India has got more of a backer in the new US military commander for Afghanistan, David Petraeus, than it did in his (sacked) predecessor, Stanley McChrystal. In his leaked memo to the Obama administration seeking a surge, McChrystal had warned of Pakistani ‘countermeasures’ (read terrorism) against India if it enlarged its role and presence in Afghanistan, which Delhi took to mean that he was tacitly endorsing Pakistan’s viewpoint.
Petraeus seems to feel differently, or at least so far. At his confirmation hearing in front of the US Senate Armed Forces Committee, the architect of the Iraq turnaround said that ‘India has legitimate interests in this region, without question…’ He had been asked to comment on Pakistan’s opposition to any Indian role in Afghanistan. India has given humanitarian aid to, and made infrastructural investments worth $1.3 billion in, Afghanistan–all of which it risks losing if US forces leave the country by the middle of next year.
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Indeed, how Petraeus or Barack Obama feel about an Indian role in Afghanistan has utility only for as long as America stays in the country, something which appears increasingly doubtful beyond the July 2011 deadline set by the US president. Obama and Petraeus say there will be no drastic drawdown of troops to keep the morale up among US and NATO forces. But if the United States doesn't start winning key engagements against the Taliban, US public opinion will demand a quick withdrawal, which is when India’s troubles will really begin.