India's role in Pakistan makes it a target in Afghanistanby William Davnie
Last Thursday, the Indian Embassy in Kabul was targeted in a suicide bombing. Headlines about the event could have been cut from newspapers of July 2008. Same target, same idea, with more or less the same folks -- the Taliban or an ally -- perpetrating the deed.
When lightning -- or bombing -- strikes twice in the same place, maybe it's not just coincidence. Maybe there's a reason -- and there is. And while the bombing happened in Kabul, the reason has mostly to do with India and Pakistan.
Pro-Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan conducted the 2008 bombing with help from Pakistan's intelligence service, according to U.S. analysts and most knowledgeable observers.
While it's too soon to be certain about last week's bombing, the Taliban has already claimed responsibility, and the intent appears to be much the same -- an assault on Indian influence in Afghanistan.
The question for Americans is why.
Like too many world problems, this one has roots in the colonial era -- specifically, the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Whatever the good reasons for the decision by Great Britain to divide the jewel of its empire into two states, one Muslim and one largely Hindu, the experience itself was traumatic and messy.
In particular, it left a running sore in Kashmir -- a state whose Muslim population would have placed it in Pakistan, but whose Hindu ruler led it to side with the much larger India. The fate of this storied land has led to three wars between Pakistan and India, and an abiding fear of India in Pakistan.
For most of its existence, Pakistan has focused its official military strategy on its Indian border, while unofficially it has supported insurgent and terrorist groups in Kashmir. When India surprised the world with its nuclear bomb in 1974, Pakistan felt obliged to follow suit, and 1998 exploded its "Islamic bomb" to show it would not be threatened by its eastern rival.
The United States and other observers consider Pakistan's fears ill founded, and its national security strategy counter-productive. But in such matters perception becomes reality, and Pakistan perceives a real threat from India.
But that is all to Pakistan's east. On its western border, Pakistan felt it had a peaceful and friendly, if primitive, neighbor, a "deep security zone" that allowed it to focus its worries elsewhere. Until, that is, the Cold War intruded.
In 1979 the Red Army moved in to protect a Communist-led government in Kabul -- and India, linked with Moscow throughout the Cold War, also provided aid and advisers.
The United States worked with and through Pakistan to supply Afghan fighters working to oust the Red Army. Our goal was geopolitical -- a Cold War victory. Pakistan's goal was to return a safe, Pakistan-friendly government to Kabul.
Soon those Afghan "freedom fighters" turned into the radical Islamist Taliban, and by 1996 they controlled Kabul. Pakistan may not have supported everything the Taliban stood for and did -- but at least Afghanistan was under control, friendly to Islamabad, and India was out of the picture.
Since the U.S. invasion in 2001, however, that picture has reversed again.
U.S. and NATO troops overthrew the Pakistan-friendly government of Afghanistan, and have since alienated Pushtuns in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. India is back in strength. New Delhi has opened at least 17 embassy branch offices and information centers -- which no serious observer thinks are involved only in trade and visa work. Just as Pakistan uses Kashmir to poke at India, India uses groups in Afghanistan with relatives in Pakistan to poke at Islamabad.
So Pakistan now sees a single threat coming from both east and west. India, in contrast, sees an opportunity in Afghanistan to get back at Pakistan for its meddling in Kashmir, as well as opportunities to increase its influence in Southwest Asia. Put these two starkly opposed perceptions of two nuclear-armed states together, and the result can be quite literally explosive -- even more than we've now seen.
Pakistan needs to put more of its energies into domestic development, and less into military maneuvering. India could help this process by reducing its profile in Afghanistan, and agreeing to serious negotiations over Kashmir.
The United States could aid both of these countries by reducing its profile in Afghanistan, which generates more recruits for the Taliban, and by reminding New Delhi that stability in its region can be more valuable than taking advantage of a troubled neighbor.
William Davnie retired after a 26-year diplomatic career in the U.S. Foreign Service and now lives in Minneapolis. He has traveled in Afghanistan and served in its northern neighbor, Tajikistan, as well as in Russia and Iraq.