Thursday, September 15, 2011

India, Afghanistan & the Taliban

Earlier this month the New Yorker released this story on slain Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad. One portion of the piece described how Indian Intelligence attempted to turn Shahzad and use his extensive contacts with the Taliban (Shahzad refused).

India will naturally deny this happened, but I find it highly plausible. India has invested billions in Afghanistan. Indian companies are themselves involved in major infrastructure and commercial ventures. Unfortunately, since Afghan security is still inadequate, a significant portion of these companies investments are being routed to pro-Taliban tribes as, quite literally, a security deposit

This "security" cost is upsetting the economics of the projects. Indian companies are already bidding as low as possible to fight off competition from their Chinese counterparts.

Later this month Kabul will decide on the contract for the Hajigak mine. It's one of the region's largest. A government-backed Indian consortium is in the running. Security for such a major, long-term project, among others, would be impossible unless the Taliban agrees to stand down.

Shahzad's contacts within the Taliban would have helped to at least begin such a dialogue. His refusal (& subsequent murder) have shut down that route.

Nevertheless India has another option. New Delhi has been pushing the U.S to allow it to train Afghanistan soldiers and officers.Keeping Pakistan's fears in mind, Washington has ensured only a limited role. Delhi must keep up the pressure. A contract with Kabul for training its soldiers can include a clause for providing security at Indian investments.

Foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai, who is in Kabul, should take this up with his counterparts. Ultimately the U.S cannot block the Afghan government from doing what it wants. A request by Afghanistan in Bonn for Indian help can't be ignored.

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