ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION 21 FEBRUARY 2013
WITH DR THOMAS F. LYNCH III
1. Dr. Thomas F. Lynch a Distinguished Research Fellow for South Asia and the Near East at the Institute of National Strategic Studies (INSS) at the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, D.C visited the USI for a Round Table Discussion (RTD) with USI scholars. His areas of expertise are Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and the Subcontinent, the Gulf Arab States, and trajectory of radical Islam. Discussions were on three topics, the future of Afghanistan after 2014, the strategic importance of Myanmar and lessons learnt from combatting insurgencies. The director USI, Lt Gen PK Singh welcomed all the participants and requested Lt Gen Vinay Shankar to briefly cover the emerging scenario in Afghanistan and its salient features.
Afghanistan Post 2014
2. Lt Gen Vinay Shankar initiated the discussion on Afghanistan. He flagged three issues in his opening remarks:
(a) The Afghan Nation and its People. He brought out that the Afghans who are devout Muslims and have suffered in the last 11 to 12 years. The country is undergoing a transformation. Afghanistan has a functional government. Its society was transforming from a tribal mindset to a modern society with an improvement in the fields of democracy, education, women’s rights and freedom of the media. The country has a bright future and could become stable and prosperous. India wants Afghanistan to transit into a stable democracy. The major concerns of India are the stability and security post 2014 and the state of its economy. Therefore, the prudence of the drawdown of NATO and US Forces in 2014 was questionable.
(b) War Against Terror. Most terrorist leaders have moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan. The Taliban are still active in Pakistan along with other terror organisations and keep morphing into each other. The US needs to look into this unfinished war. Should the Taliban come to power again, Afghanistan could once again become a hub for militancy and terrorism. These are grave security concerns for India and others.
(c) Indian View. India has been investing in Afghanistan for the last decade or so. It considers Afghanistan to be a part of the Central – South Asian transit hub and a place where trade and commerce can flourish. Pakistan constrains the peaceful growth of Afghanistan.
3. In response, Dr. Thomas F. Lynch explained that the US had in the past pursued objectives in Afghanistan that kept changing and were not very focused. They had been greatly influenced by General Musharraf’s assurance that Pakistan had brought the Taliban under control. He opined that the main issue in Afghanistan was how to manage the tribes, especially with Pakistan having manipulated these tribes for their own interests in Afghanistan. The US had also been distracted by the situation in Iraq. Post 2009, the President of USA had been briefed by the State Department that they were not putting in sufficient effort in Afghanistan, and that there was a requirement to target the Taliban and its infrastructure and move ahead even without support from Pakistan. There was also a need to help Pakistan in addressing its militant problem. Post 2014, the main objectives would be to carry out counter terrorism against Al Quaeda and retain an Islamic Republic government in Afghanistan. There would be a need to build on the Afghan Security Forces which at present has a strength of about 3,50,000 personnel who will help in ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan. He emphasized that US had signed a Strategic Partnership with Afghanistan in May 2012 and Afghanistan would be maintained as a non NATO ally for at least ten years. The US would continue to give support for developing its security framework and provide political and diplomatic support. Around ten to fifteen thousand US troops along with five to six thousand troops from other allies are likely to stay back in Afghanistan beyond 2014. As for India’s role, he brought out the high level of investment that India had made in Afghanistan. These assets would need to be protected.
4. Other points that emerged during discussions were:
(a) There was an opinion that the US should draw down from Afghanistan only after ensuring free and fair elections and giving at least a years time to the next elected government to settle down.
(b) US would have a greater degree of freedom once it moves its equipment out of Afghanistan through Pakistan.
(c) There existed a possibility of resurgence of Taliban in Afghanistan.
(d) Although there should be a dialogue between India and Pakistan for working together in Afghanistan, this was unlikely to happen due to Pakistan’s policy regarding Afghanistan and its insecurity vis-à-vis India.
(e) A possibility of balkanisation of Pakistan exists due to its internal turmoil.
(f) The capability of the Afghan Security Forces in ensuring stability was yet to be established.
(g) For Al Quaeda the US and its allies continue to be the targets.
(h) Post 2014, US engagement in Afghanistan is uncertain, especially with the US having domestic constraints and economic problems.
5. Lt Gen Vinay Shankar opined that Myanmar is important to India strategically, economically and culturally. With the introduction of reforms in Burma, and with the entry of China in a big way, India has also scaled up its engagement with Myanmar. There was a need to look at ways by which India, USA, Japan etc. can help Myanmar so as to give it options to move out of China’s tight embrace.
6. In response Dr Lynch stated that the US as also the rest of the world had been surprised when the last dictator of Myanmar was replaced. The US had desisted from engaging with Myanmar in the past due to human rights issues. Now it wanted to show its seriousness of US commitment in SE Asia and there was a question of whether it could act as a counterweight to China. Lastly, Myanmar had great potential as a future market for the US. Its aim was to develop trade with Burma, assist in the telecom and tourism sectors and encourage democracy. Dr Lynch also opined that Myanmar was playing India against China for assistance in extracting gas.
Lessons Learnt from Past Insurgencies
7. Every insurgency has a cause. If the government could address that cause, the insurgency could be subdued. Fighting insurgencies on a foreign soil was different than fighting it in one’s own country. India has learnt to fight the insurgents and ensure development concurrently. The aspirations of the people are met by building institutions and fulfilling their aspirations. Insurgencies with external support tend to last longer.
8. Dr Lynch opined that the most important lesson that the US had learnt was that countries do not choose insurgencies, but insurgencies choose countries. The US had gone into Afghanistan and Iraq to stabilise the situation and they had not planned to stay in these countries. The second lesson was that though there were internal social and political factors, the external factors were more important in determining whether the insurgent or those countering insurgents would succeed. For example in Iraq, though the Shia militia was influenced by the Iranians, the Shia government in Iraq was able to control the situation and, therefore, the counterinsurgents succeeded in Iraq.
9. The discussions concluded with an invitation from the Director USI to Dr Lynch inviting him along with other experts for more detailed discussions on the subject at a future date.
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