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Blame ISI for Kabul's woes

I have repeatedly emphasised the fact that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence -- as an organ of the country's military and political establishment -- has been, and remains, the principal source of the impetus, the infrastructure and the organisational networks of what is inaccurately called 'Islamist' terrorism across the world. The ISI's sinister shadow looms heavy across the attack on India's Embassy at Kabul on July 7. This has been confirmed at the highest levels in Afghanistan, among others, by the Interior Ministry, which issued a statement asserting that "the Interior Ministry believes this attack was carried out in coordination and consultation with an active intelligence service in the region" -- an obvious reference to the ISI.

It must be abundantly clear, and as clearly recognised by our policy makers and strategists, that such attacks by Pakistan's terrorist proxies will continue -- and will intensify -- against Indian targets in Afghanistan till this war has arrived at a definitive conclusion. Many have written about Pakistan's misconceived quest for 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan as the motive and source of the ISI's persistent mischief in the region. There is truth in this, but only part of it. The reality is, perpetuating instability and weakness in Afghanistan is an existential imperative for Pakistan -- and the reason for this lies, among other elements, preponderantly in the defunct Durand Line.

Legally, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the North-West Frontier Province lapsed back into Afghan territory after the termination of the Treaty between Mortimer Durand (on behalf of the British Empire) and Amir Abdur Rahman Khan of Afghanistan, signed in 1893, relinquishing control of these regions to the British for 100 years. Since 1993, consequently, FATA and NWFP are de jure Afghan territory, though they continue to be illegally occupied by Pakistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has described the Durand Line as a "line of hatred separating two brothers", and in June 2008 threatened to send Afghan forces into Pakistan to "rescue the Pashtuns in Pakistan from... cruelty and terror". Successive Afghan Governments have, in fact, rejected the Durand Line since 1949 -- but even the legal foundations of continued Pakistani occupation of FATA and NWFP have dissipated since 1993. This confronts Islamabad with the terrifying possibility of losing one of its four Provinces the moment a stable and strong Kabul consolidates its capacities to press home its legal claim. Consequently, promoting instability in Afghanistan is, and will remain, a critical strategic goal for the establishment in Pakistan.

India, on the other hand, remains irrevocably committed to Afghan stability and strength, and is backing a multiplicity of development projects that impact directly on the country's reconstruction and on the welfare of its people. More significantly, several of these projects directly impact on the Pakistani stranglehold over Afghanistan. The Zaranj-Delaram Road project, which will eventually link Afghanistan to the Iranian Port of Chabahar, is one such critical initiative and will relieve Afghanistan of its complete dependency on Pakistan for the transit of goods -- and provide India a route to channel relief and developmental materials to Afghanistan, currently denied by Pakistan's refusal to concede trade and transit rights across Pakistani territory. Pakistan and its Taliban proxies also remain intractably opposed to road and infrastructure projects because these automatically act as force multipliers for counter-insurgency formations, improving their response time and capacities.

The conflict between the Pakistan-Taliban position, on the one hand, and the Afghan-Indian perspective, on the other, is, therefore, irreducible and no 'peace processes' or 'confidence-building measures' are going to diminish the structural contradictions that underlie violence and terrorism in the region. Nor is any diminution of India's engagement in Afghanistan a credible option. Indeed, if anything, on both humanitarian and strategic considerations, India's involvement in Afghanistan can only increase.

What is required is a hard-headed look at the security of projects and the Indian presence in the country. Two aspects must dominate these concerns -- first, the general security situation in the country, which has shown signs of steadily worsening; and, second, the security of particular areas where Indian projects and establishments are located. It must be recognised that guaranteeing security of all personnel and establishments against the possibility of bomb or missile attacks (the Zaranj-Delaram project has been repeatedly targeted in missile attacks) -- and particularly of suicide bomb attacks -- is extremely difficult. Nevertheless, there are a wide range of protocols and structural considerations that can enormously enhance the protection and safety of potential targets. The principal considerations, here, will be space and technology -- and no mere enhancement of manpower can suffice.

The location and construction of particular buildings and structures needs to be expertly evaluated, and where these are found wanting from the security perspective, necessary adjustments, and in some cases, relocation, will be necessary. The location of critical institutions -- including the Indian Embassy and Consulates -- must be evaluated in terms of available space for effective sanitisation of the approach and perimeter. A wide range of technologies are also available for surveillance and protection of targets, and these can enormously enhance the capacities of the security forces deployed to protect Indian institutions and installations. A measure of proactivity must also be achieved in the security arrangements, allowing a certain degree of peripheral control wherever our people are located, and depending on the strategic requirements of particular projects.

A number of detailed protocols need also to be adopted and strictly enforced. Some already exist, and most Indians working on various projects in Afghanistan have their movements strictly curtailed to ensure protection. In some cases in the past, these protocols have been wilfully ignored with the most unfortunate consequences. This is what happened in the case of the telecommunication engineer, K Suryanarayan, who ignored protocols against travelling alone, and was kidnapped and killed by the Taliban.

In other cases, there may be actual deficiencies in protocol -- and a thorough examination is necessary to determine vulnerabilities. Particularly, it is not clear whether Embassy staff follow regular and easily predictable patterns of movement -- especially when entering or leaving the Embassy premises. From media reports on the Embassy attack it would appear that senior officers were arriving for work at a fixed time, possibly in easily identifiable vehicles, which may have been under observation for some time.

It is necessary that policy-makers understand that when we send men into conflict situations, there is an inevitable risk of loss of life, whatever precautions we may take. This should not discourage us, but should, in fact, make us all the more determined to help a friendly nation and its people out of their present distress.

(Published in The Pioneer, July 12, 2008)





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