New ISI chief's agenda? Scuttle India-Afghan ties

DNA New Delhi, Delhi, India Dec 13, 2016, 04.45 AM(IST)

File photo: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Photograph:( Reuters )

In a dramatic reshuffle, Pakistan replaced the Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar with Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar.

The implications of the new appointment remain to be seen, but one can get a glimpse of Mukhtar's strategy and his views on the relationship between India and Afghanistan and the troubled neighbourhood, in general, from his thesis 'Afghanistan: Alternative Futures and their Implications', written at the US Army War College.

In his thesis, he speaks of taking 'aggressive measures' to undermine India and prevent Afghanistan from becoming its proxy, and allowing the US to employ diplomatic measures between India and Pakistan to ease tensions, especially on Kashmir.

Intelligence sources here say that his role in the ISI had been drafted as early as in September by the then army chief General Raheel Sharif for his expertise in counter-terrorism and also for the role he played in Karachi, where he succeeded in manoeuvering the Mohajer political outfit Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM).

A fierce critic of the Pakistan army so far, the MQM was controlled from London by its exiled leader Altaf Hussain. During his former stint at the ISI and as then head of the Karachi Corps, Lt Gen Mukhtar is believed to have led secret missions against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).

In sync with the trajectory upheld by the Pakistan military on handling the conflict-ridden Afghanistan, Mukhtar, in the thesis for his Masters in Strategic Studies, envisages the accommodation of the 'moderate Taliban' in the governance of the country.

Mukhtar, who was elevated from his position as a corps commander in Karachi, had earlier served as the DG of the ISI's counter-terrorism wing. His strategic mindset vis-a-vis Pakistan's foreign policy on Afghanistan is reflected in his analyses on the future of the neighbouring country.

Analysing Afghanistan's transition when the US started withdrawing coalition forces in 2011, Mukhtar said that Pakistan needed to prevent the opening of another hostile front, should Afghanistan emerge as a proxy for India, and, to this effect, it "will closely follow India's efforts to influence Afghanistan and may take aggressive measures to undermine India's efforts in this regard.''

India has huge stakes in the development of Afghanistan and has made major strides in the reconstruction of public infrastructure in the war-ravaged country through visible symbols like the new parliament building, Salma friendship dam, Afghan National Agriculture Science & Technology University, Kandahar, and many other projects in the health, power and education sectors.

Its close alliance with Afghanistan in the civil-military sphere has made India a target of Taliban. Pakistan, too, views India as working against its interest in Afghanistan. Mukhtar presents four plausible future scenarios for Afghanistan, all of which include a positive outcome: accommodation of moderate Taliban factions as part of the governance structure.

"Although India's uncompromising anti-Taliban position has recently softened, India could still move to be a major destabilising force if it perceives that a return of a radicalised Taliban government is likely,'' he writes.

While acknowledging the indisputable power and role of the US in bringing long-term stability in Afghanistan, along with regional stakeholders, Mukhtar emphasises: "The US must employ major diplomatic measures to ease regional tensions, especially between India and Pakistan, with a focus on Kashmir.''

(This article was appeared in DNA)