Let India Train the Afghan Army - WSJ.com
Training the Afghan army is "the most critical part" of America's "long-term strategy" in the country, U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke said Monday. Pakistan agrees, and has suggested it can help, too. Yet the best candidate for the task is the Indian Army.
This million-strong force has had close to 60 years' of intense counterinsurgency experience in a variety of terrains. Indian troops have successfully carried out campaigns in jungles in India's northeast, at high altitudes in Jammu and Kashmir and in the plains in the Punjab. Its officers and enlisted men have counterinsurgency experience in both urban and rural environments.
India already has the capacity to impart this knowledge to friendly forces. The country boasts one of the world's largest military training establishments, with the ability to train officers and men for varying combat duties. Educational facilities include a major counterinsurgency training base—the Counterinsurgency and Jungle Warfare School—and a school focused on urban warfare in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the site of an ongoing insurgency. Both can simulate a variety of combat situations and provide the Afghan Army with training relevant to the terrain and physical conditions that its troops are likely to encounter upon deployment. India's counterinsurgency schools also come complete with firing ranges, obstacle courses and training areas for the detection and handling of improvised explosive devices.
Beyond such infrastructure, however, the Indian Army has at its command significant accumulated knowledge of counterinsurgency operations and techniques. Its substantial cadre of instructors have ample field experience and routinely train India's forces in counterinsurgency operations. The Indian military has formulated a viable, codified doctrine to fight counterinsurgency. This doctrine calls for important restraints on the use of force, highlights the significance of not alienating civilian populations, insists upon respect for local customs and emphasizes the importance of an eventual political solution to all insurgencies. These principles are routinely stressed in the curricula of the counterinsurgency schools and applied to the best extent possible in field operations. There is little reason to believe that within a specified span of time they could not be inculcated into the Afghan Army too.
Finally, thanks to some setbacks over the years, most notably in its operations in Sri Lanka and subsequently in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian Army has taken heed of and learned a great deal from its past errors. Its leadership has undertaken a number of organizational innovations to best cope with counterinsurgency operations. Since 1990, for instance, India has fielded a contingent called the Rashtriya Rifles (literally "National Rifles"), forces with an optimal "teeth to tail" ratio, specifically trained in counterinsurgency operations. These units, drawn from the regular Indian Army, have proven especially effective when deployed in Jammu and Kashmir and have managed to restore more than a modicum of order in the state.
The Indian Army has other advantages, too. Thanks to its cheap labor costs, it can train Afghan forces at a fraction of the costs of training them in similar duties almost anywhere in the United States or Western Europe. Rank and file Afghan soldiers would feel much more at ease in India than in most other parts of the world. India has cultural bonds with Afghanistan of very long standing and Afghans have over centuries traveled to various parts of northern India. Finally, critics of the Indian Army's counterinsurgency operations notwithstanding, its forces have learned to operate within the scope of the rule of law. Many officers who have exceeded their brief have been subject to court-martial and charges of human-rights violations are not swept under the carpet.
If training the Afghan Army is as important as the U.S.-led coalition says it is, then why not accelerate training in the place that's best served to do it? Not turning to India would amount to a grave strategic error.