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Force Magazine
Guest Column - Force Magazine
Being A Good Neighbour
A much deeper engagement with Afghanistan is essential for India at this critical juncture
Maj. Gen. Ashok K. Mehta (retd)
By Maj. Gen. Ashok K. Mehta (retd)

First it was Syria, now Iraq and the creation of a Caliphate incorporating parts of Syria and Iraq by ISIS (now simply IS) that will take the West’s eye further off Afghanistan a second time. Earlier, American President Barack Obama’s stunning political statement fixing the deadline for final troop withdrawal from Afghanistan as end-2016, not as widely believed, 2025, contingent upon the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement was psychologically a negative development. Obama has outlined a new strategy for a new coalition of the willing that will attempt to roll back IS over the next three years. Precious resources will be diverted to fight the new war against the most extreme and violent form of terrorism that has attracted nearly 15,000 foreign Muslim youth.

On his last visit to Afghanistan in April 2014, Obama declared that America’s war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end by the end of the year 2014. There is some prevarication leading to uncertainty over financial pledges as well as other commitments which are likely to make the drawdown not a responsible one. This will not necessarily leave Afghanistan as a perfect place but one that is stable enough and capable of damage containment.

Afghanistan 2014 is not Afghanistan 1990 or 2001. It is a vastly new, twice rebuilt country. Still, the West, especially the US, may be repeating the mistake that it made first in Afghanistan 2002 and later in Iraq (2003-2011). This is happening at a time when the new incarnation of al Qaeda, IS, under its Caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, once released from a US jail in Iraq, is threatening to spread Shariah across the Umma. This has intensified the ongoing Sunni-Shia sectarian war as well as fuelled the Muslim-non-Muslim conflict.

While the arc of instability encompassing extremism and terrorism has expanded, it is now from Mali to Mindanao, the US Global War on Terrorism has shrunk and been renamed as US Military Engagement Committment Overseas. Little appetite remains in the West to pursue and prosecute the global campaign to combat this menace.

The natural flow of the suicide bomber bearing the Salafi/Wahabi ideology was initially traced from Iraq to Afghanistan and then on to Pakistan. Later, this partially triggered the Arab/African springs, and now, the big Shia-Sunni sectarian war. While there is no sectarian divide in Afghanistan, ethnic faultlines can open up any time if the second round of the presidential elections is not seen as credible. While the threat and challenge to Africa is acknowledged with 80 per cent of UN peacekeeping committed there, the spill over effect of instability from the so-called Caliphate to Central and South Asia cannot be minimised. Securing both Africa and Asia is, therefore, vital and urgent. But securing Afghanistan is of relevance to South and Central Asia.

The destabilising events of recent months impacting on Afghanistan could be:

• The exchange of Bowe Bergadahl, an American deserter and conscientious objector, held captive by the Taliban for the five-member dream team of the intelligence chief, Chief of Army Staff, interior minister, a governor and one other person. This has led to speculation of a secret reconciliation deal between the US and Taliban. So much for Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.
• Assassination attempt on Presidential hopeful Abdullah.
• Attack on Indian Consulate in Herat by Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba timed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inaugural.
• The selective, widely publicised and hugely delayed Pakistan military offensive — Zarb-e-Azb — in North Waziristan which has dispersed rather than destroyed the terrorist network.
• The negative psychological impact of Obama’s 2016 total withdrawal deadline. This follows the flawed timing of the troop pullout end 2014 when crucial elections are planned for 2015.
• Delayed outcome of the Afghanistan presidential elections and the resultant delay in signing BSA and OSA.
• The partly successful Taliban campaign in Helmand province resulting in loss of territory and heavy casualties on Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
• The political standoff in Pakistan, further eroding democracy.

The Three Pillars of Transition and the Peace Process
The main objective is to eventually transform Afghanistan into an asset for all, itself, the neighbouring, near-neighbouring and regional countries and beyond. There is the immediate need to ensure a smooth political, security and socio-economic transition to a genuinely representative and sovereign Afghan state as well as to the pertinence of finding appropriate mechanisms for non-interference and reconciliation to formulate and adopt an Afghan National Transition Strategy.

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