Saturday, September 26, 2009

Steve Coll on American Involvement in Afghanistan: The India Angle

In a recent entry on his blog at the New Yorker site (here), Steve Coll says he's not yet ready to decide if he's for or against a US troop increase in Afghanistan.

But, says Coll, one consideration is the way that a stable (or not) Afghanistan could influence the continued modernization of India. And, he goes on, the US has a strong interest (a national security interest? I'm unsure) in the continued modernization of India. Actually, now as I'm re-reading his piece, he does see a national security interest, and it's because of the fact that India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons.

Here's the key part of Coll's analysis:
India is well advanced on a march to prosperity and greatness in the mid-twenty-first century; already, her stable pluralism seems a solid pillar of the coming Asian Century. Internal demand from the Indian economy is driving rapid economic growth this year in that country at a time when most of the rest of the world’s economy is shrinking. Like Brazil and China, the country faces huge challenges.

But to imagine within decades a subcontinent—including Pakistan—that has become as successful as Southeast Asia or Latin America are today is not by any means a fantasy; barring the collapse of Pakistan, it is more than probable. This process is of interest to the United States not only because it would create a better world and a more stable Asia but because it would subdue the region’s terrifying nuclear risks.
I like that Coll wants Obama to consider India in his calculation of the costs and benefits of a greater commitment to Afghanistan; I'm reminded of a piece I read in the Atlantic a few years back (while I was in India, actually) that argued that India -- as a large, multicultural democracy -- is a natural ally with whom the US should become closer. To the extent we can nurture Indian democracy and promote peace between it and Pakistan, we certainly should.

BUT, the problem is the indirect (tenuous) link between adding 30,000 more US troops in rural/mountainous Afghanistan and how the Pakistan/India relationship evolves. I think it might be a stretch to defend American intervention -- particularly military intervention -- in one country based on the potential corollary effects it may have on another country.

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