India must not commit the error of placing Indian troops on Afghan soil, says the diplomat who coordinated New Delhi’s secret military assistance to Ahmad Shah Massoud, the military commander of the Northern Alliance, who fought the Taliban and U.S. forces till his assassination in 2001.
The notion of the Taliban insurgency as a fractured entity, rife with internal strife, has lingered in much of the commentary and analysis on the Afghan conflict. This is in spite of the last five years, which have witnessed the Taliban pull out of its bloodiest internal crisis and achieve its strongest position since 2001. Long after the United States quietly abandoned its stated aim of “shattering” the Taliban, even Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani was said to refer to his long-term plan for ending the conflict as “fight, fracture, talk.”
While a superpower negotiates an exit from Afghanistan, India stirs up a hornet’s nest in Kashmir. It is the 1980s, and the world is at an inflection point that led to a major insurgency in Kashmir, the Afghan civil war, the rise of the Taliban, and the attacks of 9/11. Again today, the world is facing no less an important transition period as the United States is set to conclude a preliminary peace agreement with the Taliban and India’s Hindu nationalist government continues its communications and media blackout in Kashmir after having revoked the region’s nominal autonomy this month.
India has told China that its concerns about Kashmir are misplaced because it is an internal matter “that has no impact on China at all”. Vikram Misri, the country’s ambassador to Beijing, delivered the message as part of a defence of the decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, where the borders with both Pakistan and China are disputed.
Chinese leaders have expressed heightened concern over India’s decision last week to scrap the special autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, a disputed territory claimed by both New Delhi and Islamabad. They also urged India to avoid provocation and to play a “constructive role” in regional stability. The message was delivered by Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Vice-President Wang Qishan in separate meetings in Beijing on Monday with Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar during his three-day visit to China.
While the BJP may have had its own political reasons to take the steps it took this week, the Indian state too has its reasons. Having exhausted soft options, a hard solution has been opted for. It is significant that most political parties, including many senior leaders of the Congress, have backed the government’s action. They are not necessarily defending the government but are defending the interests of the Indian state.
New Delhi is one of Washington’s most critical allies in Asia with whom it has a wide range of converging interests. Yet, by mentioning Kashmir despite how much India hates that, Trump has infuriated a vital partner in America’s Indo-Pacific strategy. The U.S.-India relationship was already in a downward spiral following India’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile and the allusion to Kashmir has made things worse.
No Indian government—and especially not one, like Modi’s, that has assumed a hawkish stance toward Pakistan—will yield any ground on this issue. Already the U.S. State Department seems to have acknowledged reality, stating on July 22 that it believes the Kashmir dispute is a “bilateral” issue between India and Pakistan. Trump should heed his own State Department’s advice. Pushing New Delhi on Kashmir will get him nothing except a public failure and a damaged U.S.-Indian partnership.