As news of Rabbani being killed in Afghanistan spreads like wild fire, there is a looming unease that things in Afghanistan are not as well as we pretend they are. We look on it as a regional matter rather than something relevant to us.
And yet, it ought to matter to us more than it does.
I would like to begin with saying that we have a rather lax approach to security overall. After 9/11 it didn't take us too long to cotton on to the fact that the new villain worldwide - terrorism is a way what we used to call militancy could be described. Since then, we have been talking about how we have been victims of terrorism orienting from Pakistan for far longer than the US. As the regional situation deteriorates steadily, and all goodwill is destroyed in power games, people perhaps now comprehend that what we had been shouting to the world for a long time was not reciprocal propaganda between sibling nations, and that they may have made a big mistake by investing so deeply in Pakistan.
But there has been little we have done to take advantage of the regional dynamics to resolve or assert necessary issues. We have sat and wrung our hands about the terrorism we face from Pakistan, but we have done nothing to fix that either. In the meanwhile, United States of Abhimanyu and the Afghani Chakravyuha goes on merrily. The Taliban have nothing to lose, and the foreign troops are caught between a rock and a hard place.
Pakistan is increasingly showing bolder stakes in forcing the US out, while both countries maintain a superficial pretense of civility, which is cracking.
While it is all well and good to talk about planned withdrawals of forces, increasingly vicious attacks bring up the question of whether it will be a withdrawal or escape - if at all it is possible. I imagine, it will not be easy to exit either - not with the ground situation so volatile. It wouldn't be the first time the Taliban uses brutality to take over the country, particularly if Pakistan starts believing that Afghanistan might distract the Taliban from Pakistan.
But that is the tip of the iceberg. Increasing volatility in the region makes India's security more difficult too, as Pakistan gets increasingly uncontrollable, and we have not consolidated any real stake in Afghanistan in spite of our massive aid. It may be argued that the Afghan government hasn't been able to do it either, but that is besides the point.
If the Taliban continue to strike back at the NATO forces with increasing viciousness, there is going to be a point where the NATO presence gets rendered irrelevant for Indian purposes - present or not.
Forcing NATO back in the AfPak theatre will also translate into increased confidence against India. In other words, that is one place we don't want to be in - because we are nuclear powers. And it isn't too far away. As militants in Kashmir are at an all time low, the point where the plan must be abandoned completely or drastically invested in comes close.
Another factors are China and Iran. China wants to drive through PoK to get at their port. They most certainly don't want us messing that game. Also, strategically, we are pretty much the only thing Pakistan wants from China. Iran once used to be a stronger ally than it currently is. We are letting that lapse.
So where am I going with all this?
I am saying that India should have been acting to secure its interests conclusively for a long time, and the need is getting urgent. Beyond a certain point, it will cease to matter to the result.
An article in Pragati (will search for link and insert later) argues that India should send troops to Afghanistan to aid the NATO effort. I think it is a bad idea. India doesn't have the physical distance from the theater of war like the rest of the countries, and India is not a default target of the bad guys either. Sending troops to Afghanistan is a guarantee to make them special targets as well as trigger terror attacks in the country. Worse, our anti-terror apparatus isn't so strong that we can take the risk of not preventing them. All in all, it will enrage the terrorists, and our civilians will be right there to take the brunt of the rage too.
However, the thought behind the idea of sending troops to Afghanistan is vital. The action may not be the best solution, but there is no doubt that we need to explore ways to make our stake in th region more secure - both for our sakes as well as lending security to the overall situation.
If we are able to open a second, less attacked aspect in this situation (using our soft power), it may create an opening for us to achieve our objectives easier as well as provide troops in Afghanistan a welcome breather, which is also in favor of our objectives.
I think it is definitely important that we integrate our soft power into strategic planning and use it far more proactively than we currently do. The less our actions look like military intervention the better, but it is definitely important to be a player in the game - not just as we are, by contributing, but by leveraging ability to influence happenings.
PS: These are more random thoughts on the dynamics from emerging news than hard factual data.