Indo-AfPak: Chanakya to the rescue?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shakes hands with President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, in New Delhi . PTI Photo
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shakes hands with President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, in New Delhi . PTI Photo

Close on the heels of Afghan President Karzai’s questioning of the Durand Line as border between Pakistan and his country and the defence minister of Afghanistan calling for military assistance from India, President Karzai arrived in Delhi for soliciting defence aid. Chanakya adherents in South Block, where the defence and foreign ministries vie for space, and Sardar Patel Bhawan, where the National Security Council is located, are no doubt delighted. Finally, they can work Kautilya’s theory that states ‘an enemy’s enemy is a friend’ and its Mandala corollary that concentric circles ring a state: the first circle of enemies followed by that of friends.

India can now look forward to making Pakistan face both ways, to its North and East. This can repay Pakistan for its participation along with China in creating a similar dilemma for India, the ‘two front’ problem. Incidentally, the latest reference to this perception in India was in the recently released Blue Book by China that discusses India. The proportion of India’s military might that is Pakistan centric automatically then is reduced, enabling partial redressing of the strategic balance by Pakistan. To proponents of Chanakya-niti, India by responding positively to Afghanistan can tip the scales in India’s favour.

Incidentally, this option has been India’s quiver now for over a decade. The National Democratic Alliance regime had in its initial phase attempted to take the ‘Gujral doctrine’ further. The doctrine was about reaching out asymmetrically to neighbours, though Pakistan had not been initially included. Even so, it was Gujral’s foreign secretary, Salman Haidar, who had set the frame that the BJP government could take forward. In the event, the Pakistan army sprung an ambush on Vajpayee’s Lahore initiative by ‘doing a Kargil’ on India.

Thereafter, with the aftermath of 9/11 providing a backdrop, India has contemplated getting even. The parliament attack provided justification while the Baluch uprising provided an opportunity. India’s presence as peace -building partner in Afghanistan provided India an access. The result was in Musharraf sending in over seven Pakistani brigades to pacify the Baluch. Pakistan has raised the issue of nexus that India has consistently denied. However, it is no coincidence that two chiefs of India’s intelligence of the period today run prominent conservative think tanks in Delhi.

After reminding Pakistan that it lived in a glass house and therefore must not throw stones at others, Vajpayee set the frame for the policy over the remainder of the decade. The result has been in a dialogue process carried forward by the successor UPA I regime that was derailed by 26/11. The liberal paradigm of economic interdependence soothing security concerns underlay relations in the period. In the event, the crisis revived the idea of keeping Pakistan unbalanced in order to defuse the tendency for strategic activism in its security establishment. This could be through using Afghanistan as a springboard.

The idea owes to the US intent to draw down beginning with Obama’s first term. The ‘boots on ground’ thesis made an appearance. It harked to the earlier soliciting of India’s troops by US for its Iraq misadventure, a request India narrowly managed to avoid. In Afghanistan, the US was more circumspect, aware that Pakistan was indispensible and would be riled were India to be more visible or militarily proactive. India therefore has played a discreet role in training the Afghan National Army, alongside its peace-building activities.

In becoming a strategic partner of Afghanistan, the message to Pakistan was that India could up the ante in case Pakistan took to its old ways in Kashmir. Pakistan has played with a straight bat in Kashmir. The Hizbul Mujahedeen chief, resident in Muzaffarabad, has indicated that he has pulled out his fighters from Kashmir. The hiatus however owes more to both states holding their breath on the way the dice will turn in 2014.

The first shot has already been fired by a leading candidate for the prime minister’s post, Narendra Modi, expressing his dissatisfaction with both India’s Pakistan and China policies in a video interaction with his supporters in the diaspora. This suggests that the Chanakyan idea will find ballast during the run up and possible traction thereafter in case of a conservative party victory at the polls. It will have the ‘strong leader’ – Modi’s term paraphrased – necessary to push it. It therefore merits dissection.

It supposedly has its advantages. The US would not mind a regional minder in the form of India stepping up, a role it has through its extensive military and strategic interface with India over the past decade assiduously prepared India for. To the US, it will prevent a vacuum developing that may otherwise get filled by China. Obliging the US will take India beyond the de-hyphenation with Pakistan. With China proving difficult, through its demonstration at DBO (Daulat Beg Oldi in Ladakh) recently, proximity with the US may be useful, if not indispensible. The downside may help keep Pakistan circumspect. The move will signal India’s arrival as a self-regarding regional power.

The pitfalls are apparent. Clearly, what the US could not do for Afghanistan despite of its ‘surge’, India cannot hope to: tame the Taliban. As for Pakistan being impressed, it would likely resort to reopening the Kashmir front. The Taliban will be only too willing to lend a hand. It will get India into a regional geopolitical contest with China. Surely, unsettled borders are an adequate headache between nuclear armed neighbours.

More importantly, it would pitch India and the erstwhile Northern Alliance versus Pakistan and Taliban. This renewed regional brawl will have internal political implications for India in terms of the political utility for the right of cornering India’s minority. With elections round the corner and prospects of a right wing government reasonably high, setting such a stage would be suicidal for the Congress government.

Therefore, India would do well to keep the disciples of Chanakya confined to the television studios rather than allowing them entry into policy chambers.


  1. It will be foolhardy to get involved in Afghanistan. It has bankrupted a superpower. It has also bankrupted both India and Pakistan who cannot live in peace and focus more on domestic issues like hunger and poverty.
    I’ll say the hell with Chankayas.

    • I agree. With the way India lacks behind in nearly all the fields with its competitors, there is already enough on the plate even to bother with Chanakyas dish.


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