Written by Roxanne Bauer, Editor-in-Chief
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited India June 6 to discuss security issues related to South Asia. Among the topics discussed was Indian cooperation in the defense of and investment in Afghanistan. Following his trip, the third annual Indo-US strategic dialogue was held in Washington, D.C. on June 13, 2012.
This echoes earlier statements President Obama made that advocated a military “pivot” to Asia and which called India a “linchpin in this strategy.”
Nevertheless, the Indian Government did not respond warmly to suggestions that it play a greater role in US defense strategy and defense minister A.K. Antony highlighted the “need to strengthen the multilateral security architecture in the Asia-Pacific and to move at a pace comfortable to all countries concerned.”
This activity, of course, was not lost on the Taliban who called India a “significant country in the region” that has been able to resist US requests for greater military involvement in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban continued India is “aware of the Afghans’ aspirations, creeds and love for freedom. It is totally illogical they should plunge their nation into a calamity just for American pleasure.”
However, it must be noted that India will contribute more than US$2 billion in assistance and will host on June 28th in Delhi an investment conference to spur international private sector investment in Afghanistan.
Perhaps India’s rebuttal could be a subtle way of saying the US should not take for granted India’s cooperation or it might be revealing India’s hesitation to further trouble China’s discomfort with US defense plans in the Pacific.
Both the US and India have great interest in engaging China. China’s military build-up and deployments make it a very important actor in the area and one that should rightfully be considered by India. On behalf of the US, Panetta announced that 60% of US naval assets would be deployed in Asia by 2020, causing a stir in China.
Meanwhile Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang has been reported as telling Indian external affairs minister SN Krishna that China and India was the real relationship of the century and Chinese President Hu Jintao met Afghan President Hamid Karzai to work on strengthening the two countries’ bilateral trade and investment relations.
All this rhetoric could lead one to believe that security in Afghanistan is secondary to other objectives. However, the security of this country is very clearly in the interest of all parties involved.
The important question, then, is will a more prosperous Afghanistan also be safer? Will investment in the country make the Taliban less appealing?
Sadly, public diplomacy can do little to counteract the contradictory rhetoric and political play that obviously hinders security in the region. However, if investment and economic support is the only thing that the key actors of the region can agree on, then public diplomacy officials in the US should aim to provide more and quicker. US corporations should be incentivized to participate in Afghanistan’s industries and employ its citizens. Anti-corruption initiatives should be prioritized. Factories and stores mean work. And a fair wage means a fair shot.
Those extremists who fight for ideological reasons will never be convinced not to, but those fighting for economic reasons could be influenced.
Afghanistan is not a scenario in which the “hearts and minds” approach should be used exclusively. China, India, and others are investing in Afghanistan’s future and the US public diplomacy officials should be aware of this and take action.