NEW DELHI: As India and US formally launch a trilateral dialogue with Afghanistan, red flags would be popping up all over Pakistan. As a sign of the degree of worsening of ties between the US and Pakistan, the announcement of the new trilateral during the US-India strategic dialogue in Washington is also a pointer to some of deft diplomatic moves that New Delhi will have to undertake in the coming years.
"Today we agreed to move forward with a formal trilateral consultation among our three nations (India, US and Afghanistan," announced US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. It comes at a time when US defence secretary Leon Panetta has recommended to the US Congress that they should put conditions on the release of the $3.5 billion aid to Pakistan, basing them on "what we expect them to do".
Later, in a joint statement, the US and India said, "They intend to explore opportunities to work together to promote Afghanistan's development, including in areas such as mining, agriculture, energy, capacity building and infrastructure." India will be hosting an international investor's meet on Afghanistan in New Delhi soon.
"We very much appreciate India's commitment to help build a better future for the Afghan people: helping them with more than $ 2 billion for development; supporting the New Silk Road Initiative; hosting the investment conference; providing security, training and support," Clinton told journalists.
The US and India have been consulting on Afghanistan for some time now, their positions converging significantly. It's a far cry from the times when the US would ask India to lower its profile in Afghanistan, even looking askance at India's consulates, which had become a paranoid agenda item with the Pakistanis. India's repeated red-flagging of attempts to reconcile the "good Taliban" was another instance of how far the US and India were on Afghanistan. Pakistan was the US' Plan A because Washington insisted that Islamabad was indispensable to a solution in Afghanistan.
That was before Osama bin Laden and overwhelming evidence of Pakistan's ISI and the Haqqani network going after Indian and US interests in Afghanistan, including attacks on embassies. It was before the US acknowledged what everybody knew: Pakistan shelters the Taliban, wants to control the reconciliation process with the Taliban and was openly undermining the Nato operations in Afghanistan.
Afghan president Hamid Karzai travelled a similar route. He invited Pakistani Army and ISI chiefs to take a more active role in the ultimate resolution in Afghanistan. But this went sour after the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, which was traced to the Taliban with help from Pakistan. A spooked Karzai, who is fighting for his survival, signed the first strategic partnership agreement with India. The US and Germany followed. But equally significantly, Karzai joined the chorus against Pakistan's "safe havens", effectively aligning himself against Pakistan.
For the past seven months Pakistan has played its trump card against the US — by closing down the NATO supply routes, forcing Washington to make a greater use of the Northern Distribution Network to supply its forces in Afghanistan. Panetta disclosed this week that it was adding $100 million a month to the war bill. But the network has grown. The US and Russia are in the process of signing an agreement that will facilitate the removal of equipment from Afghanistan after 2014. Pakistan is now insisting on an apology for the deaths of 24 of its soldiers in a NATO strike last November. The US has offered "regret", but no apology. In fact, the US ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Hunter, will be leaving his job, primarily because his position on the apology differed wildly from Washington.
However, sources here are clear that India will not increase its security footprint in Afghanistan and expects Kabul to protect its own interest and installations. "We will train Afghans in India, but we are not sending troops to Afghanistan," said sources.