U.S. diplomats suggested stars of India's hugely popular Hindi-language film industry could be sent to Afghanistan to help stabilize the troubled country, according to a leaked cable published Friday.
The confidential U.S. document from March 2007, released by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, said that high-profile Bollywood actors could play a key role in India's "soft power" assistance in Afghanistan.
"We understand Bollywood movies are wildly popular in Afghanistan, so willing Indian celebrities could be asked to travel to Afghanistan to help bring attention to social issues there," it said.
Bollywood, based in the western city of Mumbai, is a two-billion-dollar industry which has become increasingly popular abroad, not just among the Indian diaspora but in neighboring Pakistan, Afghanistan and Gulf states.
In Afghanistan, Bollywood films are regularly shown on television, though with the bare midriffs and plunging necklines of its sari-wearing actresses pixellated for a largely conservative Muslim audience. Movie soundtracks are also popular.
The suggestion, which did not come to fruition, was part of a role envisaged for India in what U.S. diplomats called "people-to-people" assistance. Others included "symbolic" exchange programs in areas like sports or business.
U.S. diplomats in New Delhi described India as Afghanistan's "natural ally" and advocated using its vast wealth of well-trained -- and cheaper -- expertise to build capacity in areas including the civil service and electoral bodies.
India has committed 1.3 billion dollars to Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion toppled the hardline Islamist Taliban regime in late 2001.
Thousands of Indians are building roads, sanitation projects and power lines, while India is also building the new Afghan parliament.
But the U.S. officials warned that a key obstacle to increasing Indian influence would be Pakistan, which fears being encircled by its larger, powerful neighbor and traditional rival.
In other comments my public on Friday, Indian officials told their American counterparts that Pakistani officials are "hypnotically obsessed" with India's military.
Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao told U.S. Sen. John Kerry earlier this year that Indo-Pakistani peace talks could not move ahead until Islamabad did more to dismantle the Pakistan-based terrorist infrastructure that New Delhi says supports anti-Indian militants.
The talks have been on hold since the 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai blamed on Pakistan-based militants.
The talks "can't just be switched on," Rao told Kerry during a February visit to New Delhi, insisting that Islamabad had not yet done enough to prove it was serious about cracking down on terrorism.
Speaking to Kerry just before he flew to Islamabad for meetings there with top Pakistani officials, Rao also predicted he would be told there that India's military doctrine was a continuing threat.
The Pakistani military is "hypnotically obsessed" with India's military, Rao said in the cable, which was marked "confidential" and obtained by WikiLeaks. It was released by the British newspaper The Guardian.
The U.S. has repeatedly urged the two nuclear-armed nations to improve their ties. Better relations between India and Pakistan would help Washington in its war in Afghanistan, because it would allow Islamabad to shift troops away from the Indian border and toward its western frontier to fight militants there.