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India’s and Pakistan’s differences continue to be played out in different international arenas – including Afghanistan. The suicide bomb blast outside the Indian consulate in Jalalabad on August 3 is being viewed in New Delhi as part of a continuing bid by Pakistan to circumscribe India’s role in Afghanistan.
India sees the attack as part of a pattern – there were similar terrorist strikes on the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008 and again in 2009. The government of Afghanistan, and US intelligence sources, traced the origin of the attacks to extremist groups based in Pakistan, particularly the Haqqani network.
There is widespread belief among Indian strategic analysts that such attacks by groups based in Pakistan are likely to continue as the endgame is played out in Afghanistan.
Pakistan seeks to benefit from the endgame and is making its moves accordingly. As the Americans show undue haste to pull out their troops, Pakistan is pushing its twin strategic agenda of controlling Afghanistan once they leave and constraining India’s influence in that country.
If the Taliban somehow come to dominate Afghanistan after the American departure then, the Pakistani establishment believes, Indian influence will decline in any case.
If not, the parallel strategy seems to be to bomb Indian establishments in Afghanistan and circumscribe Indian activities in that country. This is the widely accepted explanation in India of the terror strikes on its diplomatic establishments in Afghanistan.Opposing strategies
Indian avowed strategic objectives in Afghanistan are the diametric opposite of Pakistan’s. India says it wants a democratically elected, neutral government in Kabul which abides by the country’s national constitution.
It does not want a government that functions as a proxy for Pakistan or one that returns to the Taliban regime of the 1990s. Any such regime would allow Islamabad space for training India-specific jihadists.
India has already invested a total of about $2 billion in Afghanistan and there are a number of Indian companies operating there. Protecting these assets is an important objective.
Furthermore, Afghanistan and Myanmar are also emerging as the last frontiers of mineral wealth in the region. As Afghanistan opens up to foreign capital, Indian companies would like to bid for investment in that area.
However, Pakistan wants India out of Afghanistan, which it considers its backyard. This was also made clear by Pakistan at the Chequers summit between British Prime Minister David Cameron, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai in February.
Indeed, even the Afghanistan delegation was shocked by the direct manner in which President Zardari talked of the “unproportional footprint of India in Afghanistan”.
In April, Pakistan’s Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani reiterated his country’s unhappiness at India’s role in Afghanistan during his meetings with US Secretary of State John Kerry and President Karzai in Brussels.
The unstated quid pro quo both at Chequers and Brussels perhaps was that in return for India being denied influence in Afghan affairs, Pakistan would bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. That was how the Doha talks – to bring together US and Taliban negotiators – came into being.
Over time, Pakistan has created a myth about excessive Indian presence in Afghanistan.
The fact, however, is that in addition to its embassy in Kabul, India has only four consulates in Afghanistan – the same number as Pakistan – in Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif.
Nevertheless, Pakistani media – often quoting retired army officers – claims the existence of an exaggerated number – the figures touted range from 16 to several dozen – Indian consulates in along the Pak-Afghan border.
The reason for such exaggeration could be that the Pakistanis have convinced themselves that the root cause of the insurgency in Balochistan (one of Pakistan’s poorest provinces where a nationalist movement has long called for at least autonomy) is Indian interference and encouragement from Afghanistan.
The refusal to accept the Baloch problem as an indigenous one has forced Pakistani officials to search for an external explanation. Such an apprehension may also have its origins in the anti-India psyche of the Pakistani military establishment – they would have done the same thing if the situation and roles were reversed.
There are some reports that the Jalalabad attack was orchestrated by the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) and that US intelligence inputs shared with India suggest that Lashkar cadres had been moved into the Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan.
The Taliban have denied that they were behind the attack. But, the Taliban and the LeT are ideologically and ethnically different – the former are Deobandis and Pushtuns while the latter are part of Ahle-Hadees and Punjabis.
Despite the ideological and ethnic differences, however, any one of them or the Haqqani network, could have masterminded the attack using local extremists.Diversion?
In a larger context, the Jalalabad attack is being seen as an attempt by the Pakistani establishment to divert attention from domestic issues, such as the internal security situation.
In the last few weeks, Pakistan has seen a spate of terrorist attacks – nine foreign mountaineers and their local guide were killed in Chilas district of Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan’s northernmost region by the Taliban to apparently avenge US drone strikes.
There was a jail break in Dera Ismael Khan, a district in the southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province; 250 criminals including 48 hardline Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan terrorists escaped.
The office of the nation’s premier intelligence agency – Inter-Services Intelligence – was attacked in the city of Sukkur in the northeastern Sindh province; two intelligence officers were killed.
Twin blasts in the city of Parachinar in the northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Areas killed 57 people and injured another 200.
There is pressure on the Pakistan Army as well as the new government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which seems to have no clearly defined security policy, to deal with these terrorist attacks.
The public debate is shifting to India’s role in Afghanistan and Prime Minister Sharif, who is very keen on improving ties with India, appears to have been warned to move slowly.
Meanwhile, the first Pakistani gambit of legitimising the Taliban through the Doha talks has not taken off.
Now, it appears that Islamabad is pushing for an interim government of which the Taliban would be a part.
This would allow for the postponement of Afghanistan’s presidential election scheduled for April 5 next year. It is too early to say, however, whether this move will succeed.