Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Great Game –Part II

After an interval of about fifteen months, last week an attempt was made again, to bomb the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. A similar effort, made in July 2008, had caused much damage to the consulate property and Fifty Eight Indian and Afghani personnel had lost their lives. Learning a lesson from that bombing, the outer wall of the embassy was well fortified along the perimeter. As a result,  last week’s attack, only caused some minor damage to the outer wall and two ITBF security guards had minor injuries. Unfortunately, many Afghani citizens standing outside the embassy, lost their lives.

In an exactly similar manner to the previous bombing attempt, a Talibani outfit immediately accepted the responsibility for this gruesome attack. Earlier in July 2008, the Afghan Government had squarely blamed the Pakistan Intelligence organization ISI, as the main perpetuator for the bombing. For this recent attempt too, Pakistani ISI is believed to be the main suspect, even though Taliban have accepted the responsibility. This raises the question as to why the Indian Embassy is being targeted for these bombings.  Whatever may be the motive of the attackers, innocent Afghan citizens are made to bear the brunt of this deadly and heinous act.
All throughout eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, England and Russia, then the most dominant European powers, had tried to establish their hegemony over Indian Sub Continent. English succeeded in getting to India because of their Sea Power. However, the Russians never really gave up for a long time. They clearly aimed to dislodge the British from India. They had dominated the entire Central Asia and had brought their Cossacks, right up to the Afghanistan Borders. Meanwhile British, now firmly entrenched in India, had already fought three Afghan wars and had managed to have very friendly relationship with that country. Both these countries were fully aware that control over Afghanistan, was the key to their final victory. Finally, Russians realized that it would be impossible for them to control Afghanistan against such strong English influence in that country. England and Russia finally signed a truce, limiting their spheres of influences, Russia in Central Asia and British in India. They agreed to keep Afghanistan as the buffer zone between their empires. Many historians call the maneuvers, which went on for two centuries, as ‘The Great Game’.
India after independence, inherited the good and cordial relationship developed by British with Afghanistan and continued to nurture the same until 1979. In that year, Russians invaded Afghanistan as a cold war move. The move was widely criticized by the international community. However for some obligatory reasons (which have been kept secret), India supported this invasion and continued supporting it until the Russians were forced to leave the country.  In this period, India’ good will in Afghanistan touched rock bottom. This perhaps turned out to be the worst strategic error on part of India.
Pakistan took full advantage of this strategic blunder by India. A new religion based cadre of fundamentalist Afghanis, was nurtured and helped by Pakistan. They were provided with arms obtained from United States. These Taliban fighters, slowly took over entire southern Afghanistan, driving the Russians out.
Afghanistan is a landlocked country.  For access to Sea Ports, it has always been heavily depended on Pakistan. Afghanistan also had no manufacturing industries of its own. For all these reasons and a very friendly Taliban Government in Seat, Pakistan became   the most valued alley of Afghanistan. Pakistan also was the only country, which had recognized Taliban rule. Things became so much in Pakistan’s favour, that many Pakistani officials started considering Afghanistan as part of Pakistan. On the other side, India’s relationship with Taliban took a down turn after an Indian aircraft was abducted and was allowed to land in Kandahar. It somehow kept a small stake in Afghanistan alive by supporting the forces of Northern Alliance, which controlled a small northern part of Afghanistan.
India got a break in 2001, when Northern Alliance forces, aided by United States managed to defeat Taliban and took over the country. This time India acted promptly, and with good strategic planning, took effective steps to improve her status in Afghanistan. It opened two new consulates in Herat and Mazhar-e-Sharif and reopened two others in Kandahar and Jalalabad, which had been shut since 1979. India also became one of Kabul’s leading donors by pledging $1.2bn on helping rebuild the country’s shattered infrastructure. Funds have been committed for education, health, power and telecommunications. There has also been money in the form of food aid and help to strengthen governance. India is building the country’s new parliament building, erecting power transmission lines in the north, and building more than 200km (125 miles) of roads. It is digging tube wells in six provinces, running sanitation projects and medical missions, and working on lighting up 100 villages using solar energy.  India has also given at least three Airbus planes to Afghanistan’s ailing national airline. Several thousand Indians are engaged in development work.
In January, India completed building the 218km Zaranj-Delaram highway in south-west Afghanistan near the Iranian border. This road virtually ended Afghanistan’s complete dependence on Pakistan for access to Sea Ports. In May, an India-made power transmission line to Kabul and a sub-station were opened, bringing 24-hour electricity to the capital for the first time in 17 years. The new parliament building in Kabul and a new dam in Herat should be ready by next year
India has made full use of Bollywood films and Indian T.V. Serials, which in any case are extremely popular in Afghanistan, to improve her soft power in that country besides Scholarships awarded to Afghani students for studying in Indian Universities. As a result, bilateral trade between two countries has grown rapidly, reaching $358m in 2007-2008.
Pakistan has been extremely suspicious and uneasy about increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan. After consulates in Herat and Kandahar were reopened, it claimed that India is interfering in Pakistan’s Balochistan province through these consulates. Afghanistan rejected this claim. Pakistan feels that India is taking over Afghanistan and President Karzai is know-towing to India, as he was educated in India. She also finds her own influence, dwindling at an alarming rate.
It therefore appears that the Pakistan Intelligence organization ISI along with Taliban are plotting to create trouble for Indian ambitions in Afghanistan. Local Taliban are blamed for attacking and kidnapping Indians in the country. There have been explosions and grenade attacks on the Indian consulates in Herat and Jalalabad. In January 2008, two Indian and 11 Afghan security personnel were killed and several injured in an attack on the Zaranj-Delaram road. In November 2005, a driver with India’s state-run Border Roads Organization was abducted and killed by the Taliban, while working on the road. The attacks on Kabul consulate in 2008 and 2009 should be considered on this background.
It becomes apparent that similar to the Great Game played by British and Russians in Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries, Pakistan and India are trying a new Great Game Part II with Afghanistan remaining the prize, to be won.  In the continuous flip-flop of this game, India seems to have an upper hand now. Things could change dramatically, if in future, Taliban recaptures power in Afghanistan. The Great Game part II would have then taken another U-turn.
16 October 2009

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