16 November, 2006

India and the Taliban.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is in India, attending an economic conference with the aim of attracting investment to his country. Writing in Rediff News M K Bhadrakumar is not impressed by the "hype" surrounding the conference and compares it to "Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark", with the major players staying away. It is, Bhadrakumar argues, a missed opportunity for India to reassert its traditional policy in Afghanistan and withdraw from the War on Terror. Political accommodation with the Taliban is an essential part of any settlement and, in getting dragged into the conflict with the Taliban, India is getting drawn into Afghanistan's fratricidal conflict, thereby giving Pakistan opportunities which it has exploited. To begin to rectify this,

At the conference, therefore, India must revert to its exclusive focus on people-to-people relations and our economic, cultural and historical bonds with the Afghan people. Second, Delhi must resist the temptation to be drawn back into a zero-sum game with Islamabad vis-a-vis the Afghan problem.

As it is, Indo-Pak differences are not lacking in variety. Our triumphalism over the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001 was untimely; our certainty over the inexorable loss of Pakistani influence in post-Taliban Kabul was plain unrealistic (by the dictates of geography, ethnicity and geopolitics); our exhibitionism in maintaining four consulates and a full-fledged embassy in a tiny country such as Afghanistan was simply incomprehensible.

We must visualise that ultimately, Islamabad is involved in a wasteful extravaganza, conjuring up grand visions of 'controlling' Afghanistan. After all, it took only three months for the Afghan interim government in Kabul that followed the Mujahideen takeover in 1992, to reach out to Delhi as a counter to Pakistan's hegemony.

There are signs galore already that Islamabad cannot be prescriptive or selective toward Kabul on what constitutes good-neighbourliness. Clearly, Afghans resent Pakistani interference and there is growing international awareness of Pakistan's diabolical role.

We would also do well to take note that in all these years of mutual acrimony, despite India's overt and covert indulgence in activities aimed at bleeding the Taliban, the latter never ever carried the fight to Indian soil.

In a nutshell, the Taliban's message to Delhi has consistently been: 'Leave us alone, stay out of our domestic problems'.

Lastly, it is abundantly clear by now that no tangential gains will accrue to the US-Indian strategic partnership by virtue of Delhi soldiering in the war in Afghanistan. Indeed, Washington itself is caught up in a time warp and a conceptual impasse over what constitutes the 'war on terror'.

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