Read The Hindu Notes of 18th January 2019 for UPSC Civil Service Examination, State Civil Service Examination and other competitive Examination

The Hindu Notes for 18th January 2019
  • Topic Discussed: The Hindu Notes of 18th January 2019
  • The seats around the Afghan round table

    India must shed its diplomatic diffidence as a stakeholder, even with the Taliban’s presence.

  • One year ago, on New Year’s Day, the Indian establishment welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump’s tweet: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollar in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”
  • This year, in a Cabinet meeting on January 3, he rambled, “I get along very well with India and Prime Minister Modi. But he is constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan. Okay, a library… That’s like, you know what that is? That’s like five hours of what we spend [in Afghanistan]. And he tells it and he is very smart. And we are supposed to say, oh, thank you for the library.” This left those in the Indian establishment miffed and scratching their heads, only to conclude that Mr. Trump possibly mistook the Parliament building in Kabul built by India at a cost of $90 million for a library.
  • Mr. Trump is frustrated with his Afghanistan policy and is desperately seeking a way out. To be fair, when he announced his Afghanistan policy in August 2017, he had said that his original instinct was to pull out. He was persuaded otherwise by his then Defence Secretary James Mattis, Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and Afghanistan commander Gen. John W. Nicholson, all of whom have since been replaced, making it easier for him to follow his ‘instinct’.
  • Failure of the Afghan policy

  • Currently, the U.S. spends $45 billion a year in Afghanistan, including $5 billion for Afghan security forces and $780 million on economic assistance. The balance is for U.S. forces and logistical support. These figures have reduced over time, as U.S. troop deployment is down to 15,000 now from 100,000 in 2010. However, over the last 18 years, the cumulative cost to the U.S. has been estimated at $800 billion on U.S. deployments and $105 billion in rebuilding Afghanistan. About 2,400 U.S. troops have been killed though casualty figures since 2015, when the U.S. withdrew from combat operations, are down to 12 a year. Despite expending this blood and treasure, the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate. Mr. Trump’s questioning of the usefulness of continuing U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is justified.
  • The 2017 policy aimed at breaking the military stalemate by expanding the U.S. presence by 5,000 troops, putting Pakistan on notice, and strengthening Afghan capabilities. More than a year later, clearly the policy has failed. The military situation has improved in favour of the Taliban, while the Taliban and Haqqani Network sanctuaries in Pakistan remain intact.
  • Afghan security forces are suffering unacceptable attrition. Since 2015, when the Afghan security forces took charge of combat operations, they have suffered around 30,000 casualties. Civilian casualties are over 3,000 a year. With recruitment drying up and desertions on the rise, the Afghan security forces are down by more than 10% from their sanctioned strength.
  • Parliamentary elections were conducted on October 20 last year with much fanfare but the announcement of the final results has been repeatedly postponed amid allegations that more than one-fourth of the votes cast were rigged.
  • Unconfirmed reports that the U.S. was withdrawing 7,000 troops from Afghanistan began to circulate hours after James Mattis’s resignation as Defence Secretary. The White House backtracked by subsequently clarifying that this was one of the options being explored but no decision had been taken. However, it is clear which way the wind is blowing.
  • Accumulating mistakes

  • The reason is that over the last 18 years, the U.S. (and coalition partners) have made a series of mistakes, of omission and commission. The Afghan Constitution, adopted in 2004, centralised power in a U.S.-style presidential system but lacking the institutions of legislature, judiciary and civil society, checks and balance were missing. Governance structures were weak as an entire generation had been lost in the anti-Soviet jihad and Taliban conflicts.
  • The Iraq invasion in 2003 rapidly sucked in more and more U.S. resources as the focus shifted away from Afghanistan. By 2006, when the Taliban had regrouped and begun to engage in suicide attacks and IED blasts in Afghanistan, the U.S. was unwilling to acknowledge it and preferred to bribe Pakistan to gain its cooperation.
  • Poppy production grew to finance the Taliban insurgency. Since 2002, the international community has spent nearly $15 billion on counter-narcotics, and yet, in 2017, poppy production was four times what it was in 2002. International troop presence from 34 countries lacked a unified command and control and adopted different rules of engagement. British troops, deployed in Helmand, were the first to reach a quiet understanding with the local Taliban by ignoring the opium cultivation.
  • Hamid Karzai was President from 2001 to 2014. During the Barack Obama administration, his relations with the U.S. grew increasingly strained with both sides engaging in frequent sniping. His open criticism of Pakistan’s duplicity irritated the U.S., which was even more dependent on Pakistan after the surge in U.S. troops in 2010. Mr. Obama’s decision to announce the surge along with a timetable for withdrawal only emboldened the Taliban.
  • The strength of the Afghan security forces was hurriedly doubled to enable them to take combat lead in 2015 but lack of training and equipment soon began to take its toll. Only the Special Forces (Ktah Khas) raised in 2015 have successfully blunted Taliban onslaughts. But their numbers are limited and they are dependent on U.S. airlift and intelligence imagery.
  • The cumulative effect is that the U.S. has lost goodwill and its troop presence is a liability. It is hardly surprising that the U.S. is now seeking an exit. Managing the optics of withdrawal is critical though and that is what Zalmay Khalilzad, as the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, is tasked to ensure. The Afghan presidential election has been pushed by three months to July 20 but it is unlikely that the election machinery can be reformed and the promised biometric ID system put in place. The national unity government led by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah has lost legitimacy and cannot continue beyond July.
  • Since the security situation does not permit new elections, the U.S. is likely to push for a new version of the 2001 Bonn Conference to set up an interim government that can plan a Loya Jirga and an election in a year or two. The process would provide the window for a U.S. exit. The difference is that unlike in 2001, it is clear that the Taliban will be present at the table, speaking from a position of strength. This is evident from their announcement on January 8 that they were calling off the next round of talks with the U.S. on account of differences on issues relating to release of Taliban prisoners, participation of Afghan government officials and U.S. troop withdrawal. Reflecting the Taliban’s growing legitimacy, Russia is planning another regional conference in the Moscow format. Pakistan had engineered a meeting of the Taliban with Saudi Arabia and the UAE while a Taliban delegation was in Tehran in end-December.
  • What India should do

  • India needs to shed its diplomatic diffidence because unlike in the 1990s, India’s options for engagement today are not restricted. It may not have the leverage of being a spoiler but neither does it carry uncomfortable baggage. During the last 18 years, India has earned goodwill cutting across Afghanistan’s geographies and ethnicities. Instead of playing favourites, it has supported institution building and shown that its interests coincide with the idea of a stable, secure, independent and peaceful Afghanistan. What is needed is more active and coordinated diplomacy, official and non-official, so that India remains at the table as Afghanistan’s preferred development partner through its transition.
  • The view from the outside

    As a democracy, India must have a better record of upholding human rights

  • The role that India can and should play on the world stage is a topic that elicits much excitement and, of late, hyper-nationalism. It is often stated that it is time for India, as the world’s largest democracy, to take on an increasingly significant mantle in the international realm. Aspects such as economic and military power have been the usual focus of this debate. However, an important component of this enhanced stature necessarily relates to the safeguarding and protecting of human rights. In India, there is a blind spot in relation to rights and the intersection with foreign relations and policy discussions, and ignoring this has its perils.
  • Track record on human rights

  • Recently, India’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations expressed concern over the “politicisation of human rights as a foreign policy tool”, while addressing the work of the UN and the Human Rights Council. If part of the argument that India seeks to make is that it is a torchbearer of democracy and should therefore have a greater say, including on issues such as UN reform, an integral part of the case to be made relates to upholding international laws and standards pertaining to human rights. So, how does this stand up to scrutiny?
  • Within the country, many lawyers, activists, academics and human rights organisations have pointed to the deteriorating climate in relation to human rights. But how is the track record on human rights perceived outside the country, particularly by international law and human rights experts appointed as part of the UN human rights machinery? It is instructive to assess the record of UN independent experts towards India. For clarity, this assessment excludes the Human Rights Council, made of a group of states which can run the risk of allegations of partisanship based on membership. Instead, only statements of UN Independent Experts or Special Rapporteurs are examined, being thematic or subject matter experts on specific aspects of law (such as freedom of expression, extrajudicial executions, human rights defenders, etc.).
  • Negative statements

  • On January 11, four UN Special Rapporteurs — on summary executions, torture, freedom of religion, and the situation of human rights defenders — issued a statement drawing attention to “extrajudicial” killings in Uttar Pradesh. In a strongly worded call, the UN experts expressed concern about the “patterns of events”, including arrest, detention and torture prior to summary executions of 59 individuals since March 2017. This enhanced and negative scrutiny by Independent Experts follows on the heels of the first ever UN report on human rights violations in Kashmir, conducted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights — an indicator of how far the situation has deteriorated, as well as the inevitable enhanced scrutiny. A review of the press releases by the UN human rights office from 2010 to date shows that there have been 26 critical statements (mostly by UN experts, with some by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights). Nine were issued in 2018, which was the year that saw the highest number of negative statements on India in the period examined. The statements have dealt with a number of issues, including the Assam National Register of Citizens process (in photo), online hate speech, the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh, jailing of human rights defenders, deportation of Rohingya refugees, and excessive police response to protests.
  • These statements indicate a few things. First, there has been enhanced scrutiny by international experts of the deteriorating human rights environment in India, particularly in 2018. Second, the magnification of domestic rights violations in the international sphere is inevitable. Third, the metric of human rights and compliance with international law cannot be dismissed.
  • Inevitably, there will be the counterarguments, many of which can be addressed. Yes, this is not a comparison to other countries, but based on self-made claims of enhanced stature in the international arena — so how we fare in the eyes of international experts is important. No, this is not a question of external interference which can be dismissed out of hand — these statements are extremely serious, not issued lightly and are an integral part of the machinery of accountability for human rights violations in the international realm and will be a part of India’s human rights record for posterity.
  • India’s record of upholding human rights is abysmal; it must do better. The primary consideration should be the welfare and rights of individuals within the purview of the state. The secondary consideration should be perception and the place that India wants for itself in terms of stature and prestige. From both perspectives, the respect of the rights of individuals must be non-negotiable.
  • Collegium controversy

    An unusual change of decision brings the judicial appointments system under scrutiny

  • The controversial collegium system of judicial appointments is under public scrutiny once again. This time, the potential for embarrassment to the superior judiciary is much higher. Former Chief Justices of India, a sitting Supreme Court judge, and the Bar Council of India have taken exception to the collegium’s unusual action of revisiting decisions made at an earlier meeting, and recommending the elevation to the apex court of Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Sanjiv Khanna, instead of two judges whose names had been considered earlier. The allegation is not merely one concerning the seniority or the lack of it of the two appointees; rather, it is the much graver charge of arbitrarily revoking a decision made on December 12 last year. The official reasons are in the public domain in the form of a resolution on January 10. It claims that even though some decisions were made on December 12, “the required consultations could not be undertaken and completed” in view of the winter vacation. When the collegium met again on January 5/6, its composition had changed following the retirement of Justice Madan B. Lokur. It was then decided that it would be “appropriate” to have a fresh look at the matter, as well as the “additional material”. The only rationale for the names of Rajasthan High Court Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Delhi High Court Chief Justice Rajendra Menon being left out is the claim that new material had surfaced. However, it is not clear what the material is and how it affected their suitability.
  • Former Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha is right in underscoring the institutional nature of decisions by the collegium. Can the retirement of one judge be a ground to withdraw a considered decision, even if some consultations were incomplete? There is little surprise in the disquiet in legal circles. Another curious element in the latest appointments is that Justice Maheshwari, who had been superseded as recently as last November, when a judge junior to him was appointed a Supreme Court judge, has been found to be “more suitable and deserving in all respects” than any of the other chief justices and judges. There is no objection to the elevation of Justice Khanna except his relative lack of seniority. There is little substance in this criticism, as it is now widely accepted that seniority cannot be the sole criterion for elevation to the Supreme Court. However, the fact that there are three other judges senior to him in the Delhi High Court itself — two of them serving elsewhere as chief justices — is bound to cause some misgivings. The credibility of the collegium system has once again been called into question. The recent practice of making public all resolutions of the collegium has brought in some transparency. Yet, the impression that it works in mysterious ways refuses to go away. This controversy ill-serves the judiciary as an institution.
  • Learning little

    The reading and arithmetic abilities in rural schools are shockingly dismal

  • The latest assessment of how children are faring in schools in rural areas indicates there has been no dramatic improvement in learning outcomes. The picture that emerges from the Annual Status of Education Report, Rural (2018) is one of a moribund system of early schooling in many States, with no remarkable progress from the base year of 2008. Except for a small section at the top of the class, the majority of students have obviously been let down. The survey for 2018 had a reach of 5.4 lakh students in 596 rural districts. It should put administrators on alert that while 53.1% of students in Class 5 in rural government schools could in 2008 read a text meant for Class 2, the corresponding figure for 2018 stood at 44.2%; for comparison, private schools scored 67.9% and 65.1% for the same test in those years. Arithmetic ability showed a similar trend of under-performance, although there has been a slight uptick since 2016: an improvement of about 1.5 percentage points in government schools and 1.8 percentage points in private institutions, among Class 5 students. Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala and Haryana did better on the arithmetic question with over 50% students clearing it, compared to Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and even Karnataka, which scored below 20%. A significant percentage of students were not even able to recognise letters appropriate for their class, highlighting a severe barrier to learning.
  • Now that the ASER measure is available for 10 years, the Centre should institute a review mechanism involving all States for both government and private institutions, covering elementary education and middle school. A public consultation on activity-based learning outcomes, deficits in early childhood education, and innovations in better performing States can help. At present, children start learning in a variety of environments: from poorly equipped anganwadi centres to private nurseries. The enactment of the Right to Education Act was followed by a welcome rise in enrolment, which now touches 96% as per ASER data. Empowering as it is, the law needs a supportive framework to cater to learners from different backgrounds who often cannot rely on parental support or coaching. There is concern that curricular expectations on literacy and numeracy have become too ambitious, requiring reform. It is worth looking at innovation in schools and incentivising good outcomes; one study in Andhra Pradesh indicated that bonus pay offered to teachers led to better student scores in an independently administered test in mathematics and language. The solutions may lie in multiple approaches. What is beyond doubt is that governments are not doing their duty by India’s children.
  • Will the BSP-SP alliance in Uttar Pradesh be successful?

    Both parties successfully transfer votes to each other and have some similarities

  • I believe that the alliance between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will be successful in Uttar Pradesh.
  • This is not merely an alliance between two parties but between two social bases: the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and the Dalits. While it is true that both these parties do not command the support of all OBC and Dalit groups, it is also true that the Yadavs, who form the caste base of the SP, constitute a large chunk of the OBC population and are likely to attract other OBCs and Most Backward Classes (MBCs) through social networking. Similarly, the BSP’s influence among the Jatavs, who form the largest Dalit community, is likely to attract a few smaller Dalit groups. Many MBC communities, such as the Nishads and Pals, who voted for the SP in the last election have an easy interaction with the Dalits in their everyday life.
  • Transferring votes

  • Both these parties also successfully transfer votes to each other, which may hold the key to the success of the alliance. At a recent press conference, BSP chief Mayawati said that past experience suggests that the SP and the BSP successfully transfer votes to each other. This happened in the 1993 Assembly election in U.P. and the alliance was successful in forming the government. In the byelections in Phulpur and Gorakhpur in March 2018, even without a formal alliance the BSP’s votes got easily transferred to the SP. This suggests that there is not much work needed to create a chemistry between the two vote bases. The only thing that the alliance needs to do now is disseminate its message to the voters.
  • Some similarities

  • Besides these caste-based relationships and electoral calculations, there is also the question of ideology. Ram Manohar Lohia’s ideology and B.R. Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram’s ideology bear certain similarities. Both the leaders talked about bhagidari, or representation to social groups supporting a party in accordance with their strength. This was emphasised in Kanshi Ram’s slogan: “Jiski jitni sankhya bhari, uski utni hissedari.”
  • Despite being archrivals otherwise, it is clear that the politics of the BSP and the SP have a lot in common. Many Lohiaites, such as Ramswaroop Verma, had worked hard to create Ambedkarite-Lohiaite unity in the State in the 1970s. So, there are trained cadres in the Lohiaite movement who may emerge as opinion-makers of this unity. This will help disseminate the message of this alliance at the grass-roots level.
  • The Muslim vote

  • The Muslims in the State will also view this alliance with some consideration. There is a sense of fear among Muslims given the strong opposition to cow slaughter in the State. Plus they are not adequately represented in politics. Muslims usually vote after assessing the winnability of non-BJP political parties. If many vote for the alliance (some will also vote for the Congress), that would ensure a big victory for the SP and the BSP. Muslims are an important group in the State as they constitute 20% of the population.
  • If the Congress emerges as a third bloc to make the contest triangular, it would benefit the alliance. If the Congress manages to obtain the votes of the upper castes and the urban middle class from the BJP, this too would help the SP-BSP alliance.
  • An opportunistic alliance at the top will not easily percolate down to the cadres

  • Given that it is the most populous State in India, Uttar Pradesh is certainly a very important piece in the electoral puzzle of 2019. The much-talked-about mahagathbandhan, or alliance of non-BJP parties, to defeat the BJP is primarily based on the hyper narrative of the prospective success of the BSP-SP alliance in U.P. However, a deep dive into the electoral numbers and political equations makes this citadel look pretty vulnerable.
  • Examining vote shares

  • The SP-BSP combine is setting its hopes on the bypoll victories in Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana in 2018. There are multiple flaws in this assumption. First, the unsuccessful seat-sharing arrangement in the Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan Assembly elections between the “arrogant” Congress, as BSP chief Mayawati put it, and the SP and the BSP has pushed the Congress out of the opportunistic mahagathbandhan in U.P. for 2019. With the Congress out of the equation, going by the 2014 Lok Sabha figures, the SP and the BSP, which had a combined vote share of 42.1% then, will have a lower vote share than the BJP and the Apna Dal, which had a vote share of 43.6% then. Even with the addition of the Rashtriya Lok Dal’s vote share, the combined vote share of the BSP-SP-RLD combine (43%) will be lower than that of the BJP-Apna Dal combine.
  • Second, the bypoll victories came with a wafer-thin margin, with considerably lower voting percentages. In 2014, for example, Yogi Adityanath won the Gorakhpur seat with a margin of more than 3 lakh votes, but in the bypoll, SP candidate Praveen Kumar Nishad won by a margin of only 21,000 votes. Every parliamentary seat has around 2,000 polling booths and every booth has around 1,000 votes. A margin of 21,000 votes can be reversed just by improving the vote share in two or three dozen booths. Besides, bypolls never generate the political euphoria and engagement that a general election does, so there’s a lower voter turnout. The 11 percentage point drop in voting in the Gorakhpur bypoll went against the BJP, which can easily be reversed.
  • Cadre-level problems

  • Third, these were just three bypolls where the BSP silently supported the SP and RLD candidates. A larger exercise of seat-sharing for the 80 seats in U.P. between the SP and the BSP and possibly the RLD will not be smooth, given the complex electoral arithmetic and clash of egos. This is the same BSP whose leader publicly declared to never do business with the SP after the infamous guest house attack on her by SP leaders in 1995. The BSP and SP field cadres have worked against each other for more than two decades. An opportunistic alliance at the top will not easily percolate to the cadre level. On whichever seat the SP loses the ticket to the BSP or vice-versa, the respective party cadres will be highly demoralised and the vote share of the two parties will simply not add up in all the seats. The BSP has a far more committed and loyal cadre than the SP. Ms. Mayawati will be able to transfer the BSP’s votes to the SP’s candidates. But in seats where BSP candidates will contest, it will not be easy for SP president Akhilesh Yadav to transfer the SP’s votes to the BSP.
  • The only motive that this alliance has is to beat the BJP. Caste is its only trump card. But by promulgating an ordinance to reaffirm the SCs and STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and by providing 10% reservation to economically weaker members of the upper castes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken even this away from these regional satraps.
  • Victory is not about arithmetic alone, but about chemistry between the allies and their voters

  • The BSP-SP alliance in U.P. for the general election this year has begun a debate on the wider political implications of this electoral agreement. Uttar Pradesh sends over a seventh of the members of the Lok Sabha and accounts for about one-fourth of the BJP MPs in the House. Any change in electoral equations in the State is bound to have an impact on the nature and structure of political competition in the country in general and the ruling BJP in particular.
  • On the face of it, this looks like a decidedly winning combination if we consider the electoral arithmetic. Yet, victories and defeats are not merely about simple arithmetic and the mechanical adding up of past trends in voting and extrapolating them to the future. It is also about political chemistry between the allies — between their leaders, their workers, and, more crucially, among their voters.
  • If one were to just bring together the votes secured by the SP and BSP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in U.P. as well as the Assembly elections of 2017, one notices that in terms of sheer numbers they could pose a formidable challenge to the BJP. In 2014, the SP and BSP together secured just 0.5% votes less than the BJP. In the Assembly elections of 2017, their combined vote tally was a good 9 percentage points ahead of the BJP. This by itself, and the results of the three byelections to the Lok Sabha from the State, must be giving the BJP sleepless nights as it had a 70-plus contingent in 2014 in the Lok Sabha from this State (it is less than 70 now).
  • Ground-level issues

  • Yet, two important factors need to be considered in this discussion. First, it would be politically na├»ve to simply add up the SP-BSP votes in the past and assume that those numbers would hold for this election. Will this political chemistry work at the ground level? While SP president Akhilesh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati have patched up and stitched an alliance, will this be logically carried forward by the local party units and leaders? Let’s not forget that the SP and the BSP have been traditional rivals, and the Yadav-Dalit rivalry at the local level has been in some ways a key factor in State politics. A lot depends on the ability of both Mr. Yadav and Ms. Mayawati to persuade their local leaders to sink their differences and work in unison, at least in this election. Both parties are making no pretensions of a long-term alliance. Local leaders of both the SP and the BSP are probably mindful of this fact, even as they are encouraged to work together this time around.
  • Voting patterns

  • The ability of leaders and cadres to get voters loyal to the party to switch votes to the alliance partner in a seat that they are not contesting will be critical. Past experience has shown that the BSP has not faced a serious challenge in transferring votes to whoever it allied with. On the other hand, the allies of the BSP have found it difficult to convince their supporters to vote for the BSP. This explains why Ms. Mayawati has been so lukewarm to alliances in the past.
  • Finally, the continued split in the anti-BJP vote in the State will also have to be kept in mind. The Congress has announced its intention to contest all the seats. This will result in a split of the anti-BJP vote. Whether the Congress will reach a tacit or even an open understanding with the SP-BSP combine prior to the elections will be closely watched. This could decidedly tilt the balance in favour of the non-BJP alliance.
  • At this stage, it looks quite complicated.
  • Balancing act in Afghanistan

    India should be informed of the developments in the peace process for which the U.S. is taking Pakistan’s help

  • In recent weeks, a new policy conundrum has emerged for the U.S. as it attempts to help launch a peace process in Afghanistan. Soon after the U.S. government formally requested Pakistan’s assistance to bring the Taliban to the table, Islamabad helped facilitate meetings between senior Taliban representatives and U.S. officials in Abu Dhabi. The U.S. government appears to be acknowledging that Pakistan, given its influence over the Taliban, is an important and potentially helpful player in the peace process in Afghanistan.
  • However, it has also signalled its desire for India, its growing defence partner, to be more involved in reconciliation efforts and in Afghanistan more broadly. At various times during his term, President Donald Trump — sometimes crudely, as with his mocking comment about New Delhi limiting itself to building libraries in Afghanistan — has suggested that New Delhi step up its game. The recent visit to India of Zalmay Khalilzad (in photo), the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, highlights the importance that Washington accords to India in Afghanistan.
  • Herein lies the dilemma: the U.S. cannot have it both ways. If Pakistan is enlisted in reconciliation efforts, India won’t be keen to get involved. But if India does take on a larger role, then Pakistan may well step back.
  • To be sure, India and Pakistan have proved to be willing and able to partner regionally. They may struggle to coexist in SAARC, but they do cooperate on the TAPI pipeline, and they’re both members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, an arrangement mostly of Central Asian states, and China and Russia.
  • Of course, partnering in Afghanistan is much more delicate and challenging. Fortunately for the U.S., this policy dilemma may work itself out on its own. Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s desire for a more robust regional foreign policy, India appears content to keep a low profile in Afghanistan, outside of its continued development and economic assistance projects. Tellingly, New Delhi has distanced itself from the Indian Army Chief’s remark supporting talks with the Taliban with no preconditions. Additionally, India will not volunteer to play a role in reconciliation efforts unless formally invited by Kabul. Afghan officials, grudgingly cognisant of Pakistan’s significant role, are unlikely to do so unless current efforts to kick-start talks do not bear fruit, or Pakistan is no longer seen as helpful.
  • Still, it is important that India not be left on the outside looking in amid efforts to spark a reconciliation process with such major implications for it. Accordingly, the U.S. should keep India fully informed, at the highest levels, about any developments in reconciliation. U.S. officials owe that engagement to one of their most important partners in South Asia.
  • The writer is Deputy Director and Senior Associate for South Asia with the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, Washington, DC