View from Pakistan: India’s Proxy Hybrid War in Afghanistan Costing Lives

India is the only country in the world that has no interest in peace in Afghanistan. On the contrary Delhi wants continued strife because peace will end the pressure on Pakistan and bring the Taleban as a major political force.

Posted on 04/5/19
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
File photo – Razor wire protects ancient artefacts in the National Museum of Afghanistan, in Darul Aman, Kabul. (Photo by Jerome Starkey, CC license)

Hybrid means of waging war, meaning the use of both conventional and unconventional, kinetic and un-kinetic methods to fight an enemy, has a long history. Indian sources like ‘Arthashastra’ centuries ago explained how to use the enemy strength against the same enemy or undermine his strength by hidden actions. The 21st century has technology so much more advanced and methods being initiated to bring into practice the old principles. Hybrid warfare combines two or more components of fighting, the synchronized use of multiple instruments of power tailored to specific vulnerabilities across the full spectrum of societal functions to achieve synergistic effects, it is typically tailored to remain below obvious detection and response thresholds and often relies on the speed, volume and ubiquity of digital technology that characterizes the present information age. One of the striking features of Hybrid Warfare is that it is difficult to identify the origin of the attack and the attackers.

Its strategy in Afghanistan since 1947 shows how India has managed these tools successfully. With partition taking place, Pakistan became enemy number one in India’s script book. That this country survived from day one has been a thorn in India’s side. Below the line of primary visibility is a whole host of actions that was and is intended to reach the goal of weakening and defeating the enemy. For its part Pakistan in its own way has tried to do the same as India but with much less finesse and success. In defending ourselves against non-kinetic means employed by the enemy it is justifiable to use non-kinetic means in the strategic sense in any counter-offensive. Pakistan’s ISI has been unsuccessful in the strategic sense in protecting Pakistan from the country’s enemies, successful only in the tactical sense using non-kinetic means. It has never really had the better of India in non-kinetic warfare in the strategic sense.  That is something we can correct, and we must!

The relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan started badly because of the Durand Line. A colonial inheritance created in the 19th century it became now the western border of Pakistan in 1947. Afghanistan continuously refusing to accept it as the rightful border has estranged the two neighbors. That early state of affairs allowed India (“an enemy of an enemy is a friend” Chanakhya) to encircle Pakistan and squeeze it from both sides. As early as January 1950, a five-year Treaty of Friendship was signed between the India and Afghanistan that affirmed “everlasting peace and friendship between the two governments” and provided for the establishment of diplomatic and consular posts in each other’s territories. While during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan India vociferously supported Russia, it limited its own efforts to friendship building by youth exchange and study opportunities for Afghans in India but never got involved directly in the conflict.  Why do so when someone else was spending his money and dying for your benefit?

A new phase started after 9/11 when the US war against the Afghan Taleban regime started. The US took over the leadership, almost all the financial burden and sharing the human cost of the war, the maximum of which the Afghans sustained. This was an opportunity too good for India to miss.   They did not start the “war on terrorism” but they kept it going by stoking US suspicions about Pakistan, US body bags bringing dead American soldiers home added to US resentment against Pakistan.  During the last thirty years whoever opposed Pakistan got Indian’s support.  The Northern Alliance (this includes the time the Northern Alliance was briefly in power after the Soviets left) was supported in its fight against the Taliban because of the anti-Pakistan stance of their leader Ahmad Shah Massoud.  Secondly, because India feared that the Taleban, who they considered a creation of Pakistan and the jihadi ideology, could play havoc in Kashmir.

India renewed its engagement in Afghanistan with a mainly (at least initially) Northern Alliance government installed and supported by the US. India left the military engagement to the US and ISAF but got involved in earnest in the Afghan intelligence infrastructure and ‘institutional support’ to the Afghan bureaucracy-miniscule compared to the US military and economic expenditures.  Helping to build institutions under this umbrella Indian RAW took over the Afghan intelligence service KHAD.  This was an ideal vantage point to promote anti-Pakistan policy such as (1) feeding fake intelligence reports against Pakistan and (2) providing shelter to TTP members and (3) when Pakistan started a sweep against TTP, providing the TTP with arms, ammunition, money, etc. Moreover, active involvement with TTP included organizing terrorist attacks in Karachi and Peshawar. This was a carry-over of the numerous bomb attacks in Pakistan, particularly Karachi carried out by RAW/KHAD during the 1990s. The blame for the growing turmoil because of the Afghan Taleban gains was shifted to the Afghan Taleban or TTP. The Peshawar school attack and the attack on the Pakistan Naval Station Mehran are two examples the connection of which are pointing to an Afghan connection. Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar called this method of hybrid warfare very figuratively ‘kante se kanta nikalna’, literally meaning removing a thorn with a thorn, i.e. employing/outsourcing of terrorists to catch/kill terrorists. In a very significant event, TTP Chief Hakimullah Afridi’s No 2, Latifullah Afridi, was captured in Afghanistan by US Special Forces while he was accompanied by NDSI agents on his way to Kabul to meet President Karzai.  Why was TTP’s No 2, engaged in fighting Pakistani forces, have to talk about with Karzai? Indeed how did Lt Commander Kulbhushan Yadev have a free run out of Afghanistan arraying out terrorism acts in Pakistan?

The years of war in Afghanistan that cost the lives of thousands of Afghans and hundreds of US and western soldiers, apart from the tremendous financial outlay became an ideal kinetic platform for India to exploit in order achieve its goals without involving themselves at all.  Most of the blood shed was of Afghans and Americans. Furthermore India managed to club together the Taleban and the Kashmiri fight as terrorism, thus justifying the ruthless course of action of the Indian Army against the Kashmiris, all the time putting the blame on Pakistan as the ground zero of terrorism. It is a glaring example of hybrid warfare using kinetic and non-kinetic means over decades and covering up both their indirect and direct interference and influence with no sacrifice themselves.

These good times are coming to an end for India. The change in US policy after the election of Donald Trump and the recent decision that US forces will leave Afghanistan on a staged basis changes the whole scenario. US peace talks directly with the Afghan Taleban have created an entirely new situation that upsets the Indian applecart of its Afghan policy. India is the only country in the world that has no interest in peace in Afghanistan. On the contrary Delhi wants continued strife because peace will end the pressure on Pakistan and bring the Taleban as a major political force. Another dangerous development in India’s view is the changed policy of its old friend Russia that now re-asserts its role in Afghanistan by supporting the peace negotiations while discouraging US influence there. The consequently mended relations of Russia with Pakistan and Russian support for the Afghan Taleban in their effort to negotiate a withdrawal of US forces has effectively nixed Indian policy towards Afghanistan. And to make the drama complete, Iran has changed its policy as well. That means things will change dramatically on the ground in Afghanistan. India has been excluded from the peace negotiations, obviously because their motivated self-interest in the matter is now beginning to be realized by others. Another central point of the negotiations is that any Afghan government that will come into existence after US withdrawal will have to make sure that Afghan soil is not used against any other country. This will have direct consequences for Indian policy in Afghanistan.

These changes will not mean the end of hybrid warfare in the region. That is why Pakistan has to be ready to deal with future Indian initiatives effectively. That needs raised preparedness of the security forces but also new modern foreign policy concepts that take into account the fast changing global and regional power equations. At the end of the day the realization has to be understood that conflicts in a globalized and nuclearized world, be they regional or global, have to be solved politically.  The element of using both kinetic and non-kinetic means makes any number of locations in the region a possible hybrid war target as India has done with Pakistan using Afghan soil and the lines of Afghan with the help of American money (and also lives).  With India having an opportunity to fight a proxy war against Pakistan without losing the lives of their own men or spending any of their own money, they took it!

The writer is a defense and security analyst.

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