Avinash Paliwal traces India's changing policies towards Afghanistan by highlighting the oscillation between proactive engagement to exploit opportunities and restraint. My enemy's enemy is a retort to accusations, mostly emanating from Islamabad, that India uses Afghanistan simply as a Machiavellian device against Pakistan. Instead, Paliwal argues that India has been successful in maintaining a strategic balance and avoiding ‘rash and immature’ decisions (p. 13), and that Indian policy has been guided by the consistent desire to maintain a balance of power in the region—although critics might perceive inconsistencies as indecision and see a regional balance of power which is tilted permanently in India's favour. The book provides a comprehensive overview of Indian policy-making and of the country's strategy towards Afghanistan. It makes extensive use of previously unpublished official documents and correspondence, as well as of interviews with diplomats and politicians. The author, formerly a journalist, is clearly very strong in the arts of interrogation and the results are fascinating. What emerges is a contested and much-debated policy agenda, shaped by momentous events in Afghanistan: from the Soviet invasion of 1979 and the Afghan civil war and Taliban rule (including the traumatic hijacking of Indian airliner IC 814), to the American intervention of the 2000s. This chronology is reflected in the structure of the book, which looks at three broad periods in India's attitude towards Afghanistan, namely neutrality (the Soviet period), containment (the civil war and Taliban rule) and engagement (after 2001). Many have commented on India's willingness to engage with certain Afghan leaders and to invest in the country, without explaining its motives. Paliwal shows that there are two broad categories of policy-makers and influencers in India. The ‘partisans’ favour supporting those factions in Afghanistan that are most likely to secure power and act in India's interests. The underlying driver for this approach is the confrontation with Pakistan and Islamabad's support for the Taliban. Some advocates of this school of thought are more hawkish. Paliwal labels the second group the ‘conciliators’. As their name suggests, this group is eager to use economic power to develop Afghanistan as a means to reduce conflict, and they express a willingness to talk to all Afghan groups, including the Taliban, in order to reduce conflict and improve stability. They would argue that simply ignoring Pakistan-backed factions is pointless, and that a comprehensive negotiation strategy has the best chance of success. Paliwal acknowledges that these are convenient distinctions and that, at times, the two approaches have been used in tandem. When looked at in the context of events in the region, it is not surprising that commentators have been critical of India's policy towards Afghanistan in action. Moreover, Paliwal examines Indian policy through its driving forces: the attempt to create equilibrium between Afghanistan and Pakistan, to prevent Kabul becoming dependent on Islamabad; the international pressures, particularly from the United States, which strongly influence India's policy-makers; and the domestic politics of Afghanistan, where India's relations with Afghan leaders—such as former presidents Mohammad Najibullah and Hamid Karzai—have ebbed and flowed. The other driver of policy, not separated as a category by Paliwal, but evident throughout the volume, is India's own domestic politics. National strategies often reflect the political economy of a state or its strategic culture and, perhaps without acknowledging it, the book can be read as a reflection of changes within India itself. Among the most striking aspects of this engaging volume is its description of the country's fractious relationships with Pakistan and the US, and, in particular, the Indian view of western reconciliation efforts. Paliwal is at times too generous to India's policy-makers—including heralding a ‘successful’ approach to reconciliation with the Taliban through engagement with China (p. 279) when the empirical results seem less positive. Despite this, My enemy's enemy is a superbly researched and detailed analysis of India's policy towards the Afghan conflicts and their international setting. It is likely to stand as a core text on India's foreign policy and answers the conundrum of New Delhi's approach to Afghanistan. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com.
International Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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