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The great Game Folio

In scrapping the plans to deploy missile defence systems in Poland and the Czech Republic last week,US President Barack Obama...

Russia redux

In scrapping the plans to deploy missile defence systems in Poland and the Czech Republic last week,US President Barack Obama may have brought down American political stock in Eastern Europe,where the post-Soviet regimes have relied on Washington for their security. The US losses in Eastern Europe might be worth it,if Obama’s attempt to’re-set’ relations with Russia produces gains elsewhere,in regions that matter more to him at this juncture.

India will surely be interested in finding out if the new US-Russian rapprochement will lead to their cooperation in the Great Game territory — Iran,Central Asia and the Af-Pak region.

After September 11,2001,Russian President Vladimir Putin had strongly supported the US war on terror in Afghanistan and American military presence in Central Asia. As Washington continued to treat Moscow with condescension,expanded the Western military alliance,NATO,into Eastern Europe,and promoted colour revolutions to undermine Russian influence in the former Soviet republics,a disappointed Putin distanced himself from Washington and drew closer to Beijing.

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The renewed chill between Washington and Moscow has tended to complicate India’s diplomacy in many areas. If the US and Russia construct a measure of bilateral understanding on regions of interest to us,Delhi’s own room for manouevre will significantly improve.

Above all,an American strategy to stabilise the Af-Pak region has a better chance of succeeding with Russian support than without it. US-Russian strategic coordination on Afghanistan,Iran and Central Asia does not automatically follow from the latest moves on missile defence. It might certainly need Western recognition of a Russian sphere of influence in Eurasia. The enduring Western tradition of Russo-phobia is a major political obstacle.

As Russia and the West probe each other for a new strategic bargain,India should be doing what little it can to encourage Washington and Moscow to coordinate their moves in Afghanistan. After all India has a shared interest with the US,Russia and Europe in preventing the return of the Taliban.

Party or army?

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Winning Russian support in Afghanistan might be a lot easier for Obama than persuading his own Democratic party,which is in control of both houses of the Congress,to back the war in Afghanistan.

Obama is torn between the rapidly declining support for the Afghan war within the liberal wing of his party which wants a clear exit strategy,and the mounting pressure from US military commanders for an early decision on deploying additional troops into Afghanistan.

In a series of TV appearances on Sunday morning,Obama said he was not going to take an immediate decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan. He also insisted that unless there was a clear strategy for Afghanistan,he was not going to address the question of how many troops must be committed to the war.

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As he seemed to tilt towards the liberal wing of the Democratic party,the Republican opposition accused him of walking away from his campaign pledge to confront,head-on,violent extremism in the Af-Pak region. The Republicans also accused the president of undermining the military commanders on the ground — General David Petraeus,the chief of Centcom and General Stanley McChrystal,the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. As the White House put out the word that the president is rethinking the entire approach to Afghanistan,The Washington Post leaked a report from General McChrystal that was submitted three weeks ago. In his gloomy assessment,General McChrystal argued that if there is no deployment of additional troops now,the whole Afghan mission might end in failure. Trapped between the party and the army,Obama now has no place to hide.

Training mission

Liberal opponents of the war in Washington say they are not for the abandonment of Afghanistan. Instead of sending more American troops into the war,the Democrats want a major new investment of resources into standing up a credible Afghan national army. India does currently train a modest number of Afghan military and police officers. An Indian offer to significantly expand its Afghan training mission might find considerable resonance in the Obama administration.

The writer is Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress,Washington DC

First published on: 23-09-2009 at 01:36:51 am
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