Staying with Kabul

As Afghanistan enters a new phase, sulking cannot be Delhi's strategy

As America and Britain prepare to leave Afghanistan by 2014, Delhi appears to have gone into a sulk. Instead of objecting to the inevitable Anglo-American retreat, India must deepen the dialogue with Washington and London on the future of Afghanistan.

Sceptics in Delhi wonder if Washington and London, in the rush for Afghan exits, want to talk to India at all. Delhi has two important diplomatic opportunities this week to find out. Talks are scheduled on Tuesday with senior American and Afghan officials who will attend the second round of the trilateral dialogue. Afghanistan will also figure at the top of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's conversation today with the British premier, David Cameron. Together, they should give Delhi first-hand accounts of the current efforts in Washington, London and Kabul to seek reconciliation with the Taliban with the help of the Pakistan army.

Earlier this month, after a trilateral summit in London with Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and the Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, Cameron raised hopes that peace might break out in the next six months. Some in Delhi are deeply wary of London's Af-Pak delusions. They think Cameron is trying to present Western genuflection to Rawalpindi as a big breakthrough for the Afghan peace process. Others have convinced themselves that the new US secretary of state, John Kerry is ready to pay any price — including the handing over of parts of Afghanistan to the Taliban and the ISI — in return for a mere promise from General Ashfaq Kayani to make the Western retreat smooth.

A calmer Indian approach, however, would begin by acknowledging that the Fifth Afghan War, which began with American occupation at the end of 2001, is coming to an end. The British Raj fought the first three Afghan Wars in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The fourth was when the West promoted jihadi extremism in response to Soviet Russia's occupation of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. Under Taliban rule, Afghanistan became the home for international terrorism and the base from which al-Qaeda launched attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. The ferocious American response to 9/11 came in the form of the Fifth Afghan War.

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