Global Review again had the honour to have an interview with General (ret.) Asthana, this time about Indian-Pakistan relations, Afghanistan, the CPEC and the Baloch insurgency. Major General Asthana is a veteran and gives his own opinion which is not that of any organization. However he is member of the United Services Institute (USI). USI, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) are the three most premier defense and security think tanks in India. IDSA is funded by Ministry of Defense and CLAWS is under the administrative control of the Indian Army.
About the author: Indian Major General Asthana (veteran)
BIODATA : MAJ GEN S B ASTHANA,SM,VSM
- Veteran Infantry General with 40 years of varied experience in national, international fields and UN. Former Additional Director General of Infantry of Indian Army and Head of Training at Defence Services Staff College Wellington. Awarded twice by President of India, twice by UN, and CEE excellence award for Nation building by Governor of Haryana.
- Presently Chief Instructor of all Courses for military officers in United Service Institute of India.
- Prolific strategic & military writer/analyst on international affairs. Authored over 100 publications/articles and over 100 blogs, on international & National issues. Has been interviewed by various National and International media channels in various appointments in India and abroad, including frequent discussions/opinions on WION, Rajyasabha TV, NewsX, Doordarshan, Samay TV, APN TV. Interviewed by Sputnik, SCMP (Six Times), Global Review (Germany) five times, Safety & Security International (Germany), Financial Express, The Sentinel and ANI (Several Times). Editorials in Financial Chronicle. Writing for Washington Post, The Guardian, Modern Diplomacy (EU and Africa), Global Review (Germany), FDI(Australia), Korea Times, Economic Times, South China Morning Post, Global Times (China), Asia Times (Australia), WION News, Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Journal, Tuck Magazine(Australia), Eurasian Review, Business Standard, Diplomacy and Beyond, Indian Defence Review, GIAP Journal, USI Journal, Indian Military Review, Synergy Journal, ANI, Kootneeti, Borderless Newsonline, National Defence, Salute, Scroll, Print, Newsmobile, and Newsroom 24X7, Indian Observer Post in different forms, besides own publications.
- Currently on Board of Advisors in International Organisation of Educational Development (IOED), Confederation of Educational Excellence (CEE), and Security Council of United Nations Association of India (UNAI), United Nations Collaboration for Economic and Social Development in Africa (UNCESDA), International Council on Global Conflict Resolution (ICGCR) and International Police Commission (IPC). Life member of various Think Tanks like IDSA, USI of India, Center for Land Warfare Studies & FDI (Australia).
- Delivering talks regularly on strategic, military & motivational subjects in various universities/organisations, UN subjects in Centers of UN peacekeeping (globally), CUNPK, New Delhi, & conducting UN exercises. External examiner for M Phil, with Panjab University, in Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), New Delhi.
- Doctoral researcher with JNU, holds two M Phil degrees with outstanding grade, PGDHRM and various management degrees, UN Courses, prestigious Defence Courses, Advanced Professional Program in Public Administration at IIPA, and National Development Course in Taiwan.
Reachable at Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube and Google+ as Shashi Asthana, asthana_shashi on twitter, and writing on own site https://asthanawrites.org/ email email@example.com LinkedIn Profile www.linkedin.com/in/shashi-asthana-4b3801a6
Global Review: What I don´t understand: Pakistan will never get back India Kashmir as India perceives it as part of India and has nuclear weapons. What is the purpose supporting Islamist or separatist Kashmir groups as India never will let a separation happen as it is a nuclear power and Pakistan never will try to conquer India Kashmir by military force or for a nuclear war? What is the purpose that Pakistan is supporting this self-fulfilling defeat and symbolic nonsense? How could India and Pakistan come to a solution of this problem? And would be an Indian guarantee not supporting Baluchistan separatists in return for Pakistan´s guarantee not supporting Kashmir activists is enough?
Maj Gen S B Asthana
My take on your question is that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir under Maharaja Hari Singh legally acceded to India including Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), Gilgit Baltistan and Chinese occupied Aksai Chin, which were illegally occupied by these countries post accession. The instrument of accession is a written document which is undeniable; hence there is no room for any difference in perception. Pakistan knows that it can never take any part of Kashmir by force, beyond the part which it occupied before Indian Army went into Kashmir to stop them,after signature of ‘Instrument of Accession’.
The purpose of Pakistan in continuing proxy war is a continuation of the ‘Policy of bleeding India with a thousand cuts’. This policy has some inseparable historic baggage of animosity with India and resultant instability which continues even now. The 1971 war, besides dividing Pakistan (and creation of Bangladesh), resulted in 93,000 Prisoners of War by the victorious Indian Army. Pakistan Army could never forget it and kept trying to wipe this scar. Today the same generation of military is not in power, but the thought to avenge this professional shame is alive with their military.
President General Zia’s ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’ became breeding ground for Islamic terrorism. With Taliban and Wahhabism in the rise, Pakistan continues to witness a change in psyche and ideology. Kashmir remains an obvious target to avenge. The forced occupation of Baluchistan and ill-treatment of its population makes Pakistan further unstable. Due to internal instability, Pakistan Army could project itself as the only option available to bind and protect the country against India; hence they justify holding the reins of power.President Musharraf further nurtured terrorists, used them in proxy wars, as ‘strategic assets’ and this reality has not changed till date. In this backdrop, every effort by each of the successive Indian leaders to improve relations was destined to fail, and the situation today is no different.Indian policy continues to be that “Terror and Talks cannot go together”. India condemns terrorism in all forms and manifestations and Pakistan propagates it as a state policy; hence I do not see the relations improving unless Pakistan shuns terror, the chances of which are remote. Pakistan has earned a lot from US and China by nurturing terror industry, on the pretext of global fight against terror, with a promise to wipe out some selected terror groups. The fact that they shielded Osama Bin Laden and are responsible for resurgence of Taliban, virtually nullifying the global peace efforts in Afghanistan proves its irrationality and ‘symbolic nonsense’ as mentioned by you. Pakistan’s Kashmir fascination is taking it to financial collapse and radicalisation of its military, society and shifting the control in the hands of terrorists and radical elements, which is a global concern.
India does not support any militant group or separatist in Baluchistan, unlike Pakistan which trains and infiltrates terrorists in Kashmir; hence the two are not comparable. The Baluchistan problem has no connection with India except that historically Balochi Region used to be in immediate neighbourhood of British India. India however stands against atrocities to human beings anywhere in the world and Baluchistan is no exception. Baluchistan therefore is not the issue between India and Pakistan. If Pakistan stops the proxy war against India, stops infiltration and support to terrorists with visible actions on ground and brings the terrorists involved in attacks on Indian soil to justice, there can be hope for talks.
Global Review: Do you think 2019 could become a decisive year for Afghanistan and for South Asia: The Taliban seized more territory and controls at least 50% of the country. The USA and China have peace talks with the Taliban, backed by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The Taliban demands an Islamic state and the withdrawal of foreign troops. Will Trump´s decision to withdraw US troops in Syria and Afghanistan alters the balance in Afghanistan? Trump also said in a CNN interview that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was right and aimed against terrorism and that Russia, China, India and Pakistan should replace US troops in Afghanistan and resolve this problem as a regional issue? Is this realistic?
Maj Gen S B Asthana
The problem of Afghanistan is extremely complex to be resolved in 2019; hence I do not think that it is a decisive year. Many more years will be required even if the stake holders are serious about it. After 17 years of war Taliban holds more territory than what it had when the war started. There are conflicting interests of each of the stake holders. Pakistan nurtured Taliban and al Qaeda, hence would be happy if Taliban is in driving seat, but it will not compromise on Durand line because it wants strategic depth. Taliban also will not compromise on border issue with Pakistan, as they did not do so earlier. US is fed up of fighting there, but if it withdraws from this strategic space, it will be lost forever to China which has plans to develop communication links with China Pakistan Economic Corridor there, exploit all natural resources of Afghanistan including developing cross communication links up to Iran and preferably use their port as well. Russia had entered Afghanistan earlier to deny the US influence there during cold war period. US helped Mujahedeen to counter Russia. Later Russia found the occupation unsustainable and withdrew unilaterally. I do not think that they will do the same mistake again. Russia however has been considering establishment of second military base in southern flank of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan bordering Afghanistan to fulfil its strategic interest. Russians also hosted Peace Talks on Afghanistan with all stake holders and invited India. I learnt was that some observers did attend it, but not as a formal participation by the Indian Government.
The US Taliban peace talks have isolated the present regime in power under President Ghani; hence democratic peaceful elections are unlikely in near future. Taliban wants US to withdraw in 18 months whereas US wants to do it in five years. There is also ingress of pockets of Daesh in Afghanistan making situation even more complex. Afghanistan Security Forces still do not have the capability to fight Taliban and need more training and capability in terms of hardware. President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan will definitely alter the strategic balance in favour of Pakistan, China and Taliban. Any assessment to say that it is a regional issue may not be realistic, because with radicalisation of Pakistan, growing strength of Taliban, and some existence of al Qaeda, Haqqani network and Daesh, I see a large caliphate in making, with levers of power with radicalised organisations. If the entire globe had to put in synergised effort to deal with Taliban and Daesh earlier, it is going to be even more difficult when the new grouping of radicalised elements emerges again.
Global Review: Do you think that the Taliban are interested in a peace settlement or will they seize the opportunity to occupy the whole country and topple the government and rule alone? Is the Afghan military strong and united enough to withstand the attack of the Taliban or will it face a similar fate as the South Vietnamese army after Nixon´s Vietnamization of the Vietnam War? What is the Indian position regarding a peace settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government?
Maj Gen S B Asthana
I have partially answered your question in the last answer. Taliban cannot be relied upon for a peace settlement. They will eventually find reasons to rule the country, even if they promise to allow a peaceful democratic election. The Government in power under President Ghani and CEO Abdullah do not give the confidence of being on the same page. Taliban do not want to even talk of sharing power with existing government. Taliban is unlikely to give up the ambition of ruling through Sharia laws, irrespective of the liberalised wordings they have been using during peace talks, because they have radicalised cadre to be satisfied. The people may not be too happy as a large segment of population has got used to some liberties like women working at common place with men. Afghan military is not yet strong enough to take on Taliban in the entire country. It still needs lot of training and equipment.
India is the biggest regional donor and fifth largest contributor globally to Afghanistan with $3 billion assistance. India has been involved in reconstruction, infrastructure and humanitarian development in Afghanistan. It includes construction of Salma Dam, Parliament, hospitals, over 200 schools roads and other infrastructure projects. India has been helpful in capacity building of afghan Defence Forces. India is not part of peace talks between Taliban and Afghanistan at governmental level as per the information in public domain. Historically although India was in favour of Northern Alliance earlier, which was anti-Taliban, but I anticipate that India will continue to deal with the Government of the day, even if there is any change. India continues to enjoy good reputation amongst people of Afghanistan since ancient days and has been very helpful to them.
Global Review: Could China and Pakistan accept an Islamic Afghanistan under Taliban rule? What is their position regarding a peace settlement? Would China and Pakistan see a Taliban government as a victory against India and the USA? Could the Taliban become a factor of stability which is integrated in China´s New Silk road and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as new strategic depth against India and as force against the Islamic State and other jihadists? This might have two preconditions: That the Taliban are interested in the modernization of Afghanistan and the New Silk road and that the Taliban guarantees China and Pakistan that it won´t be a safe haven for terrorists and jihadist and won´t interfere in their inner affairs as in Xingjian or question the Durand line —do you think the Taliban would accept these conditions and what would be India´s position in the event of a Taliban government? Could the old Turkmenistan- Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project be an incentive for India to accept such a solution?
Maj Gen S B Asthana
China has been actively engaging with Taliban in the recent past and Pakistan harboured them even when Multi-national Forces were fighting with them earlier. I therefore see no reason why Pakistan will not be amenable to Afghanistan under Taliban Islamic rule. If Taliban guarantees China’s that it will not support ETIM operating in Xinjiang, and if Chinese feel that they can manage Taliban, they may also be amenable to Taliban Islamic rule. If China is comfortable with Islamic Republic of Pakistan, I see no reason why they will not accept Islamic rule under Taliban, so long it meets Chinese national interest. China and Pakistan will definitely see a Taliban government as a major strategic gain against USA and India. Taliban will have to be managed by China, financially or otherwise for stability of China´s New Silk road and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, because even Chinese will not trust a jihadist group for stability of its economic assets. Pakistan will expect Taliban as a facilitator of new strategic depth against India, but it cannot take them for granted because the last Taliban Regime did not compromise with Pakistan on border issue. Pakistan will celebrate if Indian investments in Afghanistan go waste, but any government in Afghanistan is likely to welcome Indian assistance.
Taliban if brought to power will be interested in development of Afghanistan and the New Silk road, but I have my doubts that China and Pakistan will believe Taliban’s guarantee that it won´t be a safe haven for terrorists and jihadist and won´t interfere in internal affairs of China in Xingjian or question the Durand line, because both these countries are well familiar with ideology of Taliban. In my opinion Taliban may accept these conditions on paper to come to power, but will subsequently do what it suits them most. India´s has worked with Taliban government earlier; hence I visualise that India will continue to deal with the Government of the day, as hither to fore even if there is any change. Turkmenistan- Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project passes through Pakistan, hence its success or otherwise is dependent on Indo-Pak relations also amongst many other factors. I do not think that it is an incentive for accepting peace talks for India. All four countries are stake holders in this project; hence it does not make much difference in outcome of peace talks.
Global Review: The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is becoming the focus of terrorist activities against China and the Pakistan government. The Baluchistan Freedom Army bombed and assassinated several Chinese and Pakistani officials and tries to sabotage the CPEC and the Port of Gwadar. The Pakistan government claims that India is supporting the Baluchistan separatists and terrorists as India claims that Pakistan is supporting jihadists and terrorists in Kashmir and in the Mumbai accident? Has India an interest in an independent Baluchistan? There are three Baluchistan movements and groups with demands for more autonomy to independence or a Great Baluchistan including parts of Iran. Do you think the Baluchistan movements could become another important player in Pakistan as the Islamists or the Pakistan Taliban and leverage for India against Pakistan?
Maj Gen S B Asthana
The Balochistan region is administratively divided among three countries, Pakistan, Iran and some pockets of Afghanistan. The largest portion in the area is Balochistan Province. It is the largest Province of Pakistan (comprising 44% of the country’s total area), but it is the least inhabited, with only 5% of total population, and the least developed. as well as population is in Pakistan. An estimated 6.9 million of Pakistan’s population is Baloch. Baluchistan is rich in natural resources like natural gas, oil, coal, copper, sulphur, fluoride and gold, which are being exploited by Punjab dominated Pakistan, ignoring it to be the least developed province in Pakistan. A vast majority of its population lives in deplorable housing conditions where they don’t have access to electricity or clean drinking water.
The insurgency in Baluchistan started in 1948 and continues till today, in varying intensity. The Balochis separatists would continue to strive for ‘Greater Balochistan’ which includes parts of Iran and some adjoining pockets of Afghanistan, however I feel that this may be impractical. Baluchistan Province of Pakistan, in my view is looking for more autonomy, fair treatment, fair share of growth opportunities and development at par with other states. The CPEC passes through Balochistan and Gwadar port is also located there, but these infrastructure developments have not addressed the problem of development of local facilities and are more oriented towards transhipment of goods and their resources to other provinces like Punjab or directly to China. Baloch population feels that they are being exploited. They are being victimised and suffering atrocities under Pakistan Army of the magnitude which East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh) suffered. The current spell of insurgency is waged by Baloch nationalists against the governments of Pakistan. Pakistan Army on the excuse of dealing with terrorists causes atrocities against innocent Balochi people, exploits them, and carries out ethnic cleansing of their population. They do not mind using heavy weapons and air power against them. This can be one of the reasons for any future internal implosion of Pakistan for which they have no one else to blame.
As mentioned earlier, India does not support any militant group or separatist in Baluchistan, unlike Pakistan which trains and infiltrates terrorists in Kashmir. India however stands against atrocities to human beings anywhere in the world and Baluchistan is no exception. A large number of Baloch leaders have approached Indian Government for help against the atrocities against Pakistan and India has expressed sympathy towards innocent population of Balochistan. Pakistan does try to build the narrative of Indian support to them, but India has no strategic gain in supporting Baluchi terrorists or separatists, nor does it give any leverage to India. In fact as India campaigns against terrorism in all forms and manifestations, it has more to lose in terms of global goodwill and support in case it supports Baluchi terrorists. Pakistan has a tendency of giving too much importance to itself in Indian strategic space, without understanding that in Indian strategic calculus; any irresponsible act in Baluchistan does not give India any advantage in the overall cost- benefit analysis of our international relations.
(The views expressed are personal views of the author, and do not represent views of any organisation. Major General S B Asthana can be reached as Shashi Asthana on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+, asthana_shashi on Twitter and S B Asthana on Youtube. website http://www.asthanawrites.org)