After U.S. President Barack Obama announced his intention to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan starting 2011, Indian officials, worried that this would be to the detriment of India's security, urged Washington against the decision.U.S. diplomatic cables originating from Islamabad and New Delhi, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, clearly suggest that India was concerned about U.S. plans to exit from Afghanistan, and its possible repercussions on India's security.
The planned drawdown of troops was announced by President Obama at a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in December 2009.
At a meeting with visiting U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill in early 2010, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon cautioned that if the Pakistani establishment felt that the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan was flagging, it would “sit it out and use the Indian threat as an excuse for not doing what was needed” on its western frontier.The concerns have led New Delhi to seek a greater role in Afghanistan. On a recent visit to Kabul, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged $500 million more to India's $1.3 billion development assistance package to Afghanistan. He also backed President Hamid Karzai's bid for reconciliation with the Taliban.
In a February 25, 2010 cable (250737: confidential), Ambassador Timothy J. Roemer reported: “Menon said he may be a ‘minority of one,' but thought there was more potential for success in Afghanistan than most observers in India think. “The British were convinced the Coalition would lose because they lost three wars there, but others had been able to tame the country.”
The NSA “trumpeted” India's Afghan assistance programme of small, community-based projects: it had taken Indian officials one-and-a-half years “to navigate around the ministries in Kabul to get direct access to local people, but it had paid off enormously,” Mr. Menon told the Senator.
He cited one instance in which 13,000 Afghans had applied for examinations to qualify for Indian scholarships; not all of them were qualified, but it showed how strong the desire was for such opportunities. “He concluded that success will require ‘more than just a military effort'.”
Senator McCaskill assured Mr. Menon that the U.S. “would continue to sustain the 300,000 strong Afghan National Security Forces even if we began to draw down troops in 2011.”
Rather admiringly, Mr. Menon observed that “the wonder of the U.S. system is how quickly you learn; that cannot be said of any other country in the world.”
Another cable dated February 11, 2010, sent from New Delhi on the eve of Senator John Kerry's visit (248366: secret), outlined Indian worries over the possibility of a U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“On Afghanistan, there are underlying concerns that U.S. policy foreshadows an early exit from Afghanistan with negative security consequences for India. India has expressed concern about the outlines of the reintegration policy promoted by the Karzai government and supported by the US.”
The cable, a “scenesetter” for a visit by Senator John Kerry, noted that New Delhi had begun to weigh a policy response that might include increased Afghan police and military training/assistance, and said that his Indian interlocutors would be interested in Senator Kerry's views on India's role in Afghanistan.
India's fears that its views and interests were not being taken into account had intensified lately, the cable said: “India was kept out of the Istanbul regional conference on Afghanistan (based on a Pakistani veto) and New Delhi was the odd man out at the London Conference over reintegration.”
It underlined that India was “proud” of its own ongoing development assistance in Afghanistan. “Indian support for Afghanistan's government is long-standing and motivated by a variety of reasons, not the least being Afghanistan's strategic value as New Delhi seeks regional influence,” the cable said.
Sent by the New Delhi Embassy under Mr. Roemer's signature, the cable said Pakistan's expectation that the government in Afghanistan should be pro-Pakistan and anti-India was “unrealistic” given President Hamid Karzai's “own long-standing ties to India and the goodwill that India's assistance and other elements of India's soft power have created in Afghanistan.”
It noted that “India, with the exception of the Taliban era, has always had strong ties to Afghanistan since Partition; conversely, Islamabad with the exception of the Taliban period, has had strained ties with Kabul.”
The cable revealed that after President Obama's West Point speech, the Ministry of External Affairs told the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi that “the GOI wishes to do more to help develop Afghan capacity, especially with regard to the police and military, but is also cognizant of USG ‘sensitivities' about such assistance.”
What India had heard about the Pakistan Army's ability to influence decisions on Afghanistan seemed to have added to its worries.
Ten days before Mr. Menon's meeting with the Senator, U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan-Pakistan Richard Holbrooke had confided to External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna that it was the Pakistan Army that had insisted on excluding India from a key conference on Afghanistan in Istanbul in January 2010, ahead of the London Conference. This was revealed in a cable dated February 1, 2010 (246564: confidential).
Holbrooke told the Indian Minister that the U.S. was “deeply disturbed by the GOP [Government of Pakistan]'s ties with the LeT” and described U.S. efforts to persuade Pakistan to take action against the group.
Sent under the signature of Ambassador Timothy Roemer from New Delhi, the cable noted that Holbrooke “assessed that the civilian government in Pakistan had a limited capacity to take such steps.” It added that “the Army was the key decision maker,” while Mr. Zardari had been sidelined.
“The military was not likely at this time to resume full control,” Holbrooke told Mr. Krishna, “but would assert its views on relations with India and Afghanistan. Holbrooke cited the example of India's exclusion from an Afghan conference in Istanbul — despite efforts by Holbrooke and Secretary Clinton — as an example of the military's weight in decision making.”
Even before President Obama outlined his new strategy in Afghanistan in mid-2009, India's top leadership was worrying about the consequences of the U.S. departing the scene.
Interacting with U.S. Under Secretary William J. Burns, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had conceded that while India was not able to send troops to Afghanistan, it fully supported efforts to stabilise and rebuild that country.
A June 11, 2009 cable (211549: secret) sent under the name of Charge d'Affaires Peter Burleigh, said Dr. Singh expressed the hope that all those engaged in the process of moving towards stability in Afghanistan would “stay on course.”
“Singh hoped the international community understood that this would be a long-term process and that all those working in Afghanistan ‘would stay the course'.” Mr. Burns assured Dr. Singh that the U.S. had a long-term strategy and was committed to working for a stable Afghanistan.
(The Pakistan Cables are being shared by The Hindu with NDTV in India and Dawn in Pakistan)