All Talk and No Action Friday, March 19, 2010

The below post is an endeavour in learning and a platform to invite comments/thoughts/insights/debate on the aforementioned subject.


The past few years have seen a barrage of articles in the mainstream media and the blogosphere on should India send troops to Afghanistan ? Should we go beyond our humanitarian projects and have a strategic/military presence in the region ?

As long back as 2008, we have had announcements from the US Joint Commissioner of NATO's ISAF clarifying that India had not been invited to send its troops to Afghanistan.

Now that the US failure in the region has become apparent, it has yet again invited nations to be a part of the peace building process in Afghanistan, so that it can concentrate more on dismantling the terror nexus in Af-Pak region. In cruder terms, cut its losses.

So arises the whole debate on India's take and policy. Will it serve our national interest to send troops to Afghanistan ?

I have jotted down some arguments that are at the top of my mind.

Arguments in favor
  • There has been mounting pressure in The US & EU countries against the war in Afghanistan. So, a lot of these governments, specially the US, now want to get out of the region and focus more on the Af-Pak border, the new terror zone. Hence, peace deals are being " brokered" with the Taliban. Now this peace deal doesn't make much sense to me. There is nothing like a Good/Moderate Taliban. Also, can you buy peace? Who ensures that the contract stays legal and binding ? Again, if the deal fails, India is going to come out as the biggest loser. Hence, having Indian Troops In Afghanistan will put pressure on the West and ensure that Indian Interests are kept in mind
  • The peace initiative in Afghanistan is a large scale, resource intensive mission. Being an upcoming economy and a major player in Asian Politics, India cannot afford not to be present in the region
  • China and Pakistan, both active players in the region, make it even more imperative for India to work on this part of its Afghan Policy. Humanitarian projects will no longer suffice. Strategic presence is essential
  • Having said everything, a peaceful Af-Pak is India's long term interests. Hence, if only to support the US in its peace building initiatives, we need to send our troops to Afghanistan and help the NATO forces

Arguments Against

  • The most important argument is that of the colossal budgetary requirements. The stay in Afghanistan will be a long haul. How much sense does it make to spend on the peace initiatives in Afghanistan when we have more pressing issues like Maoism, internal terrorism, Sino-India border issues vying for urgent attention ?
  • India should be focusing more on strengthening its internal security and intelligence. Terror attacks are only expected to increase
  • If US with its billions and a huge armed force could not help the cause, what difference will India make to the region ?
  • India's forceful initiatives in Sri Lanka led to the country losing a Prime Minister. Shouldn't we learn from history ?
  • Once US withdraws from the region, India will end up being an outsider and antagonising Afghans. Years of camaraderie and genial relationship will go down the drain
These are the arguments I can think of while I chew on the subject. I may have missed larger issues. I am very much un-decided on the issue as is easily visible. However, whichever way our polity decides to go, hopefully, National Interest, would form the crux of its decision.

Having said all of the above, somewhere, I also think that we are mere pawns.

Since 2008 we have had media trying to invite public debate and comments on the issue.

This could very well be a ruse to help people feel self important. While at the same time, the fate of the Indian troops and the country at large could already have been sealed.


Sneha said...

Peace in Afghanistan is in the interest of every country. This includes the US, NATO, and yes India. After all the Mumbai attacks were traced back to the Af-Pak border.

But I am not one to blindly say that India must be present in a military capacity. As you mentioned India has some very big internal concerns: Maoists, Separatists, Ethnic and Religious Violence. Also, the on-going war in the Middle East has cost the US a lot of money. The US budget is in 13 trillion dollars of deficit. Before the Bush administration we had a surplus.

However India is the only stable democracy in the region. A large part of the win strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is to stabilize their “democratic” government and reduce corruption. India could lead the way in showing these nations how it can be done, internal strife and all. I am not saying the India government is perfect, but we can say that it is not going to be the victim of a Coup anytime soon.
India can only be involved in the rebuilding of Afghanistan, if it has a military presence in Afghanistan. India has many incentives to do this. India’s involvement could have an added benefit of stabilizing the India Pakistan border and even bring relative peace to the area. I for one and an idealist and imagine all the nations of the Asian subcontinent in relative peace.

india unbound said...

@ Topic

The answer is no. The reasons are plenty. We would not gain much by having a military presence in Afghanistan and the costs would be enormous. I would make a detailed comment later.

All Talk and No Action said...

@Sneha - Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yes, peace in Af-Pak is everybodys business, specially in India's interests. However, I am not convinced about how Indian combat forces will help bring peace to the region. Infact, moving our forces may increase infiltration in India.

@India Unbound - Your detailed comment still awaited.

SK said...

Hi All,
I think there is no way that we can influence Indo-Pak relation by particiapting or not participating in Afgan peace process. indo-Pak relations will unfortunately be as they are for many decades may be.

I think the issue with Afgan process is moral one instead of political. The issue is right v/s wrong. Grab a chance to watch the movie Hurt Locker. The thing is Afganistan is full of wrong people holding guns. The peace process is not only for peace in Afgan but also a move against terrorism. We must ensure that we participate in eradicating this virus.
BUT THEN NEXT ISSUE IS SAFETY OF OUR OWN PEOPLE...which is a seprate discussion in itself...

All Talk and No Action said...

@SK - Thanks for your thoughts. In world politics, where everyone is looking at their interests, we cannot think only about morals.

Peace is the region is in India's favour. But again, I am still to understand how our military presence will help the cause. We do not have the resources like US and already have tensions on the Pak & N/E borders. So how much sense does it make to send our troops to fight in the region ?

kamlesh said...

hey amazin article n gud reasearch, i strongly feel tht u shud b in d editin field...

MADHU RAO | (INDImag.COM) said...

There has been a geo-political shift of enormous magnitude since the Afghan War began. The decision to ally with Pakistan and keep India at bay on an ill-planned Afghan war only to tag along an ill-conceived and needless War in Iraq is making America pay the price. I just say America as the rest of the coalition countries with it's 50-1000 troops is a joke (sans a UK and a few others).

Post 'Mission Accomplished' & 'No WMD', with mounting losses, USA is trying to find a Blackwater of sorts in other nations -- one that will take a payment (aid) and do the dirty job.

About India. Do we go in full throttle like the stupidity we did in Sri Lanka ? No. But do we refuse and antagonize Uncle Sam ? No. Solution ? Do lip service, a token gesture, send 100-500 and call it support. Losing camaraderie with Afghans ? What camaraderie ? Karzai is a US man and Taliban hate us anyways..

PS : Nice theme :-)

Sneha said...

I will agree that going into Iraq was a big mistake. This has cost the US a lot of money and set backs in Afghanistan. This is why Barack Obama won with such a large electoral majority.

However, finishing the job in Afghanistan is the right thing to do. It will curb Taliban influence in the region and improve the national security of all the nations of the world.

I am not sure what India's role should be in this. But, I hope , that if India decides to help it is not an empty gesture (lip service).

Also the US is not looking for a Blackwater. India's role is not to be a mercenary. After all India hardly needs military aid. Also I think the current administration
(Uncle Sam) will not be antagonized if India refuses. They do not see this as a black and white issue as the Bush administration did. I think the US understands that India is a developing nation and had many internal problems of her own.

india unbound said...

@ Sneha

The current administration is actually less friendly towards India. Bush actually never believed in "with us or against us" principle. If that would have been the case, India US relations would not have improved so much under Bush regime despite India refusing to send troops to Iraq and not allowing US military presence on Indian soil for launching attacks on Taliban after 9/11.

Sneha said...

@ India_unbound

That is very true. But I don't think that it solely for the purpose of helping India. India provides so much more to the US economy than troops in Iraq.

The Bush administration made it a goal to improve relations with India over its eight years. Also the Bush administration focused on improving US-China relationship. There is a very simple reason for this. Money!

India and China both have very large and largely untapped consumer markets. By improving relationship with India, the US benefited greatly. India provided a bigger, cheaper, technical workforce. The US now had the ability to sell US goods to a larger market. (Take Google for example).

I believe, after the recent meeting between Obama and Singh, we can safely say that this mutually beneficial foreign policy will be continued whether or not India decides to join US in Afghanistan.

However, don't forget that the Bush administration drove rifts into US foreign relationship with most of the European nations, and Latin America. Bush did in fact push the " with us or against us" principle with these nations because the US had nothing to gain economically by not doing it.

All Talk and No Action said...

@Madhu - Yups, tokenism is the way to go. Too much commitment would backfire.

@Sneha - Yes, Bush did push the "with us/against us" syndrome.
About Obama, too early to say how his Presidency will benefit India. On the looks of it, he is a protectionist, understandable in these times, still not very conducive for India.

About Afghanistan, the more I read, the lesser I like the prospective of Indian soldiers on Afghan soil. It will be a tedious exercise, one without immediate and positive results for India.

Paddy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
K10 Keni said...

Well Peace talks with Taliban = Asing Mike Tyson to play chess. We are still recovering from 26/11 where LeT was involved. Why do you want Al-Qaida intrusion?
If the US and other Joint forces have taken 9 years and still going to diminish Taliban What difference will India's contribution make it will just add to "SHAHID JAWANS" list.
I know our country has a strong Military Force. But it is just not using it. Its simple this is how it goes...
Small Blast - Warn Pakistan - NO ACTION TAKEN
Train blast - Arrest few men - conduct trials - Demand some people from Pakistan - Talks with Pakistan - NO ACTION
Parliment Attack - One militant caught - conduct trials - Make Pakistan realise that ISI planned the attack - Peace Talks with Pakistan - NO ACTION
The best one
26/11 - 1 year and 4 months passed - 1 caught - Trial still continues - Demanding Pakistan to hand over Hafiz Sayyed - Our home minister warns Pakistan that If another 26/11 happens then we will take action.

What else can I say about the govt...

All Talk and No Action said...

My article was also published by Indimag and I am compelled to copy-paste a comment by one Mr. Ajay Ukidve, an experienced Army man. You can follow the rest of the debate @indimag


Said Sun Tzu:
In the operations of war, where there are in the field a thousand swift chariots, as many heavy chariots, and a hundred thousand mail-clad soldiers, with provisions enough to carry them a thousand li (Chinese unit of length), the expenditure at home and at the front, including entertainment of guests, small items such as glue and paint, and sums spent on chariots and armor, will reach the total of a thousand ounces of silver per day. Such is the cost of raising an army of 100,000 men.

When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.

Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.

Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

In India we have the Kashmir problem, the Naxalites, the Maoists and may be a few more movements still under wraps. Believe it or not, the way our esteemed politicians are handling these insurgencies, a total Indian Army involvement is not too far. Sun Tzu then will frown from the heavens if he is not already turning in his grave.

Who is right and who is wrong?
The Crusades were a series of religiously sanctioned military campaigns waged by much of Latin Christian Europe, particularly the Franks of France and the Holy Roman Empire. The specific crusades to restore Christian control of the Holy Land were fought over a period of nearly 200 years, between 1095 and 1291. Other campaigns in Spain and Eastern Europe continued into the 15th century. The Crusades were fought mainly against Muslims, although campaigns were also waged against Pagans (Non Believers or people in villages who worshipped nature) pagan Slavs , pagan Balts , Jews, Russian and Greek Orthodox Christians, Mongols, Catharists , Hussites, Waldensians, Old Prussians, and political enemies of the popes. Crusaders took vows and were granted penance for past sins, often called an indulgence.

Counter Terrorist Operations
The counter terror operations are now called as WAR ON TERRORISM. Instead it should be treated as a counterinsurgency. The implication is that WAR means indiscriminate force and counterinsurgency would mean adequate force. In addition the emphasis must be on isolating the terrorists/insurgents from their support base and NOT destruction of supporting people. An insurgent without the support of the local population is like a fish out of water. To achieve this we must also take advantage of diplomatic intervention and economic tools. A year ago, in Goa, the local Muslims chased out a Maulavi from UP who began to preach hate in peaceful Goa! In the end community opinion is the best check on extremism- either Christian, Hindu or Muslim. Insurgents or terrorists both attempt to gain the support of the local population through an appeal to an overarching ideology and by demonstrating their ability to overturn the status quo through violence. When the activity becomes worldwide we tend to call it as terrorism. It is definitely never an act of war.
While military action is necessary, it is not a sufficient condition for success. As one observer has noted, “a counterinsurgency effort that does not respond to legitimate internal socio-political concerns and deals only with enemy military capabilities is ultimately destined to fail.” There is also a risk that too much military (particularly if it is indiscriminate) can be counterproductive. A theme running throughout the discussion of counter insurgency operations is that “smaller may be better” when it comes to the actual employment of military forces.

All Talk and No Action said...

Comment Continued:

Lessons Learnt
During the most unfortunate Punjab insurgency we learnt a very instructive lesson. No amount of troop deployment was proving successful in bringing to an end that tragedy. What finally prevailed was isolating the insurgents from the people. For that the army and the local administration did an excellent job. This was done by using good interpersonal communication with the locals, importantly employing socio-economic tools, educating the local population, helping those who were terrorized by the insurgents and generally spreading goodwill. The results are there for all to see. Thankfully the same steps are being now taken in Kashmir.

Looking very briefly at the history of US interventions and results worldwide, may it be the Phillipines, Vietnam, The Gulf, Iraq, and now Afghanistan, it would be too simplistic to think that their priority would lie in the betterment of people under so called terrorist siege per se, but would always be driven by extreme “SELF INTEREST”. It could be Oil or blocking Communism or reviving their setting sun as a super power on world stage or whatever. Further the declaration of WAR ON TERRORISM in itself means use of indiscriminate force and acceptance of so called collateral damage, means killing of innocent civilians. Further we will be forced to toe the line of US ideology. In extremis align ourselves to the US, which is not acceptable. Hence No Troops on Afghan Soil.

To Do
To further our interests as a growing and a democratically mature Nation, it would be best to continue with our current program of economic assistance. Using socio economic tools, build and run schools, hospitals, roads, power stations and a plethora of developmental activities. This I am sure will make the local population isolate the insurgents/terrorists as far as India is concerned. In due course of time we will have a strong ally in that part of the world.

india unbound said...


Agree with your views. My detailed comment is here