Vidya Ram

Continue with wise man role in region: Karzai to India

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 08, 2018

Former president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai (File photo)   -  SAJJAD HUSSAIN

Former Afghan President urges Delhi to avoid the larger American strategic game

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai said India should not be pulled into the US’ approach to Afghanistan — which he warned was part of a “bigger strategic game” that would not bring peace to the region — but should maintain an independent approach based on the shared interests of the two nations.

Karzai, who spent nearly 10 years as president up till 2014, said he had expressed his own reservations to India about the new alliance between India and the US in the region. “India is a friend and an ally and a traditional civilisational friend of our country but I want India to continue its traditional wise man approach to the region. It’s too deep a civilisation to be taken away by an American design… too big a nation to be in any temporary arrangement with this or that country,” he said during a meeting with a small group of journalists in London on Wednesday.

US President Donald Trump outlined the US new approach to Afghanistan in August with a call for further involvement of India and a sharp criticism of Pakistan. India has ruled out deploying troops but has said it will expand development and medical assistance in the country to which it has extended around $3 billion in aid to date.

High stakes

“India has an extremely high stake in the region and in Afghanistan, and should therefore have its own approach to Afghanistan in the region in which peace in Afghanistan should be the overall objective, in which peace in the region is the objective… and in which coordinated action between India and Afghanistan against extremism is the objective,” he said, adding that if the US were genuine in this joint mission, it was welcome to join the two nations. “I suspect this is not the case,” he said.

Karzai reiterated his concerns about the new US policy towards Afghanistan outlined under the Trump administration, warning that it would not bring peace but just further suffering to the Afghan people. “Is this policy a continuation of the forever war in which Afghans are the main sufferers — its land, its soil its people, its environment… and do we want a forever war? And how come it took the US 16 years to recognise what was going on in Pakistan?” he said. “Every day Afghans told the US of the sanctuaries outside our borders. The United States knew they were there but couldn’t do much because Pakistan was an ally.”

Sceptical on US

It was for this reason he remained sceptical, he said of the new US approach which he said was not “aimed at ending extremism” but based on a “bigger strategic game in the region in which Pakistan does not seem to fit in US designs or Pakistan has taken a different path to what they were doing in the past: they were an ally of the US all along especially the two of them in promoting religious extremism. Now Pakistan has an economic integration plan, more closely aligned with China. Its more a power game than a fight against extremism that has re-aligned US politics in the region.”

“The shift in the US policy is not to fight extremism but to bring pressure on Pakistan for other reasons. We don’t join that. We have no ill will to Pakistan — we want Pakistan to do well, we consider Pakistan a neighbour…for all the difficulties we have with it.”

While praising the “tremendous friend” of Afghanistan India had been — including through the way it had gone “out of the way to do more for Afghanistan” than it had anywhere else, he was critical of the influential role that the US approach had had on its approach, citing efforts by Afghanistan towards the Manmohan Singh administration for help in its own military build up. India’s decision not to at that stage, he believes, was influenced by the US being against it. “It is this matter that makes us sensitive to the new alliance.”

Calls for a ‘steady policy’

“If the US changes course will India then follow again? India should not be moving from one pole to another. India should have a steady policy of a constant alliance with Afghanistan based on the fundamental interests of the two countries.

I want an independent Indian-Afghan relationship…from our perspective when the US did not want us to have relations with India we did not conduct our policy towards India based on the wishes of the US …we conducted our own and that is what we expect of India towards us.”

He also called for greater cooperation between India and China in their approach to the region, warning that the US policy on Afghanistan had direct implications for this.

On India-China ties

“These two vast massive civilisation and entities worldwide…their friendship and their cooperation will benefit us immensely and the region… and they should both avoid falling into a trap set by others in the competitionthat is created… It is in this view that I am not happy with the new US strategy because that strategy lessens the possibility of a broader India-Chinese cooperation.”

“We want to be friends with the US we want to be allies for the US…but I have as an Afghan citizen I have immense opposition against the way they fight extremism, which is adding to the fires of extremism.”

He said the best strategy towards the Taliban was to reach peace with them. “It is too late to talk of defeat…defeat means causing war in Afghanistan on a higher larger scale... military solutions are no more an option for us. The Taliban are Afghans and we must sit down with them and have peace with them.”

Published on October 04, 2017

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