William Dalrymple’s recent essay A Deadly Triangle: Afghanistan, Pakistan and India has caused a bit of stir. As usual, it’s a decent read with a convincing narrative. In short his thesis is that Afghanistan is the battleground for a proxy war between India and Pakistan. Inevitably that has angered commentators in India, who blame Pakistan for everything, and commentators in Pakistan who, well… Here are some of the responses:
Dalrymple’s “proxy war” reasoning implies – even though he may not have intended it — that Pakistan’s use of jihadi militants is somehow justified to counter Indian influence. And whatever emanates from the bunch of jihadis is indirectly India’s fault. It creates a troubling moral equivalence between India and Pakistan, between building roads and hospitals and bombing embassies.
Nowhere in the essay does Dalrymple make a case for the moral equivalence between India and Pakistan. In fact, if anything, the reader might be persuaded that Dalrymple is subtly hinting for a more active Indian role in Afghanistan. He writes, “It is hardly surprising that India keeps intelligence personnel in these sensitive postings, but there is no hard evidence that RAW or any other Indian agency is taking reciprocal action against the Pakistanis in response to their covert war against Indian interests in Afghanistan. US intelligence agencies have followed up all the leads provided by the Pakistanis on this matter and have not found any evidence that India is actively aiding Baluchi separatists in the way Pakistan alleges.”
Missing was the analysis of the Western powers’ involvement in Afghanistan over the last several centuries. Dalrymple has been touring for his new book Return of a King about the British defeat in the First Afghan War, telling audiences all over the world that Afghanistan is “the graveyard of empires”. Where was the analysis of America’s luring the Soviet Union into the trap of invading Afghanistan, and its huge amounts of money poured into arming and training the mujahideen? Where was the mention of Saudi Arabia’s complicity in this project, and its continued desire to build an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan? Why were China, Russia and Iran only mentioned as bit players?
The problem of course is that Afghanistan stands at the heart of a string of complex geo-political factors, with a number of conflicts layered one above the other. To reduce it to a single factor makes for a compelling read. But as someone on twitter pointed out (and I forget who, apologies) the result is something like one of the blind men describing an elephant by touch…
Anyway, the original essay is well worth reading. Along with the commentaries.