India Should Tread Lightly in Afghanistan

I’ve got a piece on The Guardian website today about why India should think twice before committing to a heavier presence in Afghanistan, as has been mooted around the place over the past few weeks – basically since Obama announced his new strategy:

When Obama proclaimed an 18-month deadline for his Afghan “surge”, he had two purposes. One was to assuage the concerns of the anti-war constituency back home. The other was to provide a wake-up call to countries in the region who will, so the reasoning goes, pay the highest price for continuing instability in Afghanistan.

That call is being answered in India, where officials are starting to fret over what happens in their neighbourhood when the US starts packing up shop. Shashank Joshi recently made a strong case in the Guardian that now is the time to build on India’s considerable soft power presence in Afghanistan – which consists of development aid, cultural ties and symbolic projects such as the building of the new parliament building in Kabul – and combine it with an increased hard power posture.

Others have started to flesh out what that might look like: more combat troops in north and west Afghanistan, and large-scale training programmes for the Afghan national army.

There are two problems with all this. The first is that “filling the vacuum” left by the Americans could easily become “leaping into their quagmire”. It is very much in Obama’s interest to spread the burden, and the difficulties he faces in extricating the US from the Long War ought to be a sobering lesson for those seeking to step up their involvement.

Read the rest here…

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