July 8, 2008

Fears of New Battleground in Strife Between India and Pakistan



Even as the smoke was still billowing in the skies above Kabul, Afghan and Indian officials were privately accusing the Pakistani intelligence of being the hidden hand behind the blast. Publicly, the Afghan Interior Ministry said theattack was carried out "in co- ordination and consultation with an active intelligence service in the region".

This, in itself, is not unusual - Islamabad is routinely blamed for attacks carried out by the Taliban - but the suicide bombing, the most deadly attack yet in Kabul, comes at a particularly fraught time, with worsening violence and rising tension in the region and the fear that Afghanistan will become another theatre in the decades- long strife between India and Pakistan.

Nato commanders and Western diplomats have repeatedly stated that a series of local deals in Pakistan with militants have led to an upsurge in cross-border attacks and the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has threatened to send his forces on "hot pursuit" across the border - something they are not really capable of doing. The Americans, however, have been carrying out air strikes and US and British special forces are engaged in yet another hunt for Osama bin Laden in Pakistani territory, with scant regard for the wishes of the country's government.

The confrontation with India has played a key role in shaping Pakistan's policy in Afghanistan. The Pakistani military and intelligence service, ISI, saw the country as providing a hinterland in its struggle with its much larger neighbour and also a training ground for insurgents entering the disputed state of Kashmir. The fall of the Taliban regime and the coming to power of Hamid Karzai saw a dramatic erosion of Pakistani influence and the emergence of India as a force in Afghanistan, provoking vociferous protests from the Pakistani military and the ISI that India is trying to encircle Pakistan and use its Afghan bases to support opponents of the Islamabad government.

Many of the claims are exaggerated but India cannot escape blame. A country desperate to be seen as a world power still sees its foreign policy through the prism of its feud with a much smaller neighbour and remains seemingly insensitive to its fears.

(c) 2008 Independent, The; London (UK). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.