President Obama’s visit to India last week further cemented the US alliance with Hindu-dominated India in its long proxy war over Afghanistan against Muslim Pakistan.
Forgotten in public discussion is India’s active arming and support of the US-backed Northern Alliance in the 2001 war that overthrew the Taliban in Kabul. That war displaced Afghanistan’s Pashtuns, the country’s largest tribal population, from its traditional dominance of Afghan’s politics, and opened a channel for expansion of India’s interests instead.
India’s strategic interest is to prevent Pakistan from consolidating its presence in Afghanistan. “Balancing against India appeared to be a particularly strong impetus for Pakistan’s support of the insurgents”, according to a 2008 RAND study by Seth Jones [“Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan”, prepared for the Secretary of Defense, 2008]. The report identified several examples of India’s deep involvement in Afghanistan:
- Hundreds of millions of dollars in funds for Afghan political candidates and elected government officials in Kabul;
- Construction of the Afghan parliament building;
- Indian road construction near the Pakistan border, whose stated purpose was to “help the [Indian] armed forces meet their strategic needs by committed, dedicated and cost-effective development and sustenance of the infrastructure”;
- Large new Indian consulates in Afghan cities including Jalalabad, Kandahar and Herat, which Pakistan accuses of fomenting terrorist and secessionist activities in the southern Pakistan state of Baluchistan.
According to RAND, assisting the Taliban in Afghanistan was for Pakistan “a way to balance against Indian influence in Afghanistan.”
The background of this power struggle is the dispute over Kashmir, which has been the focus of three wars since 1947 when the retreating British left the region dismembered. A promised United Nations plebiscite for Kashmir never took place, presumably because its majority-Muslim population would have opted for autonomy or merger with Pakistan.
Muslim communities in the Kashmir region have continued their resistance against Indian-imposed martial law, a crisis that is intensifying beyond control. When the Indian writer Arundati Roy recently tried to visit and report on Kashmir for the New York Times, she was vilified and threatened by Indian extremists.
Instead of pushing for a plebiscite on Kashmir, which would offend India, the US turns a blind eye to the brutal daily violence inflicted by India’s security forces against the Muslim population there, which depends on Pakistan for support.
The US makes no effort to settle the Kashmir crisis as compared to constant diplomatic activity towards an Israeli-Palestinian peace. While tilting towards India as a strategic partner against China, the US also cements India as its strategic partner inside Afghanistan, thus escalating the spiral of regional tensions on several fronts.
The White House and Pentagon have intensified pressure on Pakistan to abandon its basic strategic positioning against India and instead turn its military against the insurgents within Pakistan, consisting of the Pakistan Taliban and the Afghan Taliban harbored in the Quetta Shura and tribal highlands.
President Obama invoked the name of Mohandas Ghandi during his India visit without acknowledging that Ghandi was assassinated by an Indian Hindu nationalist extremist in 1948. The president might have asked, what would Ghandi say today about Kashmir or being used in a perpetual war with Muslims.
Tom Hayden is the author of 17 books, a former California state senator and a longtime peace activist.
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