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TMCNet:  India walking tricky tightrope on diplomacy [Arab News (Saudi Arabia)]

[December 20, 2013]

India walking tricky tightrope on diplomacy [Arab News (Saudi Arabia)]

(Arab News (Saudi Arabia) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Nilofar SuhrawardyIndia has always been diplomatically overenthusiastic in displaying its support for Afghanistan. However, it is not keen to help Afghanistan beyond a certain limit, particularly where the nation's defense is concerned. New Delhi is likely to continue helping Afghanistan in sectors in which it has already heavily invested. But at present, prospects of India moving further, especially where military aid is concerned, may be viewed as practically impossible.

The recent visit of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to New Delhi has stirred debate on the subject.

Karzai reportedly wants India to extend its military aid to include supply of heavy weaponry, including artillery guns, tanks and mortars. As of now, India is ready to supply only non-lethal military hardware like helicopters, trucks and jeeps to Afghanistan. Karzai is apparently turning to India owing to the eventual US withdrawal from Afghanistan by next year.

Politically, with India heading for parliamentary elections within less than six months, it cannot afford to take the risk of aiding Afghanistan in sectors, which may not be welcomed by the Indian public. This also explains Indian Army's training of Afghan National Army (ANA) personnel within its different establishments in India. They are being trained in counterterrorism operations, military field-craft, information technology, battlefield nursing assistance and other such programs. Recently, around 100 ANA personnel were trained at a specialized counterinsurgency and jungle warfare school at Vairengte in Mizoram.

Besides, the fact cannot be ignored that after withdrawal of coalition forces, around 8,000 US troops will stay in Afghanistan to train, advise and also equip around 350,000 Afghan personnel, including soldiers, police and airmen. This also implies that till US retains this stand toward Afghanistan; diplomatically it would be wise of India not to tread on military terrain in this country.

Apart from that, Pakistan is not likely to welcome strengthening of military ties between India and Afghanistan. Of late, Pakistan's diplomatic gestures have been suggestive of it being keen on improving relations with India. During his recent visit to India, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's younger brother, who is also Chief Minister of Pakistan's Punjab province, Shahbaz Sharif called on the Indian premier. He also invited Singh on behalf of the Pakistani premier to visit Islamabad.

Besides, Pakistan has also outlined several proposals to revive the stalled peace process between the two countries. Though Singh has accepted Sharif's invitation, it is not yet clear whether he would be visiting Pakistan in the near future.

Perhaps, if Indian parliamentary elections were not around the corner, the Indian government might have taken a more assertive stand toward Pakistan's diplomatic gestures. At the same time, the fact that India has at least responded positively cannot be ignored.

Notwithstanding the problems in Indo-Pak ties, neither country can afford to ignore each other's diplomatic gestures. The nature of Shahbaz Sharif's Indian visit describes this appropriately. Pakistan apparently has no reason to be disturbed by the present state of the Indo-Afghan ties. India has pumped in at least $2 billion to assist Afghanistan in developing its infrastructure. India may be expected to continue helping Afghanistan along this path. Besides, at least 10,000 Afghan students are studying in India. Of late, medical tourism has also strengthened Indo-Afghan ties, with patients from Afghanistan arriving in India for treatment. In addition, the 44th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) held recently in Goa was marked by the entry of an Afghan film for the first time. It is also the first India-Afghanistan joint venture in this field.

Interestingly, Bollywood movies and stars are as popular in Afghanistan as they are in Pakistan. At the same time, culturally India and Pakistan are close to each other, while diplomatically this can be said of New Delhi and Kabul. Regional diplomatic considerations may be viewed as a major challenge for India at present. Some may also view this as a diplomatic dilemma for India. How far can it really respond to Afghanistan's desire for more military assistance? Diplomatically and politically, India may be expected to tread only on the path that it has already stepped on without taking the risk of moving further into the military terrain. Pakistan must be keeping a close watch on these developments. It can pat itself for making diplomatic gestures seeking more cordial ties with India. Where India is concerned, the scheduled parliamentary elections may witness a change of Indian government within a few months from now. The present Indian government has no option but to wait till the elections are over and thus cannot jump into taking quick diplomatic decisions on crucial issues concerning both these countries. Caught in a diplomatic dilemma, at present, India can afford to play only safe diplomatic cards toward both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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