Cablegate: Indians Offer Bleak Assessment of Afghanistan And
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Friday, 02 March 2007, 14:42
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 05 NEW DELHI 001051
EO 12958 DECL: 03/01/2017
TAGS PREL, PGOV, EFIN, PINR, MOPS, KDEM, KISL, IN
SUBJECT: INDIANS OFFER BLEAK ASSESSMENT OF AFGHANISTAN AND
SOUTH ASIAN REGION DURING CTJWG
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Classified By: DCM Geoffrey Pyatt, Reason 1.4 (B, D)
1. (S) Summary: During the February 28, 2007 session of the U.S.-India Counter-Terrorism Joint Working Group (CTJWG), the Indian delegation gave a tour d’horizon of developments in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal to help set the stage for the day’s discussions (reported Septel). Indian interlocutors presented a bleak assessment of the current situation in Afghanistan. The Taliban insurgency was gaining strength, according to the Indians, while the central government in Kabul remains weak and divided. The delegation offered an open, but doubting attitude about whether Pakistan had made a permanent policy decision to uproot terrorist infrastructure on its territory. The Indians noted, however, that New Delhi remained committed to working through the Indo-Pakistani Joint Counterterrorism Mechanism, which holds its first meeting March 6. Indian officials were concerned about the first hints of Islamic extremism taking root in Sri Lanka, and were cautiously optimistic about prospects for the peace process currently unfolding in Nepal. End Summary.
Afghanistan: Internal Situation Deteriorating
2. (S) At the request of Ambassador K.C. Singh, head of the Indian delegation to the CTJWG, Sharad Kumar, Joint Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, provided India’s assessment of Afghanistan. Kumar noted he had a rather grim view of the near- and mid-term prospects for stability in the country. The death toll was mounting from various insurgency attacks, and both the scale and scope of these attacks were on the rise. While there had been some coalition successes in neutralizing the influence of key members of the Talib Shura, the insurgency itself was still moving further into the provinces. The Taliban had now set up seven operational councils within Afghanistan and were pursuing effective operations in each region. Even more worrisome, Kumar stated, was the fact that key Taliban leaders had recruited a large number of suicide bombers who were now ready for attacks.
3. (S) There were also signs of increasing ties between the Taliban and Al-Qa’ida elements on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, a fact which is of major significance for stability in both countries. From the debriefings of Dr. Mohammed Hanif, a key Taliban spokesman arrested on January 15, Kumar stated that “we now know that Mullah Omar is under Pakistani protection.” India had also learned that the former chief of Pakistan’s ISI was directly involved in assistance to the Taliban.
4. (S) Meanwhile, the central government in Kabul had been largely unable to expand its influence outside of the capital. The country, Kumar observed, was falling further into the clutches of tribalism and warlordism. President Karzai was in a “feeble” political position; there was severe bickering within his team and it was unclear that he would be able to implement much through either the tribal jirga or the Wolesi jirga. Karzai was walking a very delicate line, according to Kumar, and not advancing the cause of peace and stability that much.
5. (S) In India’s view, NATO and ISAF were not on the same wavelength; their unwillingness to engage in direct combat
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was the wrong approach for the current situation in Afghanistan. Any agreement with the tribes would provide temporary relief, at best. Talks with the various leaders, moreover, were also unlikely to be successful. In addition to speaking with more moderate leaders, NATO and ISAF were speaking with the hardliners, a fact which sent the wrong message to these leaders about their status and ability to influence the situation in Afghanistan.
India Committed to Assisting the Afghan Economy, Preventing the Development of a Narco-State
6. (S) India had committed $750 million in assistance to Afghanistan, the goal of which was to help the country develop an economy that was no longer dependent on drug monies. Through efforts such as key road construction projects, India hoped to help “today’s smugglers become tomorrow’s businessmen.” Indian interests -- both commercial and official -- had been targeted, even as New Delhi attempted to assist Afghanistan with its transition to a more stable economy. The road construction crews had been rocketed and bombed; there had been kidnappings and other personal attacks on Indians. Physical attacks were not the only obstacle, however. Kumar stated that India was hampered in its desire to open up natural and historic trade links with Afghanistan by the lack of overland transit through Pakistan. If India could transit humanitarian goods through Pakistan, savings could be ploughed back into Afghan development.
7. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX remarked that India was specifically looking at improving controls on Indian precursor chemicals as a means to limit and degrade Afghanistan’s opium/heroin production. New Delhi had met with counterparts from China, Iran, Pakistan and the UAE recently to enhance regional efforts to prevent the diversion of precursor chemicals to Afghanistan. India was also sharing information directly with Pakistan, since there was ample evidence that opium and heroin were leaving Afghanistan and entering India via Pakistan. Jammu and Kashmir and the Punjab were the primary land routes.
U.S. Side Shares Concerns About Afghanistan’s Future, But Less Pessimistic
8. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX stated that the U.S. shared some of India’s concerns, but did not share in the overall bleak assessment. The U.S. was actively engaged in programs to mitigate the risk of Afghanistan becoming a narco-state; America’s own experience in dealing with countries such as Colombia had given U.S. policymakers a very clear idea of the problems for regional stability that are associated with a nation falling into this void. Deputy Chief of Mission Geoff Pyatt hailed U.S.-India counternarcotics cooperation as the “gold standard” by which the U.S. and India should seek to emulate in other areas of CT collaboration. Our ability to share sensitive evidence bilaterally, our joint capabilities to conduct surveillance and operations to wrap up narcotics rings demonstrated both nations’ resolve to tackle this issue in the region.
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9. (S) Continuing with his response, XXXXXXXXXXXX added threats from corruption within Afghanistan as yet another problem to be monitored and fought. Drawing on the news that new suicide bombers had been trained and were poised to attack, the U.S. side also discussed the international dimension of this jihadist activity. Extremists could travel to Afghanistan from many regions -- North Africa, Chechnya, Central Asia -- and receive training in terrorist camps in Afghanistan. Even if/when international partners were finally able to stabilize this country, the terrorists would be able to take their skills and knowledge to a different part of the world, and to a new zone of conflict. The capabilities become part of a global terrorist knowledge base.
10. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX outlined some of the successes in the country and noted that the Karzai government had been able to increase stability and return to greater normalcy. XXXXXXXXXXXX noted India’s request for land access to Afghanistan through Pakistan and said he would relay the request and register it in Washington.
India Open but Cautious about U.S. CT Cooperation with Pakistan
11. (S) In a very measured assessment of Pakistan, Ambassador Singh acknowledged U.S. reasons for pursuing CT cooperation with Pakistan, but stated that India, itself, maintained a certain skepticism about whether Islamabad had truly made a sea-change in its approach to this issue. New Delhi had seen evidence of at least tactical decisions to dismantle camps and terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan, but the Indians still receive a great deal of intelligence that shows that Islamabad may not intend to uproot this capability permanently. Pakistani authorities appear to have a desire to keep at least some assets intact in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. India’s “nightmare scenario” is that this ad hoc set of actions results in a long-term trend in which terrorist groups are able to find permanent sanctuary in Afghanistan. “We do not want another century of instability,” Singh stated.
12. (S) The GOI currently saw a decline in the number of infiltrations across the Line of Control (LOC), said Singh, but it was too early to tell whether this was permanent or, indeed, whether this fact mattered that much in terms of overall terrorist infiltration rates into India. Singh outlined three facts that are influencing this short-term trend.
--Both sides had stepped up policing activities on the border; --It was still winter in the border regions; one could only get a real sense as to infiltration numbers once the spring thaw arrived, and; -There is a disturbing new trend of terrorist groups using India’s long, unmonitored borders with Nepal and Bangladesh to move terrorists into the Indian heartland.
Both the Bangalore and Hyderabad plots, Singh stated, were masterminded by terrorists who had come across the border with Bangladesh.
13. (S) India remained open and committed to the Counterterrorism Joint Mechanism with Pakistan. If dialogue
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is to succeed, Singh remarked, then India had to put Pakistan’s willingness to engage to a legitimate test. Indian resolve will come under public scrutiny, of course, since the press is asking -- perhaps rightly -- why it has taken six months for the mechanism to hold its first full-scale meeting, and whether this lag demonstrates that Islamabad actually has no real desire to see this process succeed.
14. (S) The potential worth of the mechanism had already been proven just this month, as both sides were able to insulate the bilateral relationship from a potential downturn after the Samjhuauta train attack by agreeing immediately to discussions of this tragedy in the Joint Mechanism meeting on March 6. Nevertheless, Singh said, the Indians had received real push-back from Islamabad about establishing a regularized schedule for these talks. Singh mused that both sides had to accept the fact that extremists would probably try to disrupt any dialogue process -- periodic or permanent -- through attacks timed around the next round. That said, it would not be productive for the two sides only to meet if and when there had been some sort of attack.
15. (S) For this round, India will be presenting its evidence on the July 2006 Mumbai blasts. Singh noted it was unclear whether the Indian interagency process was prepared at this time to put evidence and information about the Panipat attack before the Pakistanis. Pakistan, he thought, would probably table concerns about alleged Indian activities in Afghanistan which Islamabad perceived as against its interests. The real issue, he said, is to get the dialogue away from the public--and political-- platforms and into a channel in which issues can be thoroughly vetted.
Sri Lanka Now More At Risk from Islamic Jihadist Activity?
16. (S) Turning to Sri Lanka, Ambassador Singh briefly recounted the historic reasons behind India’s decision to adopt its current cautious position towards the conflict in that country. The peace agreement with the LTTE was more honored in the breach at this juncture; that said, New Delhi supported Colombo’s current approach. Sudden or direct campaigns that resulted in massive refugee movements or displacement of the population were in nobody’s interest. The most worrisome new trend in Sri Lanka was the onset of some Islamic jihadist activity. The Indians had fragmentary information at this stage. There were open questions about whether Pakistan had a role in this new development, if only at the tactical level. Irrespective of this fact, however, India still remained concerned. If Islamic extremism were to take hold in Sri Lanka, yet another port of call in the larger Indian Ocean region could become a threat to India.
Nepal: Next Few Months are Crucial to Creating Stability
17. (S) The Indian side closed its presentation with a brief overview of the peace process in Nepal. Ambassador Singh reviewed the Indian calculus that had led New Delhi to support the current peace process. It was important, he stated, for the Nepalese army to remain engaged and not to become demoralized. The UN would play a useful role in providing civilian policing and in overseeing the
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demilitarization of the Maoists. The key thing to ensure success was to shorten the transition period between the current situation and the election of the constituent assembly. With the onset shortly of the monsoon season, and the Dussehra festivities this fall, there was actually only a short window of opportunity to move the process along.
18. (S) Finding the right tools for border management was a key issue for India at this stage. Singh noted the “mushrooming” of the number of madrassas in the Terai belt and underscored India’s concern that this region -- which forms an open and essentially unmonitored border with India -- become stable and peaceful. New Delhi was placing great emphasis on creating both rail and road links as a way to open up and stabilize the economy in the region. “We cannot fence the border,” Singh observed, “so we need successful communities on both sides of the border as the best preventative measure” to ward off any further radicalization of the population. Singh presented this as a new Indian strategy for combating terrorism along India’s borders. Softening the border actually contributes to India’s ability to prevent terrorism, he explained, because a happier local population is less likely to allow terrorists the safe haven and support necessary for their activity. (Comment: Singh seemed to be implying that this was part of India’s broader strategy against terrorism in other border states, including Kashmir and Bangladesh. End comment.)
19. (U) This cable was cleared by XXXXXXXXXXXX. MULFORD