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US War on Terror and Indian Security Interests

Dr Anand Kumar is Associate Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. Click here for detailed profile
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  • December 11, 2009

    The war on terror launched by the United States in the wake of 9/11 has been largely congruent with India’s security interests, though some components of this exercise have actually gone against India.

    It is well known that Pakistan became a frontline ally of the United States. The U-turn made by Pakistan under General Parvez Mussarraf not only saved Pakistan from retaliatory actions but also brought huge amounts of Western, and especially American assistance.

    However, the Pakistan military under Musharraf and its dreaded external intelligence agency the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were soon back to their old games. After making initial gains in the fight against the Taliban, Western forces soon realized that this war was not going anywhere and that the reason for this lay in the fact that Pakistan did not want to see the Taliban destroyed. It was also realized that the major assistance Pakistan had received to fight the Taliban was diverted to strengthen the Pakistan military, which acquired weapons that were more suitable for fighting India rather than the Taliban. The Pakistan army never wanted to fight the Taliban, which it saw as a strategic asset to be safeguarded. No wonder, the results of the war on terror have been mixed.

    To fight the war on terror and to strengthen the Karzai government and the Afghan National Army, NATO forces brought in large amount of weapons. According to the US Government Accountability Office report, more than one-third of all weapons the United States has procured for Afghanistan’s government went missing. The US military has failed to maintain a complete inventory of records for an estimated 87,000 weapons –about 36 percent – of the 242,000 weapons that the United States procured and shipped to Afghanistan from December 2004 through June 2008. Nearly $120 million was spent by the US Defence Department during that period to acquire a range of small arms and light weapons for the Afghan National Security Forces, including rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The military could also not properly account for an additional 135,000 weapons it had obtained for the Afghan forces from 21 other countries.

    It is feared that most of these weapons have been diverted to the Taliban. NATO weapons and even laptops are freely available in the tribal areas of Pakistan. This kind of proliferation of weapons is bound to strengthen non-state actors like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and al-Qaeda, thereby creating security threats for countries like India.

    The most dangerous aspect of this war on terror from India’s security point of view has been the CIA’s monetary assistance to the ISI. The CIA has paid millions of dollars to ISI since 9/11, amounting to about a third of the ISI’s budget. The ISI also collected tens of millions of dollars through a classified CIA programme, which pays for the capture or killing of wanted terrorists.1 Now questions are being raised about this programme due to long-standing suspicions that the ISI continues to help Taliban extremists who undermine US efforts in Afghanistan and provide sanctuary to al-Qaeda members in Pakistan.

    The role played by ISI in anti-India activity is well-known. At present, it is a compartmentalized organization with divisions that sometimes seem at odds with one another. A section dealing with NATO forces in its war on terror is kept completely insulated from the section that is running operations in connivance with the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Afghnistan and Kashmir. Any assistance to ISI is bound to harm Indian security interests sooner than later.

    At present, the challenge for both India and the United States is to see that this war on terror reaches its logical conclusion and extremist forces like the Taliban, al-Qaeda and LeT are comprehensively defeated. There is no middle path while dealing with these groups. Negotiations with forces like the Taliban can only bring momentary peace. Unless comprehensively defeated, these forces are bound to regroup and create far greater trouble for the whole world. For India, there is an additional challenge. It should try to ensure that the war on terror does not go haywire and in the process create new problems for its safety and security.