WASHINGTON - Pakistan’s fear that Indian presence in Afghanistan threatens its national security is unfounded, top American experts have told lawmakers.
Speaking at a Congressional hearing on the Haqqani network, they ruled out the possibility of India’s ever-mounting invasion of Pakistan from Afghanistan.
Instead, the American experts told the lawmakers that there was no evidence of Indian effort in Afghanistan undermining Pakistan’s national security.
“I don’t think we have seen any evidence of efforts by India to directly undermine Pakistani national security. This is something that the Pakistanis fear but I don’t think that we should let the US policy be driven by Pakistani fear,” Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation said in response to questions from lawmakers who raised Pakistani concerns in this regard.
“I think we should point out that if Pakistan is worried about Afghanistan getting too close to India then it needs to take steps to build its own relationship with Afghanistan because what Pakistan is doing by supporting militants it’s not currying favor with the Afghan people. So if it wants to have a better relationship with Afghanistan, it needs to engage in normal state activities that allow that,” Curtis said. Responding to a question from Congressman Brad Sherman, she said, “One thing that I think we were inadequately sensitive to throughout our involvement in Afghanistan is how it’s absolutely unacceptable to Pakistan, and naturally so, that Afghanistan would become a strategic enemy or a base for the Indian military,” Sherman said. “To what extent is Pakistan justifiably afraid that (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai could be a strategic ally of India and a strategic enemy of Pakistan and to what extent is there justifiable fear, looking at the entire Kabul government as a whole,” Sherman asked.
Jeffrey Dressler, senior research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, said, “Congressman, I think it’s overstated the extent that there’s Indian influence in Afghanistan. I mean, certainly they have diplomatic influence.” Sherman observed that “whatever influence they have will be multiplied by 10 in the minds of Pakistani Generals. So we have to make sure it’s a pretty low number”. Dressler said he did not expect that India “will be mounting an invasion from Afghanistan into Pakistan. I think that’s very far from reality, and so that concern is unfounded. Certainly, there’s activity and President Karzai one of his strategies is to leverage all elements of regional competitors against each other and that’s simply what he’s doing when it comes to Pakistan”. To a question on recent improvement in Indo-Pak relationship, especially in the trade sector, Dressler said though the Pakistan-India relationship was potentially getting better, it was also directly undermined by elements of the Pakistani security services’ support for groups like Lashkar-e-Tayabba and others. “It’s about encouraging or compelling elements of the security services to cease their support and facilitation for these groups,” he said and his words were echoed by Curtis.