Monday’s brazen attack by the Taliban in the heart of Kabul and the manner in which they were repulsed underline two contradictory aspects of the present state of affairs in Afghanistan. First, Islamist extremists maintain the capacity to mount major operations against the Hamid Karzai government not just in outlying areas of the country but in the capital city too. Second, the Afghan security forces are more than capable of defending themselves against the Taliban provided they have the necessary training, equipment and leadership. While supporting the U.S.-led military intervention in Afghanistan, India has always held that the only force capable of stabilising the situation and maintaining peace and stability over the long haul is the Afghan National Army (ANA) and police. The Indian government is one of the largest providers of civilian assistance to Afghanistan and is also involved in training the Afghan police. A limited number of ANA officers have come to India for training but the United States has baulked at New Delhi doing more with the Afghan army for fear of inviting a Pakistani backlash. Yet, the U.S. and its allies have done little so far to bring the ANA up to the level required to deal with the challenge posed by the Taliban, and the bulk of combat operations is left to the western coalition.
In the run-up to next week’s Afghanistan conference in London, there has been a lot of discussion on what the beleaguered nation’s neighbours can do to help. A few days ago, the foreign ministers of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan met to try and forge a common position. India, too, has been in consultation with all players, including the U.S., whose AfPak envoy, Richard Holbrooke, met with External Affairs minister S.M. Krishna on Monday. Barring Pakistan, virtually everyone believes Islamabad’s twin-track policy towards terrorism is at least partly to blame for the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. The U.S. is acutely aware of the subterranean links of the Pakistani military with the Afghan Taliban, the Hizb-e-Islami and the Haqqani network but seems unwilling to do anything about this. To the extent to which Islamabad is motivated by strategic competition with India over Afghanistan, the Indian leadership should make it clear that it seeks nothing but peace and tranquillity across the Durand Line. India’s interests are three-fold: trade, transit, and security. Afghan territory should never again become a safe haven for anti-India elements. None of these concerns is incompatible with Pakistan’s legitimate interests, which India recognises. In London, the international community should tell Pakistan to stop looking at Afghanistan as a zero-sum game with India.