Afghanistan Exit: Think India

By Amitai Etzioni, February 20, 2012

Indian and Pakistani border guards

Indian and Pakistani border guards

Amitai Etzioni, Professor of International Affairs at George Washington University discusses a possible solution to the Afghan debacle. First, solve the India-Pakistan conflict - but that would mean the US could no longer use India as a counterweight to China. Difficult but not impossible.

Just a general question about the war in Afghanistan – whether you feel it is a hopeless case in need of an exit strategy or if some sort of successful outcome could be devised?

There will be no reasonable outcome to the war in Afghanistan.  The only possible solution is to change our approach and look for a solution by talking to India.  The idea would be to encourage the stabilizing of relations between India and Pakistan, which is not as utopian as you might think.  There have been a lot of “off the record” negotiations between Pakistan and India with some innovative ideas about what to do with Kashmir.  If they could settle their differences, then the Pakistanis would be much more able to focus on what is happening in Afghanistan. They would be much more willing to shift their military resources  from the Indian border to the Afghan border.  This would trigger a chain of events which would encourage the Taliban to sue for peace.

How would you describe the current state of US-Pakistani relations?

About as bad as they have ever been.  The two countries need each other but they are both harming each other.  The issue is that the US needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs the US.  The relationship is unbalanced.  Transporting supplies to NATO forces can be compromised if Pakistan closes off the northern routes but there is not really that much that the US can do to Pakistan, Pakistan can basically live without the US.  The threat of terrorists or Islamic extremists getting their hands on nuclear weapons is of major concern to the US, but this is more of a risk to the US, the Pakistanis are less worried about it. Pakistan is more concerned that the United States will improve its relations with India after having left Afghanistan when it no longer needs the Pakistani supply routes.  The relationship is dysfunctional and they do not trust each other.

So the real enemy for Pakistan remains India?

The western powers under-rate the extent to which Pakistan sees India as the primary threat, not Afghanistan.  There is an interesting detail: when the Americans flew in on their helicopters to Abbotabad on their mission to capture Bin Laden, the locals were convinced that it was the Indians who were attacking.  NATO and Pakistan do not perceive the same threat.  Pakistan’s relationship with the West and the war in Afghanistan is seen through the prism of their conflict with India.


Amitai Etzioni

Amitai Etzioni

Amitai Etzioni is a professor of international affairs at The George Washington University. He is the author of Security First (Yale University Press, 2007).  Amitai Etzioni served as a Professor of Sociology at Columbia University for 20 years; part of that time as the Chairman of the department. He was a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution in 1978 before serving as a Senior Advisor to the White House on domestic affairs from 1979-1980. In 1980, Etzioni was named the first University Professor at The George Washington University, where he is the Director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies. From 1987-1989, he served as the Thomas Henry Carroll Ford Foundation Professor at the Harvard Business School. Etzioni served as the president of the American Sociological Association in 1994-95, and in 1989-90 was the founding president of the international Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics. In 1990, he founded the Communitarian Network, a not-for-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to shoring up the moral, social and political foundations of society. He was the editor of The Responsive Community: Rights and Responsibilities, the organization’s quarterly journal, from 1991-2004. In 1991, the press began referring to Etzioni as the ‘guru’ of the communitarian movement.  Amirai Etzioni is the author of twenty-four books.


Pakistan is wary that the US has a preference for good relations with its arch enemy India.  Why are relations with India so important?

The problem is that the US has been supporting India recently, supposedly to act as a counterweight to China.  If you like, the problem really initiates in the US attempt to contain China by supporting India which in turn makes Pakistan very nervous.  This then has a knock-on effect in Afghanistan.  As a possible solution to the war, the US should reappraise its tendency to use India as a vital counterweight to China. My point is that the solution to the Afghanistan problem lies in US-China relations.  If you work backwards from there back to the war in Afghanistan, you might be able to solve the problem.  Pakistan sees the Taliban as the perfect deterrent against creeping Indian power in Afghanistan.  The Taliban have close kinship ties with Pakistan and are the perfect ally against any Indian attempt to “encircle” Pakistan from behind.

There seems to be something of a double game going on in Pakistan, on the one hand providing information and support to NATO but also offering a haven for Afghan Taliban.

Welcome to the international world of duplicity! The US is looking to solve an immediate problem, to defeat the Taliban, but Pakistan is looking to the future when the US abandons Afghanistan and is left with a potential enemy on its doorstep – particularly if India gets a foothold in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis are almost obliged to cultivate relations with the Taliban now, as they know they will be their sole interlocutor when NATO has gone.

It looks like the Pakistani military and the ISI are not fighting the same war.  The military seems more sympathetic to the war against the Taliban.

Yes, it is true, but this is not so unusual, in any country, this sort of institutional rivalry is perfectly normal.  This should not be so shocking.  Always remember that India is considered much more of an enemy than the Taliban.   The Pakistanis have seen this all before when the US abandoned Pakistan and Afghanistan after the Russians pulled out of Afghanistan.  The Pakistanis are preparing to be abandoned again and they know they will be left to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan on their own.

Is this creating a power vacuum?

This situation is pushing the Pakistanis closer and closer to China.  China is already getting involved.  They are already providing the majority of tanks to the Pakistani army.  Just compare the figures, our aid amounts to under $2 billion and China has recently poured in about $25 billion.  They are helping Pakistan build nuclear reactors too.  We are pushing the Pakistani into the arms of China.

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