Bottomline | Kabul Express

The road to Afghanistan runs not just through Pakistan

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

The outgoing US Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff committee, Admiral Mike Mullen has finally spoken the truth: the Haqqani group is a veritable extension of the ISI. By muttering that this was not the way it should be said, the US administration immediately sugar-coated the bitter pill by distancing itself from Mullen’s definitive pronouncement.

This conclusively shows that the US will continue to resort to tactical expediency regarding Pakistan and Afghanistan, rather than explore options for a lasting solution to terrorism which hit the US with 9/11 attacks and changed the world. This is not good news for India, as too much is at stake in Afghanistan. Experience should tell Delhi that between 1996 and 2001, when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, Pakistan-sponsored terrorism was at its zenith in Kashmir.

What should the US do? It should stop mollycoddling the Pakistan Army, which is unhappy at the prospect of US troops remaining in Afghanistan beyond 2014, and at the power-sharing dispensation that Washington is hoping to install in Kabul after President Hamid Karzai’s tenure finishes in 2014. General Ashfaq Kayani wants the Taliban to have complete control in Kabul; while he, with China’s support, becomes their benefactor. Taking advantage of the Arab Spring, which has generated uncertainty in the Muslim regimes, Pakistan is wooing Saudis against the US. The recent heightened violence in Afghanistan perpetrated by the Haqqani group, with ISI and Taliban complicity, is meant to send strong messages to both the US lawmakers and the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan in December. The US, Europeans and Indians should leave Afghanistan, and let the Taliban rule Afghanistan with the backing of China, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The US’ nightmare that an abandoned Pakistan would slide into instability leading to terrorist getting control of nuclear weapons is unfounded. General Kayani knows that were this to happen, he would be a dead man; proliferation by him for numerous reasons is another matter. To combat terrorism successfully, the US should consider taking four actions: it should, with support from allies at the Bonn Conference push to retain US/Nato deterrence in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

It should help to sincerely resolve the Palestinian issue, something it has recently shown to be incapable of doing. It should reach out to Iran, even if it means compartmentalising its nuclear weapons problem. And, importantly, it should declare ISI a terrorist organisation. Given past experience, the US is not expected to do any of these. It prefers to be humiliated by Pakistan, a nation it supports with massive financial and military aid, and technology to secure its nukes. By backing a terrorism-sponsoring country, the US can neither banish nor contain terrorism.

New Delhi needs to be in Afghanistan permanently to ensure that it does not once again become Pakistan’s terrorist training ground against it. Hoping that the US would understand Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) ground realities, India has so far followed a three pronged passive strategy. As part of its development strategy, nearly USD two billion infrastructural aid has been given. Most of the money has gone into small development projects which reach out to the common people, and which the ISI-Taliban would thus hesitate to destroy. Next, the four Indian consulates are reaching out to the local warlords. Considering that all Pashtuns are not Taliban, there is a need to develop a mutually respectable relationship with power centres outside Kabul. While India, since the Northern Alliance days has had a good rapport with the non-Pashtuns in the north and west, it is now reaching out to the Afghanistan leaders in south and east of the country. This is anathema to the ISI which views this as detrimental to its hold over the Pashtuns. And lastly, India, working with the US, had been hoping to be part of a regional grouping capable of ensuring stability in Afghanistan. Given the recent US handling of Pakistan, this has come asunder. There is little hope from the Bonn Conference, where western nations, with the likely exception of Britain, would be unwilling to back the US for Afghanistan stability.

Under these circumstances, New Delhi should take three additional steps to remain relevant. While it has rightly reached out to Iran with the promise of an early Prime Ministerial visit to Teheran, a lot of behind the scene work requires to be done. There is the need to develop multi-prong linkages with various government, intelligence and non-government organisations in Iran. Indications are that this has commenced. The second issue concerns the training of Afghan National Army (ANA) and police forces. While the intake of Afghans into Indian premier military academies has increased, little has been done for training of police forces. This offer should be made so that by 2014 when Karzai’s term ends, India would have imparted training to sufficient Afghan Army and police forces, who then would maintain continuity and ties with India. And lastly, India should not sidestep the Kashmir resolution without which there will be no peace in the region. Ways must to be found to start direct talks with the Pakistan Army; negotiations with Islamabad where regime change will happen in 2013 under General Kayani’s watch will fetch no dividends. This is the only way for Pakistan proxy war into India to abate.


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