Will AfPak ghosts shadow Cameron’s charm India mission?

July 27th, 2010 - 5:12 pm ICT by IANS  

David Cameron By Manish Chand
New Delhi, July 27 (IANS) When British Prime Minister David Cameron sits down for talks with Indian leaders Thursday, the ghosts of the unfinished Afghan war and Pakistan’s role in it may shadow his declared mission to forge a “special relationship” with the rising Asian power.

Cameron’s three-day visit, which begins Tuesday, coincides with an online whistleblower’s leak of around 91,000 US military documents that reveal how Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) backed the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and anti-India activities.

The dramatic leaks have bolstered what India has been telling its Western interlocutors all these years.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has, however, brushed off these disclosures and expressed the hope that these leaks will not affect “improving security on the ground and increasing … the capacity of the Afghan government”.

Issues relating to Afghanistan and Pakistan will figure prominently in discussions between External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Hague here Wednesday, a day ahead of talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Cameron.

India will raise concerns about the pitfalls of the Taliban reconciliation and its continuing threat perception from the ISI and militant groups backed by it to its interests in Afghanistan, sources close to the government told IANS.

“We will also air concerns about the misuse of aid given by Western countries to Pakistan and the need for a monitoring mechanism,” a source said, while pointing to Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s remarks when US top military commander Mike Mullen visited India last week.

Keenly aware of India’s concerns, Cameron, who is bringing in a 100-plus heavyweight delegation comprising senior ministers and business honchos, will tread cautiously so as to not allow the AfPak tangle to derail his mission to forge a special relationship with India revolving around enhanced business, defence and educational ties.

Britain is specially keen to avoid a repeat of the diplomatic gaffe then foreign secretary David Miliband made during his visit to India last year when he said the unresolved Kashmir issue provided fodder to militancy in the region, eliciting a sharp reaction from New Delhi.

Indian analysts point out that British compulsions to keep humouring Pakistan may prevail.

“They need the ISI’s assistance to keep an eye on British nationals of Pakistani origin who keep visiting tribal areas of Pakistan. Some of them have been linked to the 2005 London underground bombing and the failed 2006 transatlantic plot to blow up at least 10 airlines,” G. Parthasarathy, a former Indian envoy to Pakistan, told IANS.

There are also divergences of perspective: the British government, which hosted the London conference in January clearing the decks for the Taliban reintegration, has backed the Afghan government’s Pakistani-brokered negotiations with the so-called “moderate” Taliban, a source of much anxiety in New Delhi.

India, which has invested $1.3 billion in reconstructing Afghanistan, building roads, power stations and the Afghan parliament, fears such a power-sharing arrangement will bring back Pakistan-backed forces fiercely opposed to India’s presence in that country.

“The differences are there, but the visit is far too important to be hijacked by a single issue,” said an Indian official.

Compared to the previous Labour government that counted among its supporters Britons of Pakistani origin, the Conservation government is going to be more flexible and responsive to India’s concerns, pointed out Parthasarathy.

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