission in Afghanistan. Most apparent is the catastrophe that is the recent presidential election in Afghanistan. The US is now faced with a very difficult choice either let Hamid Karzai be declared the victor in the first round, notwithstanding the serious allegations of fraud, or push for a run-off, with the attendant uncertainties and risks in a place as volatile as Afghanistan.

Domestically, President Obama is facing pressure from within his own party and from the public generally as Americans grapple with the necessity of the Afghan war.
What this adds up to, now more than ever, is the Obama administration needing to at the very least convince the skeptics that the war is winnable. But that means gaining Pakistan's full cooperation, which in turn means alleviating the national security establishment's concerns vis-à-vis India.

The Americans appear to have finally understood this and, more importantly from a Pakistani perspective, have become increasingly vocal about it. This should hopefully have a salutary effect on relations between the US and Pakistan, relations which have in part been hostage to Pakistan's long-standing suspicions of the US being a fair-weather friend.

But welcome as it may be that the US appears to finally be coming around to understanding Pakistan's security outlook, there are problems. Identifying the problem doesn't mean the US is necessarily in a position to do something about it.

There are serious questions about whether India is in the mood to listen to advice suggesting it tamp down its interest in Afghanistan and about what leverage the Americans have to try and convince India. Be that as it may, it should not be lost on Pakistani policymakers that the US is at least willing to echo their view.