U.S. diplomats suggested that India send Bollywood stars to tour Afghanistan to aid international efforts to stabilise the country. In a confidential March 2007 cable responding to a request from Washington for “specific, concrete ideas for opportunities for India to use soft power in helping Afghanistan’s reconstruction”, officials said Bollywood was an area that “seems ripe”.

“We understand Bollywood movies are wildly popular in Afghanistan, so willing Indian celebrities could be asked to travel to Afghanistan to help bring attention to social issues there,” the cable said.

The unlikely idea — which never came to fruition — reveals the constant efforts of diplomats at the large embassy in New Delhi to exploit Indian resources and goodwill to bolster the international effort in Afghanistan. “India has significant aid to offer,” the cable notes, adding that a key challenge would be “to overcome Pakistani objection[s] ... if India is to expand its role”.

Dozens of cables sent from the embassy reveal the difficulty diplomats there have had in reconciling the differing agendas of America’s regional allies in Afghanistan.

India’s attempts to build its influence in Kabul and among Afghans through indirect aid and reconstruction assistance have often been seen by Pakistan as evidence of a strategy of encirclement by its historic enemy. One cable refers to “India’s lingering zero-sum suspicion of U.S. policies towards Pakistan”. One key concern for India — apparent in several cables — is that the U.S. and its western allies will prematurely withdraw from Afghanistan having negotiated some kind of settlement with the Taliban. The Indian position has been that any attempt to reconcile with militants is doomed to failure and risks plunging Afghanistan into anarchy and fanaticism from which Pakistan stands to benefit.

Cables describe the Indian national security adviser, Shiv Shankar Menon, telling a visiting senator, Claire McCaskill, that if the Pakistani establishment felt U.S. commitment was flagging it would “sit it out and use the Indian threat as an excuse for not doing what was needed [to tackle militants inside Pakistan]”.

Mr. Menon said he may be a “minority of one,” but he thought there was some potential for success in Afghanistan. “The British were convinced the coalition would lose because they lost three wars there, but others had been able to tame the country,” Mr. Menon told McCaskill in February.

Two days previously, Y.K. Sinha, India’s top diplomat for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, expressed scepticism over the reintegration and reconciliation efforts that had become a centrepiece of the Nato strategy in Afghanistan and told U.S. diplomats “a precipitate U.S. exit would embolden ‘fanatics’ to feel they had defeated both the USSR and the U.S ... and the result will be very bad for the region”.

Delhi believes the Pakistani security services are effectively in control of the top leadership of the Taliban.

Indian officials told their U.S. counterparts in 2007 that “there were also signs of increasing ties between the Taliban and al-Qaida elements on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, a fact which is of major significance for stability in both countries”.

“From the debriefings of Dr. Mohammed Hanif, a key Taliban spokesman arrested on January 15, [a senior intelligence officer] stated that “we now know that Mullah Omar is under Pakistani protection,” one cable reported.

“India had also learned that the former chief of Pakistan’s ISI was directly involved in assistance to the Taliban,” the cable said.

Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2010

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