Last evening as I was trying to explain to my 14-year old why a possible US withdrawal from Afghanistan could be bad for India, I realised how hopeless the US case for continued involvement in Afghanistan looked.
In a statement that sounded pretty unconvincing, David Axelrod, Senior Advisor to President Obama said:
We have a different situation in Afghanistan. It is actually the place…where the folks who attacked us on 9/11 are holed up and plotting against us still…
It’s a threat that still exists. We have to deal with it and so it’s a wholly different situation. That’s a problem that still exists
To the average American on the street (and – for that matter – the average European on the street), it does not look like that…The war in Afghanistan is no doubt, against some “bad guys” but a lot of “our boys” are getting killed. Sure it is meant to protect us but, wait when was the last terrorist attack again?
Those guys have learnt their lesson…they will not mess with us again…so why don’t we just get our boys back home?
These are the words that policy planners don’t want to hear but I think they are being said…and repeated…by too many people.
I suspect somewhere, somehow this message must have got relayed back to President Obama.
Now regardless of whether withdrawal from Afghanistan is a good strategy or a bad strategy (from a US point of view), one thing is obvious…A war-torn nation at India’s doorstep (almost) cannot be good news – especially as our dear neighbour will try and do all it can to win the Afghans back into its “sphere of influence”.
How? By offering legitimacy and support to the new/”reformed” Taliban that will most likely fill the vacuum that will arise (given the “popularity” of the Karzai administration). In doing this “good deed” and for shouldering the “burden” of maintaining peace in the region, our dear neighbour can expect a lot of support and aid from a grateful nation (perhaps nations).
Which would have been all well and good except that much of that support and “aid” is going to find its way into all sorts of wrong things* which I dare not tell my daughter about – and will free up our dear neighbour to resume their “activities” by our common fence, now that the other one is (at least temporarily) fixed.
What activities, Dad? and why can’t we discuss this with our dear neighbour?, my daughter asks.
I tell her that it is good to discuss fences with neighbours but what do you do when they keep throwing their junk across to your side…and keep sending their kids to ruin your flower beds and pets to poo on your lawn?
You complain!, she said.
And what it they disregard your complaints and persist with their unsocial conduct? I ask.
Well, thats too bad, Dad…but I guess life moves on.
Indeed it does.
I don’t have the heart to tell her that this is more – far more – complicated than that.
And I wonder, how exactly do I explain to my daughter why a possible US withdrawal from Afghanistan is very very bad news for India?
* Here is Hon Foreign Minister S M Krishna talking about aid to Pakistan ending up in wrong places:
We have always been cautioning our friends, the United States, that please, please for heaven’s sake make sure that the aid you are giving to Pakistan is not directed and misappropriated to be used against India, a friend of yours