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'India should not do too much in Afghanistan'

December 26, 2013 12:22 IST

'India could help in Afghanistan, but if it does too much, it will stoke Pakistan's paranoia and risk making the situation worse,' Michael O'Hanlon, one of America's leading experts on international security, tells Rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa.

The Bilateral Security Agreement, BSA, between the United States and Afghanistan, which is being fiercely negotiated by both nations, is many debates away from turning into a reality.

The agreement will decide, among other things, the number of American soldiers who will stay back in Afghanistan to 'assist and train' security forces for a limited period.

By next year, the United States will complete a pullout of the 47,000 American soldiers currently stationed in the war-torn nation.

Michael O'Hanlon, Senior Fellow at the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, and Director of Research for the Foreign Policy Programme at the Brookings Institution, the Washington, DC think-tank, tells Rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa why Afghan President Hamid Karzai is reluctant to sign off on BSA and the role India could play in its troubled neighbourhod.

Why do you think Hamid Karzai is taking his time over the Bilateral Security Agreement?

I believe he thinks that by withholding his signature, he retains leverage over (the Obama administration in) Washington.

What makes you hopeful that the US strategy in Afghanistan will work?

The Afghan people (make me hopeful), from the security forces to the generation of reformers and patriots who are working to build a new country for the sake of their families, children and communities.

How strong is the Taliban today? Will it allow a peaceful solution?

Taliban militants are strong, and many of them are, unfortunately, not interested in peace.

Do you feel Karzai is serious about overcoming the Taliban?

I do not believe President Karzai wishes the Taliban to succeed.

What kind of a role could India play in Afghanistan?

India could help in Afghanistan, but if it does too much, it will stoke Pakistan's paranoia and risk making the situation worse.

Do you think the US will play a role in the presidential election in Afghanistan in 2014?

It will not play a role (in terms of favouring any specific candidate). The US does not have a preferred candidate for the 2014 election.

Is former foreign minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah a better choice compared to Karzai?

Karzai isn't in the running in the presidential election, so that is not really a choice!

I believe there are several appealing candidates. I also believe it is time for a change.

Have things changed for the better in Afghanistan since Osama bin Laden's death? Or has Al Qaeda set up more sanctuaries on Afghan territory?

Right now, in terms of keeping Al Qaeda away, the situation is okay.

Image: International Security Assistance Force troops during Christmas celebrations at Bagram airfield, north of Kabul. Photograph: Mohammad Ismail/Reuters