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Cablegate: Indian Af-Pak Pundits Voice "Critical

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OO RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDBU RUEHLH RUEHNEH RUEHPW RUEHSL
DE RUEHNE #2435/01 3371318
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 031318Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8798
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE
RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMCSUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RHHJJAA/JICPAC HONOLULU HI
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 NEW DELHI 002435

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PTER IN AF PK
SUBJECT: INDIAN AF-PAK PUNDITS VOICE "CRITICAL
APPRECIATION" FOR PRESIDENT'S DECEMBER 1 SPEECH

1. (SBU) Summary: The overall reaction of selected Political
Section interlocutors - a diverse group of journalists,
commentators, academics, think-tank analysts, and
parliamentarians from different religious communities and
political orientations - to President Obama's December 1
speech on Afghanistan was guardedly positive. While contacts
approved of the President's emphasis on development and
agriculture assistance and a re-affirmation of USG commitment
to the region, their expressions of "critical appreciation"
also included dismay over the setting of July 2011 as a
beginning date for the transfer of U.S. troops out of
Afghanistan. We pushed back by reminding interlocutors that
July 2011 is only a starting date, a point that seems
completely lost in local discourse. While interlocutors had
varying reactions to speech content regarding Pakistan, they
were virtually united in their insistence that the USG
toughen its position on Pakistan and exert greater pressure
on Islamabad to crack down on terror groups regardless of
where the activities of such groups are focused. End Summary.

Afghanistan: Focus on July 2011
-------------------------------

2. (SBU) Most of the contacts whom we polled provided an
overall positive assessment of the portion of the speech that
dealt with Afghanistan. Several, like Jamia Millia Islamia
University professor Radha Kumar, voiced praise for USG
recognition that development - particularly agricultural
development - was key to stability. Other interlocutors such
as freelance columnist Mahendra Dev, opined that the speech
was a winner because it communicated a renewed U.S.
commitment to the region. Dev told us that he also teaches a
journalism class at a local college, and he devoted
yesterday's class to a debate among students over the merits
of the new USG approach. He divulged that about half the
students saw it as a strategy for success, while the other
half characterized it as "too little and too late."

3. (SBU) A recurring theme voiced by most commentators with
whom we spoke (and a theme featured prominently in media
editorials, some of which were written by our contacts) was
distinct unease over the speech reference to July 2011 as the
time in which the U.S. will begin the transfer of forces out
of Afghanistan. "Hindustan Times" foreign editor Pramit Pal
Chaudhuri voiced a representative opinion by expressing
"skepticism that much can be achieved between the time all
new troops are deployed and July 2011." Sushant Sareen, an
Af-Pak specialist in an Indian Foreign Ministry-funded think
tank, opined that mention of a withdrawal commencement date
"cancels out all the positive parts of the speech" because it
sends the message in Afghanistan and Pakistan that the USG is
not a long-term partner and is looking for an exit from the
region, thus obliging Karzai and the Pakistani leadership to
"start hedging their bets." Several interlocutors claimed
that a stated withdrawal date violates the new COIN strategy
that emphasizes building confidence among the host nation
population in a long-term international commitment of
support. We reminded our interlocutors that the July 2011
date is only a starting date, a point that seemed completely
lost among local pundits.

4. (SBU) Not all contacts viewed the July 2011 reference in
negative terms. Some, like think-tanker Kaustav Chadhury,
opined that the eighteen month period may be sufficient to
develop sufficient governance and security capacity among
Afghans in conflict areas to undercut the Taliban's appeal
and their ability to retake by force areas that had been
cleared, held, and built-up. Afghan scholar VP Vaidik argued
that the President's timeline was required to create a sense
of realistic urgency within the Karzai government and Afghan
army to stand on their own feet.

Pakistan: Keep Up the Pressure
------------------------------

5. (SBU) We encountered a wide variety of opinions on the
portions of the speech that dealt with Pakistan. Sandeep
Dixit, Senior Defense Correspondent for "The Hindu" daily,
intoned that while the USG strategy in Afghanistan seems
"unrealistic because you alienated your local allies with
your preoccupation about corruption," the new approach toward
Pakistan is "more pragmatic" because it signals a new USG

NEW DELHI 00002435 002 OF 002


toughness toward Islamabad. Think-tanker Kaustav Chaudhury
maintained that the speech was "wise to underplay in public
Pakistan's role in Afghanistan" and posited that the "acid
test" in U.S.-Pakistan relations will be whether Islamabad
takes action against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan.
Former GOI minister Arief Muhammad Khan warned against
excessive reliance on Pakistan to sort out the situation in
Afghanistan and advised us instead to compel Saudi Arabia to
exercise its significant influence among Afghan and Pakistani
Taliban. Local media maven Saeed Naqvi called on the USG to
exert more pressure on Pakistan to crack down on terror
groups regardless of where the activities of such groups are
focused, a view expressed in one form or another by most
other interlocutors.
Ruminations from Parliamentarians
---------------------------------

6. (SBU) Given that foreign policy seldom enters the Indian
domestic political debate, the new Afghanistan and Pakistan
strategy is unlikely to get much attention in the Indian
Parliament, which is currently in session. The reaction of
Members of Parliament (MPs) contacted by the Embassy was
guardedly positive. Congress MP Madhu Goud Yaskhi welcomed
the decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan but
suggested that the United States should consider sending
forces into Pakistan as well. He told Poloff that pursuing
the Taliban inside Afghanistan is a worthy objective but the
primary goal should be to target the terrorist networks
within Pakistan because they are more dangerous.

7. (SBU) Balbir Punj of the Bharatiya Janata Party was
pleased that President Obama had taken Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh "into confidence" before his West Point
speech. Punj said that the strategy announced by President
Obama was "good but with shortcomings." Echoing Yaskhi, Punj
told Poloff that the United States would never be able to
stabilize the region if it did not "finish" the Taliban and
Al Qaeda "mentors" living in Pakistan. Both Yaskhi and Punj
misread the July 2011 date and raised questions about this
so-called exit timeline. Yaskhi asked whether 18-24 months
would be enough time to get the job done and whether the
United States would be letting down Afghanistan once again if
it departs without completing the mission. Punj called the
timeline premature. "What makes you think you can finish
this in 18 months?" he asked.
ROEMER

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