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US to India: Lay off Afghanistan, please

US to India: Lay off Afghanistan, please

Author: Jyoti Malhotra
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: December 8, 2002
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/archive_full_story.php?content_id=14403

Introduction: Washington demarche to Delhi to go slow on opening consulates in Jalalabad, Kandahar. Reason: Musharraf isn't happy

Persuaded by its faithful friend and ally Pakistan, the United States has recently issued a demarche to India, suggesting that New Delhi go slow on its political and reconstruction activities in Afghanistan because these were, in turn, having an adverse impact on a weakened President Musharraf in Islamabad.

The Americans are said to have pointed out that India's determination to carve out a presence in post-Taliban Afghanistan, for example by opening consulates in key cities like Kandahar and Jalalabad-both near the Pak border and considered by Islamabad as part of its sphere of influence-was causing significant heartburn within Musharraf's charmed circle.

A shocked Foreign Office responded by allegorically telling the US diplomat that the shoe, really, was on the other foot. That India, along with the international community, continued to be concerned about the fact that Pakistan was turning out to be a safe haven for the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, including top leaders like Osama bin Laden, more than a year after the US bombing of Afghanistan. Moreover, Musharraf was hardly doing enough to go after these men.

Highly placed sources here said that the US had even in the past referred to India's proactive impulses in Afghanistan but that the reference to Pakistan had always been of a ''general'' nature.

For the first time in the demarche, however, ''Pakistani anxieties'' had been pointedly conveyed by the US to India.

The US diplomats also went on to push Musharraf's case to New Delhi: That the Pak President had been responsible for causing a ''turnaround'' in Islamabad's policy on Afghanistan after September 11, but that the successes of the hardline MMA in elections in the Pakistan frontier provinces showed that this policy had weakened him.

It would help, they added, if New Delhi understood these legitimate interests and concerns of Islamabad and went slow on its own activities in Afghanistan.

It must testify to the strength of the growing Indo-US relationship that the American side ''took on board India's sensitivities and understood that the demarche was inherently erroneous in nature,'' highly placed sources here said.

For its part, New Delhi is also said to have decided to let the issue rest, at least for the time being.

It was not brought up during last week's visit of United States deputy National Security Advisor Steve Hadley to the capital, and unless things change again, Vajpayee's Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra is likely to refrain from doing so during his talks with his counterpart Condoleezza Rice in Washington from December 9-11.

Nevertheless, New Delhi also seems to have decided that while it is ready to understand any concerns that the US has on Afghanistan, it is certainly not willing to accept that Washington speak on behalf of any other country.

Certainly, the US demarche indicates a divide within the American establishment on India's role in Afghanistan.

At one level, the US is said to be congratulatory about New Delhi's efforts at reconstruction in that country, such as its initiative on building the road from Zaranj to Delaram, from just within the Afghan border with Iran and linking up to the Kandahar-Herat highway.

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