By Dr. K.N. Pandita
In the volatile region to our north-west, bizarrely intricate political situation is developing with obvious implications for our domestic and foreign policy.
After less than a decade of intrigues, sabotage, subterfuge and war of attrition, the US feels her interests lie in hastening her withdrawal from war-torn Afghanistan. This experience is very different from that of Iraq. Afghan war history has come full circle.
Not to give an impression that it was responding to the situation from a position of weakness, Obama administration made great media hype of “US military surge” in Afghanistan. But to a discerning eye, the more poignant aspect of Obama’s policy statement was US’ decision to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2011 with virtually no condition attached to it.
As Taliban thrust has deepened, US and NATO Generals are asked to project a new phase of engagement in Afghanistan. It is of striking a peace deal with Taliban leadership. Of course, behind the scene interlocution had been going on for more than a year through Saudi conduits.
Washington had many hurdles to overcome before the ground has been set for the London meet on 28 January for a deal with the Taliban leadership.
Pakistan and Turkey are core players of these negotiations. The major condition from Taliban side is that all foreign forces should leave Afghanistan, while the condition put forth by the American led- alliance is that the Taliban should lay down arms and join the national government in Kabul. Whether this yawning gap in conditions will be bridged in London meet or not is still too early to premise.
However, pre-conference parleys held among some stakeholders in Istanbul in which Pakistan sent a high power delegation seems to have worked out a formula to overcome this logjam.
Playing its cards deftly, Pakistan succeeded in convincing Washington of “irrelevance” of India’s role in the contemplated peace deal while other neighbours, Iran and Turkey, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan would be very much there.
Curiously when Islamabad wanted Holbrooke mission to be extended to India, New Delhi opposed it. Now that India would want a role in Holbrooke chemistry, Pakistan opposes.
In New Delhi, Secretary of State Robert Gates was assuaging India’s hurt sentiment. Having earlier publicly acknowledged India’s commendable role in Afghanistan’s infrastructural reconstruction, Washington is now acquiescent to India’s exclusion from the ambit of stakeholders in Afghan peace process —- indeed a diplomatic and strategic victory for Islamabad.
President Karzai seems hopeful of forging a coalition regime in Kabul with the “good” Taliban as its partners. But a Saudi Arab jihadi leader in Afghanistan made it clear that no Taliban would disregard the diktat of Mulla Omar, the unquestioned leader of Afghan Taliban hardcore. Will tribal chiefs underestimate the authority of Mulla Omar is a moot question.
This being the scenario in Afghanistan region, the picture is somewhat hazy. Nevertheless, it seems obvious that the US and UK, both are reconciled to let power in Kabul be shared jointly by the moderates and the hardcore among the Afghans. In this scheme of things Pakistan has an upper hand because of the fact that hardcore Taliban are her creation and both Haqqani and Hekmatyar have been the beneficiaries of ISI.
As such, India’s exit from Afghan platform will be a foregone conclusion and Pakistan will be close to realizing her old aspiration of geographical depth westward. Once the deal is through, Pakistan will come out with repeated assertions that she will do all she can to help national government in Kabul attain stability and authority. This is for the consumption of policy planner in Washington who will find in it replenishment to its face saving gambit.
As military operation in Waziristan comes to an end — and it has almost come to an end already—–, and tension on her western border with Afghanistan forestalled, there is every possibility that ISI turns its full heat on the LoC in Kashmir. The jihadi syndicate is already geared to escalation of jihad in Kashmir. In a sense, Kashmir is likely to take the place of Af-Pak war zone. The crucial question is how the Indian State is going to handle a tense situation, the like of which did not emerge during the past two decades. Washington’s withdrawal from Afghanistan absolves Islamabad of commitment and accountability.
With the exit of the US from Afghan-Pakistan war theater, US pressure on New Delhi for resolution of Kashmir tangle is likely to come down. Obama regime will find itself getting more and more engrossed in domestic politics of which the recent Massachusetts election is only an indication. But at the same time observers fear that jihad in Kashmir could escalate to serious proportions. Symptoms of escalation have already appeared in the shape of Pakistan army firing rockets at BSF post twice during the Indian Republic Day besides other sporadic firing earlier.
It has to be reminded that concentration of jihadis along the LoC for infiltration into Kashmir and spurt in jihadi attacks began soon after President Zardari handed over his control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal back to the Army. In a bitter struggle for power and authority between the President and the GHQ, it was ultimately the President who had to eat the humble pie. Actually General Kiani had built up a strong support structure for himself at the Pentagon that tilted things in his favour.
In the calculus of Pakistan Army and ISI, the effective counter strategy to India’s peace talks with Kashmir separatists is that of no relent in the pressure of jihadis on the LoC and exacerbation of internal defiance of separatists in the valley.
In final analysis, the situation at the moment is that India has to fight the war on terror on her own. Prime Minister’s exhortation to the US President that the US stay put in Afghanistan is tardy diplomacy. ISI’s torpedoing of talks between New Delhi and Kashmir separatists has put all hopes of return of peace on hold. The “quiet talks” may, at the end of the day, become totally silent and dead. Much depends on the outcome of the impending London conference where India’s interests are not going to be reflected adequately. The only person who could speak for India is President Karzai of Afghanistan. But conditions created for him are so tight and forbidding that he has to plan first for his country and his people. If the UN agrees to remove some of the Taliban leaders from terrorist list which he has demanded, he may have some leverage, otherwise not. In Kashmir we have to be prepared for a worst, and of course, very dangerous phase. Re-integration of Taliban of Afghanistan will certainly have reverberations in Kashmir.