Prime Minister Manmohan Singh delivered a strong message to the US this week: Don’t go wobbly on Afghanistan. At a time many Americans are asking why we are in Afghanistan, the soft-spoken Indian prime minister was very direct and candid in describing the stakes in Afghanistan in an interview with the Washington Post on the eve of his meetings with President Barack Hussein Obama in the Oval Office.
Manmohan told the newspaper: “A victory for the Taliban in Afghanistan would have catastrophic consequences for the world—particularly for South Asia, for Central Asia and for the Middle East. In the 1980s, religious fundamentalism was used to defeat the Soviet Union. If this same group of people that defeated the Soviet Union now defeats the other major power, this would embolden them in a manner that could have catastrophic consequences for the entire world.”
The Indian prime minister’s assessment comes on the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack since that of September 11, 2001—the assault on Mumbai a year ago by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba. In its tactics and targets, 26/11 had all the hallmarks of the global Islamic jehad. The attack on Mumbai was the first crisis in the world after Obama’s election last November and it had an important impact on his thinking about the risks and threats he faces as president. It is undoubtedly part of the reason why he made dealing with the jehadist threat in Pakistan and Afghanistan his highest foreign policy priority. As he reviews how many more troops to send to Afghanistan now, Manmohan’s warning should be listened to carefully by all Americans.
The US and India confront a syndicate of terrorist groups in the badlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They are not a monolith, nor do they have a single agenda. They have no single leader, although most groups (including Al Qaeda) swear allegiance to Mullah Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban. But they work together, they inspire each other, and they often protect each other. A victory for the syndicate in Afghanistan would have enormous implications throughout the Islamic world. It would symbolise dramatically that the global Islamic jehad movement was on the march.
The impact would be most immediate in Pakistan, where a weak civilian government is already tottering. The Pakistani army, which has long had close ties to parts of the syndicate (especially the Lashkar and the Afghan Taliban), would have to make adjustments to live with a victorious Taliban next door. The Pakistani Taliban would be emboldened to push for a jehadist state in Islamabad. India’s own enormous Muslim minority would face the danger of radicalisation. Central Asia would be infested with Taliban-inspired violence. Moderate Muslim voices throughout the Islamic world would be on the defensive.
President Obama inherited a disaster in Afghanistan from his predecessor, who neglected the war for seven years and failed to resource it properly. The situation has gotten worse in the last year, but it is not yet hopeless. The United States has strong partners in the effort to stabilise Afghanistan. The nato alliance has made Afghanistan its first ever ground war and the alliance’s future will now be decided in the Hindu Kush mountains. Over 40 countries have troops on the ground now in Afghanistan. India has already provided $1.2 billion in economic aid to the effort, building the new Afghan parliament and a critical road project linking Afghanistan to the Arabian Sea via Iran.
The nations of the international community trying to help Kabul can still succeed in Afghanistan if they explain to their domestic audiences why it is so important to succeed. In the first state visit of the Obama administration, a visible symbol of India’s importance for this presidency, Manmohan has laid out the stakes in Afghanistan eloquently and clearly this week.
(The writer is a senior fellow at the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution. He chaired President Obama’s strategic review of the Af-Pak policy last winter and is the author of The Search for Al-Qaeda.)
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT