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US for smaller India role in Kabul
- Pakistan pressure to prune consulate footprint in Afghanistan

New Delhi, May 26: The US administration is nudging India to scale down its presence in Afghanistan — including pruning or closing down its consulates — in line with Islamabad’s demands, sources said.

This stand goes against US policy of the past eight years, when Washington wanted India to send troops to Afghanistan.

The US is now hunting new allies to “stabilise” Pakistan and Afghanistan, such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran that have leverage with Islamabad, as President Obama’s Afpak policy takes off.

Delhi’s role in the rebuilding of Afghanistan, including infrastructure projects and integrated development projects, has not gone down well with Pakistan, which sees India’s strategic interest in its presence.

Islamabad, which is the epicentre of America’s fight against terror in the region, is pressuring Washington to prevail upon New Delhi to reduce its presence in Afghanistan.

The matter was hinted at in talks with India when Richard Holbrooke, the US administration’s special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, was in Delhi recently. The sources said the US would like India to prune or shut down consulates in Herat and Jalalabad.

Other than the embassy in Kabul, India has four missions in Afghanistan — in Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat and Jalalabad.

Herat and Jalalabad are in regions where the Taliban are active, and Islamabad accuses India of using its consulates there to whip up anti-Pakistan sentiments. While Herat borders Iran, Jalalabad is close to Pakistan.

The Obama administration is leaning towards Pakistan’s friends China and Saudi Arabia as the fight against the Taliban in the country becomes increasingly tenuous. Holbrooke visited China on April 16 and the US has sounded out Beijing on helping Pakistan fight the insurgents, the sources added.

China has an immediate interest in this, having made huge investments in Pakistan, where some 10,000 of its engineers and technicians work. Besides, Pakistani training camps are blamed for the insurgency in the Xinjiang region of China. With Iran too coming into the picture in US policy on Afghanistan, Washington would be keener on shifting its focus on countries that have greater influence on Islamabad than New Delhi.

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