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.
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