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US unlikely to succeed in Afghanistan, India should brace up for the consequences
02 January 2010

US President Barak Obama’s latest “surge” in Af-Pak policy is unlikely to succeed largely because of huge challenges imposed by geography and the seemingly intractable ethnic divisions in Afghanistan makes success of the ‘Af-Pak’ strategy a doubtful scenario.  

This view emerged at the round table discussion held at the ORF’s Institute of Security Studies on "The New US Strategy for Afghanistan: Implications for India" on December 29, 2009.

Initiating the discussion, Lt Gen Vinayak Patankar outlined the salient features of new US policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, unveiled by President Obama in his West Point speech on December 2. The new strategy seeks to disrupt al-Qaeda and reverse Taliban’s meteoric rise after it was routed by the United States in 2001.

The strategy seeks to achieve these goals by building the capacity of Afghan security forces by raising their numbers to more than 130000, strengthening the organs of the government at various levels, accelerating development projects, and partnering with Pakistan to develop a common strategy for both sides of the Durand Line, Lt Gen Patankar pointed out.

He further highlighted some ‘terms of reference’ that Obama mentioned in his speech – the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan are in danger from extremist forces present in the region, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is increasingly threatened by militants more confident of their capability and geographical reach; and that it is sound policy to support the ‘good Taliban’.
 
It was acknowledged that Obama’s speech was more of a political document than a policy document, implying that much of the strategy will be played out behind the scenes in Kabul in Islamabad in the next eighteen months

Military experts raised doubts the extent of military input into the new policy. According to them, the number of troops and civilian resources allocated for the campaign are grossly insufficient for attaining the ambitious goals set by the strategy, that too in eighteen months.

It was also stressed that the United States has not employed the full range of diplomacy to involve Afghanistan’s powerful neighbours – China, India, Iran, Russia and the Central Asian countries - all of which have high stakes in Afghanistan’s stability.

The experts also noted that the principal actors, most notably Pakistan, remain deeply suspicious of US ‘staying power’ in Afghanistan. This widely held perception, in turn, hugely influences their decision to ally with the US more whole heartedly.

The discussants presented divergent views on the prospect of India training greater number of Afghan security forces. While it was argued that the Indian Army has the capacity to train more than 50,000 Afghan troops in India within the 18 months ceiling, many experts noted that the costs of such a training program in loss of traditional good will of the various ethnic groups, outweighs the benefits of creating lasting presence in Afghanistan.

In conclusion, it was unanimously stressed that India should forge a policy that is independent of the current US policy on Afghanistan; and that it must take urgent steps to safeguard India’s interest and draw contingency plans for an Afghanistan without US troops.

Eminent experts on the region –General VP Malik, Ambassadors MS Rasgotra, Rajiv Sikri, Kanwal Sibal, Prof SD Muni, Maj Gen Ramesh Chopra ORF Senior Fellows Wilson John, Rajeswari Rajagopalan and Harinder Sekhon among other, expressed their views on the issue of vital national security.