India favours wait and watch on Afghanistan-Pakistan initiatives

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London, Apr.1 (ANI): Indian Foreign Office mandarins are playing the wait and watch game as far as international initiatives on Afghanistan and Pakistan are concerned.

With US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seeking to promote a distinction between "the good Taliban" and "the bad Taliban", and President Barack Obama announcing a new strategy to deal with issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan, New Delhi's circumspect response at this stage would be seem justified.

Clinton is on record as offering Taliban fighters who renounce violence in Afghanistan an "honorable form of reconciliation" as part of a revamped strategy to tackle a deepening insurgency in that landlocked country.

"We must ... support efforts by the Government of Afghanistan to separate the extremists of al Qaeda and the Taliban from those who have joined their ranks not out of conviction, but out of desperation," Clinton told a conference in The Hague on Tuesday.

"They should be offered an honorable form of reconciliation and reintegration into a peaceful society, if they are willing to abandon violence, break with al Qaeda, and support the constitution," she added.

India, however, views the situation somewhat differently.

In an interview given to the Financial Times in London ahead of the second G-20 Summit, Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh was critical of Pakistan's response to the devastating terror attacks on Mumbai last year that left nearly 200 people dead.

He said: "no effective action has been taken to control terror" and accused Islamabad of either being "unable" or "unwilling" to crackdown on militant groups like the one blamed for the atrocity, Lashkar e Taiba.

The conference in The Netherlands is seen as a chance for NATO and other U.S. allies to consult on the Afghan strategy unveiled by President Barack Obama last week stressing the need to cooperate with regional players such as Iran, Pakistan, Russia and India.

Washington now visualizes promoting a "true strategic stand-alone US-India partnership".

This phrase coined by Hillary Clinton is now being bandied around in the Indian Foreign Ministry.

The positive spin is that it rids India of the shackles of being linked to Pakistan. That parity is over for good it seems. The newly termed AFPAK policy kind of seals it. And yet, India is part of what the US identifies as the 'contact group' on AFPAK.

Indian officials see a positive in that as they feel that any attempt to involve regional players in solving the Afghanistan- Pakistan problem is a step in the right direction.

What this contact group is expected to do besides coming up with suggestions is anybody's guess. Involving India in this "is part of a solution" says an Indian official.

The fact, however, remains that nearly eight years after the U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, more than 70,000 U.S. and NATO troops are still there battling a growing insurgency, which is also spreading its influence in Pakistan.

The Obama administration has said it will end the megaphone diplomacy of the Bush years to cajole more troops out of reluctant allies, but will urge them to commit more aid and civilian support.

But former Republican presidential candidate and Arizona Senator John McCain believes that the problems in Afghanistan are not as thorny as those in Iraq.

In an address to the Washington-based Foreign Policy Initiative, McCain said that while he supports President Obama's efforts in Afghanistan, "It's [Afghanistan's] not as tough as Iraq, and don't let anyone tell you that it is, because when we started the [2007] surge, Iraq was virtually in a state of collapse."

McCain said he would increase the Afghan army beyond the planned levels.

"I would have announced a dramatic increase in the Afghan army. I'm talking about a 200, 250 thousand-person army. It's a big country, it's a big population," he said.

McCain also said that like him, many Republicans support Obama's plan in Afghanistan, but that would probably change.

"I don't think there's any doubt that in a year from now, we will be looking at a greater level of opposition to the war than we are seeing today," he said.

The Arizona senator also rejected the idea that success in Afghanistan depends on stability in Pakistan."This notion that you can't succeed in Afghanistan without a success in Pakistan, I don't subscribe with it. We need a strategy for both countries, but we also need a separate strategy in regards to Pakistan by itself," McCain said.

McCain said that achieving victory in Afghanistan is vital to American national security.

"We will and can and must succeed, but it's not going to be easy," he said.

A Vietnam War veteran, former prisoner of war and longtime member of the Armed Services Committee, McCain said that while he knows Americans "are weary of war ... we must win [in Afghanistan]. The alternative is to risk that country's return to its previous function as a terrorist sanctuary, from which al Qaeda could train and plan attacks against America."

Those comments come just weeks after McCain insisted the U.S. is losing the war in Afghanistan.

According to Indian officials the hyphenating of Afghanistan and Pakistan is certainly more welcome than a similar exercise vis-à-vis India and Pakistan. Here at the G-20, the focus will not be so much on AFPAK as on financial issues. But the action will be at the NATO meeting. (ANI)

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