31 December, 2009

India's Quiet Diplomacy Turns Quieter

The following article has been published in an edited format in

On 22 December, India’s Home Minister P Chidambaram offered a Christmas bonanza for the Maoist insurgents. He uttered: “If you abjure violence, we are ready to talk. We are not asking them to lay down arms. They will not do it now.” That too in an ambience when the Maoist politburo member Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji declared that they would agree to a ceasefire provided the authorities suspended their operations.

The aforementioned gesture had an exclamatory aroma. This is so because barely a couple of months ago, Chidambaram was reluctant to talk to the indigenous Leftist rebels unless they laid down their arms; though he announced the proposition for talks with the separatist groups in Kashmir without imposing similar conditions.

Furthermore, on 17 December, India decided to pull out around 30,000 troops from Kashmir in a bid to ease tension in the valley. This was done on the premise that the security situation was improving. Paradoxically though, ceasefire violations took place a number of times from the other side of the border.

Chidambaram has termed his way of tackling insurgency as “Quiet Diplomacy”. The term should not be construed as his invention. But definitely his “praxis” is an essay with the Indian peculiarities in the background.

Even European Union’s (EU) new Foreign Secretary Catherine Ashton upholds the same term when she writes in Times online: “I believe that a lot can be achieved with Quiet Diplomacy. We need people who can listen as well as talk, and who can work behind the scenes as well as in the glare of the spotlight. What we also need is concerted action to achieve our goals.”

According to the parlance of Political Science, ‘Diplomacy’ is the management of International Relations and politics through negotiations. But it can get vociferous at times, with coercion being applied by one state actor over another. On the other hand, “Quiet Diplomacy” rests on the tenets of ‘rapproachement’, ‘providing space’ and ‘ethics and morality’; shunning “Realpolitik” (politics based on realism).

Quiet Diplomacy (QD) is distinctly different from “gun-boat diplomacy” (through force) or “public diplomacy” (through propaganda). In fact, QD is that form of diplomacy which may be interpreted as a subset of “Preventive Diplomacy”. The latter is defined in Article 33 of the UN Charter and encompasses all possible modes of conflict resolution; viz. negotiation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement or other peaceful means of choice adopted by the parties to the dispute.

It is assumed that when the state is following QD, it should not stick to publicity against the other party; which is yet to be witnessed in case of the Maoists because the government has unceasingly indulged in a hate-campaign against them. The target of QD is to create atmosphere for talks, alleviating the milieu of hatred.

In that regard, both Kishenji and Chidambaram are justified in their own domains since both want the other party to stop their actions first and then come to the discussion table.

Now, the question of the hour is why did the Home Ministry turn to QD, first in case of Kashmir and thereafter the Maoists? It seems that the overabundance of criticism by the civil society against the authorities is probably telling its tale. It can also be possible that the Ministry has understood the futility of pursuing an ostentatious policy regarding domestic security.

India’s liberal outlook pertaining to International problems, age-old culture of peace and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s ‘mitigative influence’ might have softened the stance of the Home Ministry. Still, the change in policy can be merely a ‘pragmatic stance’, without any ethical fabric. The Ministry has of late probably understood that ‘trust deficit’ was widening between the rebels/insurgents and the executive.

Strategy regarding the Maoists can be comprehensible, but troop pullout from Kashmir may be seen in the light of impending Muharram (Muslim Festival). It can also be perceived from the point of Pakistan’s stance in filing First Information Report (FIR) against Hafeez Saeed, the terrorist who allegedly masterminded the 26/11 Mumbai carnage.

As such, not much should be read into the present troop decrement in Kashmir as this Government did something similar in 2004 too, though numerically speaking, the figures then were about 20,000 combatants.

Exchange Policy with Pakistan or for that matter any neighbour is fine; but only till it suits national interests. Any kowtowing under external browbeating would be intolerable. QD needs to be a coherent policy, which this author had pleaded in an earlier article in this forum itself. Applicability of QD should focus on principles, and not on parties. Inconsistency is completely uncalled for in this context. The Union Home Ministry must keep in mind one more thing while devising policies that it should have a proper coordination with the provincial governments as “Law and Order” remains a provincial subject as per the Constitutional provisions.

‘Banal Empiricism’ in framing domestic security policies would be balderdash.

30 December, 2009

Obama identifies : Af-Pak, YEMEN & guess what? Somalia

In a statement issued on Monday evening, Mr Obama also vowed to track down the plotters behind the attempted Christmas Day aeroplane bombing attack.

He said the attack was a serious reminder of the danger his nation faced.

Mr Obama said he also had ordered a thorough review of the airport screening process to determine how the alleged bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was able to fly into the United States.

Commenting on an attempt to bomb a US airliner while it was landing in Detroit, the president said he had directed his national security team to keep up the pressure on those who would attack his country. “We do not yet have all the answers about this latest attempt, but those who would slaughter innocent men, women and children must know that the United States will do more than simply strengthen our defences,” he said.

“We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the US homeland.”

Mr Obama noted that apparently the suspect in the Christmas incident was in the US security system, but not on a watch list, such as the so-called no-fly list.

“So I have ordered a thorough review, not only of how information related to the subject was handled, but of the overall watch list system and how it can be strengthened,” he said.

The second review would examine all screening policies, technologies and procedures related to air travel, he added. “We need to determine just how the suspect was able to bring dangerous explosives aboard an aircraft and what additional steps we can take to thwart future attacks.”

TTP claims Karachi bombings on the eve of Muharram : Naturally though

"My group claims responsibility for the Karachi attack and we will carry out more such attacks, within 10 days,” Asmatullah Shaheen, one of the commanders of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Taliban Movement of Pakistan, who spoke by telephone to a Reuters reporter in Peshawar.

The prospect of more violence comes at a tough time for embattled President Asif Ali Zardari. He already faces political pressure because corruption charges against some of his aides may be revived.

And Zardari has yet to formulate a more effective strategy against the Pakistani Taliban, despite relentless pressure from Washington, which wants his government to root out militants who cross over to attack US and Nato-led forces in Afghanistan and then return to their Pakistan strongholds.

The scale of his challenges was clear on Monday, when a suicide bomber defied heavy security around a Shia procession, killing 43 people and triggering riots.

In a sign of mounting frustrations, Pakistani religious and political leaders called for a strike for Friday to condemn that attack, one of the worst in Karachi since 2007.

The bloodshed illustrated how the Taliban, whose strongholds are in the lawless northwest, have extended their reach to major cities in their drive to topple the government.

“The bombing itself was bad enough, but the violence that immediately erupted was also very well planned,” said Sunni scholar Mufti Muneebur Rehman, who blamed Pakistani authorities for the chaos.

“We want the government not only to compensate those killed in the attacks, but also those who lost their livelihoods, and so we are calling for a complete strike on Friday,” he said.

The Taliban campaign and their hardline brand of Islam — which involves public hangings and whippings of anyone who disobeys them — angered many Pakistanis.
But the Karachi bomb suggested growing violence has raised suspicions of Pakistan's government.

“The government is using the Taliban as an excuse for everything that is happening anywhere in the country,” said Noman Ahmed, who works for a Karachi clearing agency.

“The organised way that all this is being done clearly shows that the terrorists are being sponsored either by the government itself or some other state that wants to destabilise Pakistan.”

Security policy

Pakistan's all-powerful military sets security policy. So the key gauge of public confidence may be how the army's performance is viewed. In the 1980s, Pakistan's army nurtured militant groups who fought Soviet occupation troops in Afghanistan. The Taliban emerged in the 1990's after a civil war in Afghanistan.

Now Pakistan's army faces home-grown militants.

“I don't buy that foreign hands are involved (in the Karachi attack). They're domestic elements. They're those who were nurtured, trained and protected in late 1990s,” said Sajid Ali Naqvi, head of the influential Shias' Islami Tehrik movement.

The bombing was one of the bloodiest in Karachi since an October 2007 attack on former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on her return to the country that killed at least 139 people.

Shia leaders, as well as Karachi's dominant Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party, backed the strike call, which could bring the teeming city of 18 million to a standstill.

The high-profile bloodshed had all the hallmarks of the Taliban, who often bomb crowded areas to inflict maximum casualties. The blast led some Pakistanis to conclude that several hands must have been involved.

“The Taliban, or whoever is behind this, cannot do it without the support of a government,” said Shahid Mahmood, whose perfume and watch shops were torched in the riots.

“They know that Karachi is the heart of Pakistan and if it goes down, the country will go down.”

23 December, 2009

TTP distracting Pakistan & USA

Waliur Rehman told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview Monday night that the Pakistani Taliban remain committed to battling the army in the South Waziristan tribal region, but they are essentially waging a guerrilla war.

Rehman is a deputy to Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, and the man in charge of the group's operations in South Waziristan.

‘Since (President Barack) Obama is also sending additional forces to Afghanistan, we sent thousands of our men there to fight Nato and American forces,’ Rehman said.

The Afghan ‘Taliban needed our help at this stage, and we are helping them.’

Col. Wayne Shanks, a US military spokesman in Afghanistan, called Rehman's comments ‘rhetoric’ that were not to be believed.

‘We have not noticed any significant movement of insurgents in the border area,’ he said.

Ishtiaq Ahmad, a professor of international relations at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, speculated the comments were just an attempt to worsen the already tense relationship between the US and Pakistan.

‘When the United States expects Pakistan to synchronise its own counterterrorism policy with the troop surge...the militants issue these statements in an attempt to create problems in this relationship,’ said Ahmad.

Either stance is nearly impossible to independently verify. Access to the tribal belt, especially conflict zones, is severely restricted. Pakistani army spokesmen could not immediately be reached for comment.

Rehman spoke in a large mud-brick compound in the Shaktoi area of South Waziristan.

He looked relaxed as a he sat on a carpet surrounded by seven rifle-toting guards and Azam Tariq, a Taliban spokesman. It was apparently the first time either he or Hakimullah Mehsud had given an in-person interview to a journalist since the Pakistani military launched the ground offensive on October 17.

To meet Rehman, the AP reporter travelled to North Waziristan's town of Mir Ali and from there was taken by Taliban militants on a six-hour ride to South Waziristan in a vehicle with tinted windows.

The army sent some 30,000 troops to battle as many as 10,000 militants in South Waziristan, including hundreds of Uzbek fighters. The military estimates it has killed about 600 Taliban fighters. Rehman claimed he'd lost fewer than 20 fighters.

But many of the Pakistani Taliban militants are believed to have fled to other parts of the tribal belt, a semiautonomous stretch of rugged territory that runs along the Afghan border. Most were believed to have gone to North Waziristan, Orakzai and Kurram tribal areas.

The military has launched airstrikes in the latter two regions in recent weeks, and a full offensive might be in the works there.

Rehman, considered to be the strategic brains behind the Pakistani Taliban, said most of his fighters had reached Afghanistan and he didn't need that many insurgents to take on the military in South Waziristan.

He said Hakimullah Mehsud was ‘not far away’ and safe. Hakimullah Mehsud took over the extremist network in August after a US missile strike killed former commander Baitullah Mehsud.

Earlier this week, fliers signed by Mehsud appeared in North Waziristan warning Taliban fighters taking refuge there not to cause problems. It appeared to be an attempt to keep peace with other militants in that region — some of whom have truces with the government.

‘The claims of sending thousands of warriors into Afghanistan and the circulation of such leaflets to appease the warriors in North Waziristan are basically a reflection of increasing desperation of the Pakistani Taliban as it comes under increasing pressure from our security forces,’ said Ahmad, the international relations professor.

Rehman also said his group would stop attacking Pakistani forces if the country would sever its ties with the United States, a somewhat more moderate stance compared with his proclamation in a video he recorded before the South Waziristan operation that the group would fight until it set up an Islamic state in Pakistan.

Since October, militants have launched numerous attacks throughout Pakistan in a wave of violence that has killed more than 500 people, many of them civilians.

‘We would again become Pakistan's brother if Pakistan ends its support for America,’ he said. He claimed the Taliban only attacked security forces and disavowed any strikes on civilian targets.

Rehman urged Obama to focus on shoring up the beleaguered US economy. ‘He should know that Americans don't want war,’ Rehman said. ‘He should use this money for the welfare of his own people.’

He further claimed that Osama bin Laden was safe and alive, but that he had never met the al-Qaeda chief in person. Pakistani officials have long cast doubt on suggestions that bin Laden is hiding in the tribal belt.

‘I know he is in touch with his people and he is communicating with them to convey his instructions,’ Rehman said.

Courtesy - AP

21 December, 2009

Fluid Taliban, Rigid Military

An edited version of the following article has been published today in UPI Asia (http://www.upiasia.com/Security/2009/12/21/pakistan_army_too_rigid_to_beat_fluid_taliban/7281/)

The much awaited and much vaunted Operation Rah-i-Nijat, chose the propitious moment of October 17 to get itself launched by the Pakistani military. With the ‘not so successful’ previous operations against the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) acting as apparitions in the background, the military elite must have taken a conscious decision to go about the duel against its ‘erstwhile ally’.

The military backed by the secret agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI); had to act under US pressure and also in order to curb the malicious pre-emptive attacks heaped upon by the TTP on its major cities in the form of suicide bombings.

The rugged topography, former ‘abject’ failures and the fear of loosing its stooge against the ‘childhood enemy’ India; acted as potent parameters in creating a sense of ‘uneasiness’ in the mind of the Pakistani military. But Obama’s cry against terror, albeit asymmetric; somehow propelled them to launch the ground offensive. Nay, not only launch it but continue it for the last two months.

Serious questions that come up are how the military is continuing its journey through the inhospitable terrains of South Waziristan (the southern-most agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas or FATA) and why it could not achieve this before? Furthermore, is the Taliban really being destroyed?

On Saturday December 12, the Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani proclaimed that the army had ended its offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan and was shifting focus to Orakzai. Well, does this mean that the Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan have really been demolished and the Army has a new destination?

Not quite.

Actually, the Taliban has started guerrilla warfare and are prolonging this battle. Moreover, they have scattered into other agencies of FATA and the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP). A glance at the map of the region shall lead one to understand that the Orakzai territorial agency of FATA is separated from South Waziristan by the Kurram and North Waziristan agencies. Logically speaking, the militants should have regrouped there by directly crossing through the other two provinces. Or they may have taken a circuitous route to reach Orakzai by NWFP and Punjab. The second scenario is an even more dangerous situation for the greater Pakistani landmass and the results are showing.

When Rah-i-Nijat commenced, it was said that South Waziristan was the epicentre of the TTP, and amusingly, now the focus of the military has shifted to Orakzai. In fact, incidents of violence have also been reported from other agencies like Khyber and Kurram.

So, what is the upshot of the situation?

The fact of the matter is TTP is a wily contender and has enhanced its fluidity. It is distributing itself all over Pakistan and the military shall consequently find it bothersome to achieve success in this battle.

Indubitably, this time round, the Pakistan Army has a stronger conviction to uproot the Taliban menace but the enemy ‘is not a baby’. At the same time, the civil-military combo is not excluding the option of ‘talks’ with the insurgents.

After all, they shall not altogether want to alienate their ‘erstwhile ally’, more so in the event of a possible American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Compounding the aforementioned problems is the presence of the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Muhammad Omar at Quetta (capital of the Pakistani province of Balochistan). This ‘haven’ maintains the constant supply-line to TTP in FATA and NWFP, both in terms of logistics and ideology.

The Los Angeles Times reported on December 13 that senior US officials are pushing to expand CIA drone strikes beyond FATA and into a major city in an attempt to pressure the Pakistani government to pursue Taliban leaders based in the city of Quetta. Interestingly, after much dilly-dallying, Pakistan has confirmed the existence of the alleged “Quetta-Shura Taliban” network. Moreover, they have also admitted the use of the Shamsi airbase by US for predator-drone strikes on Taliban at FATA.

Shamsi airfield, also called Bandari, is a small airfield located in Balochistan, about 320 km southwest of Quetta, near the town of Washki.

Top leaders of the TTP like Hakeemullah Mehsud and Qari Hussain et al. are still at large. Then has the military achieved anything substantial in South Waziristan? Neither Rah-i-Nijat has thwarted the suicide attacks on the urban areas : though the military claims on the contrary.

And on the same cacophonous note, Pakistan’s civil administration keeps on shifting the blames on their ‘childhood enemy’ India; which means that ‘real success’ against the TTP and other ‘lumpen elements’ is hard to come by.

There are reports of Taliban-elements sneaking into India to commit many more 26/11s. Is this the extended arm of the TTP-Al Qaeda duo acting on its own or ISI has re-activated its machinery? And there has been the biggest bank robbery in the history of Pakistan in Karachi on December 13. Is the bank robbery in any way related to TTP?

Well, working out a coefficient of correlation may not turn out to be a formidable exercise.

04 December, 2009

A Ball of Fire in the Indo-China Border

An edited version of the following piece appeared today in UPI Asia (http://www.upiasia.com/Security/2009/12/04/a_fireball_on_the_indo-china_border/3880/)

In Astronomy, unraveling mysteries of the universe is a Sisyphean job; and taking up the task of unfolding the enigma of a Gamma Ray Burst (GRB) can be gargantuan. A GRB, inter alia, is a manifestation of immense luminosity: carrying energies unfathomable and indescribable on paper. And among many exotic theorizations, a ‘Fireball’ has been modeled to be the progenitor of a GRB.

One might wonder, information apart, about the correlation of the above anecdote with politics or security issues on Earth.

The Indian Army, always chastised to be acting in subservience to civil machinery, underwent an exercise code named ‘Fireball’ near Changu (Tsomgo) Lake in the North-Eastern state of Sikkim on Friday, November 27. The mock targets were hit by precision and with heavy fire power of artillery and infantry weapons.

The capabilities of modern machines of conventional warfare like the Bofors guns were openly brandished.
Surviving kick-back controversies since 1980s, the Bofors gun has given India ‘an edge’ over the adversary on the Line of Control (LoC) and has helped the nation-state to win ‘artillery duels’ in the War over Kargil (Kashmir) against arch-rival Pakistan in 1999.

The FH-77 Bofors guns were considerably better than the medium artillery guns available with the then Pakistani Army.
The gun is capable of firing 3 rounds in 12 seconds. After Kargil, they proved their mettle during ‘Operation Parakram’ in 2001 against Pakistan when they could fire 80-90 rounds per day causing immense damage to enemy posts and morale.

After the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, ‘Operation Parakram’ was launched in which tens of thousands of Indian troops were deployed along the Indo-Pakistan border since India blamed Pakistan for supporting the terror-mechanism.

Today, the Bofors guns have been deployed at altitudes ranging between 10-13,000 feet and may aid the Indian troops to achieve “total dominance” over the enemy in the unfavorable terrain.

Interestingly, these guns have a Mercedes Benz engine in them and are able to move short distances on their own. This capability helps to avoid enemy counter fire.

In the aforementioned “Operation Fireball”, agile ‘Cheetah’ (meaning leopard) helicopters were also displayed. They are the indigenous version of the French ‘Aerospatiale Lama SA 315’ helicopters. ‘Cheetah’ is a lightweight high performance helicopter, specially designed for operations over a wide range of weight and altitude conditions. It is powered by the tried and trusted. Artouste-IIIB engine, manufactured in India, but under license from ‘Turbomeca’ of France. The Cheetah also incorporates the latest technologies like an automatic starting system whereby facilitating a start and take-off in less than a minute. Being highly maneuverable, it can carry external cargo up to 1 Mega Tonnes (MT). The Cheetah also excels in observation, surveillance, and logistics support and rescue operations. It comfortably seats five and can also operate in unfavorable environmental conditions.

The Speaker of the Sikkim Legislative Assembly congratulated the army personnel who demonstrated the “Fireball” exhibition and encouraged the young people present there to join the Indian Army.

The Indian government as well as the army may downplay this event by terming it as an annual one, but two things evolve out of a critical analysis of this military exercise. One, the timing of this event and secondly, the territorial location.

It cannot be purely coincidental that the event was arranged at a period when Sino-Indian border relations are not exactly smooth and China has been unceasingly using a ‘blunt rhetoric’ against India. At one time China even ‘reminded’ India of the consequences of their ‘interactions’ in 1962.

It is high time India sheds the ‘pacifist tag’ in a realist world podium. If it has to showcase its prowess in Asia, crossing the boundaries of the sub-continent; then it definitely needs to exhibit the ‘conventional firepower’ since a nuclear option is beyond feasibility. The stance of Non-Alignment and disarmament were not only ethical but also practical necessities on an ideological plane in the post second world war era. But ideological maxims do change and India strategically should embark on a ‘paradigm change in foreign policy’: which has to be beyond illusions.

The Chinese ‘hard-talks’ and Obama’s recent most visit to Beijing not auguring especially well for the Indians since the American President was envisioning a ‘larger role for China’ in South Asia. And this must have shaken the Indian diplomacy from slumber.
Hence the army chose the serene locales of the glacial Tsomgo Lake in Sikkim, at an altitude of 3,780 m (12,400 ft). Sikkim has a chequered history in Sino-Indian relations as China took about 28 years to recognise it as a part of India; that too in 2003. This was construed as a significant overture on China’s part and a considerable alleviation of border tensions.

But it seems that China is ‘flexing its muscles’ as the Asian Hegemon, more so in consonance with the commemoration of its 60 years of ‘Communism’. On the other hand, India too has crossed 60 years of democracy and should show the other side its firepower and wherewithal to counteract any moves of authoritarianism in the region.

Sanity should prevail in South Asia and Asia at large and both these countries have immediate responsibilities towards that direction. But it does not mean that a country of 1 billion people should act in a servile manner. In that regard, “Operation Fireball” has sent apropos messages across the border. How long shall this country be draped in the attires of Budhha and Gandhi and consciously deny the ‘masculinity’ of its populace?

01 December, 2009

Karzai's Loya Jirga and Obama's Afghan Job


There are speculations that Afghanistan’s embattled President Hamid Karzai may convene a Loya Jirga before parliamentary elections in June. He had announced plans for such a Grand Council in his inauguration speech, delineating it as a measure to promote peace.

If one goes by juridical sense, then the “Loya Jirga”, as described in Article 110 (Chapter six) of the Afghan Constitution; “is the highest manifestation of the people of Afghanistan.” It comprises the members of the National Assembly and Chairpersons of the provincial and district councils. The ministers, Chief Justice and members of the Supreme Court may also participate in the sessions, but without the right to vote.

Interestingly, in accordance with Article 111 of the Afghan Constitution, the Loya Jirga is called upon to take decision on the issues related to independence, national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and supreme interests of the country. It can also be convened in order to amend the Constitution or to prosecute the President as per the provisions of Article 69.

On an expected note of anticlimax though, Hamid Elmi, a spokesman for Karzai, said: “the assembly envisioned by the president would not be the ‘Constitutional Loya Jirga’ described formally under Afghan law but a ‘Traditional Loya Jirga,’ which could have a different make-up of notables.”

According to him, “The notables are not coming to talk about the cabinet and the administration. They are coming to bring security and peace.”

On Saturday (November 21), he said that “a decision on the participants would be in abeyance until a date is determined. The onset of winter makes it difficult to hold the Jirga soon, but the President would like to hold it before parliamentary elections in June.”

The spokesman further added that the government was considering the option of even calling the militants to participate.

In fact, just after being declared the President of Afghanistan for the second consecutive period, Karzai had rather amusingly offered a peace deal to his ‘Taliban brothers’. Was he acting on America’s behest?

It is an open secret that USA, as per the recommendations of General Stanley McChrystal (Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan); is trying to usher in an atmosphere of ‘assurance’ for the ordinary Afghan populace. Whether talking to the Taliban is a part of that agenda or not is still shrouded in mystery.

However, the legit question in this scenario is whether the Taliban would accede to the call of Karzai, whose government is encumbered with umpteen charges of corruption? An ablution of the present political dispensation is first necessary before Karzai could seek the assistance of all disparate forces in the country.

Furthermore, shall the core Taliban and Al Qaeda ever mellow down to the level of ‘talks’ with a government which is viewed as a handiwork of the Western powers?

Now on November 24, ending his ambivalence, President Obama has hinted at an escalation of American troops in Afghanistan, finally agreeing to the request of McChrystal. So, will the milieu in the immediate future be conducive enough for talks? And if a ‘Jirga’ indeed takes place, then will the militants ever be a party to it?

To make the political atmosphere rancorous; in a stern message on November 24, the one-eyed Taliban cleric Mullah Muhammad Omar ruled out any sort of negotiations with the ‘puppet administration’ of Hamid Karzai.

Hence skepticism prevails in the political circles of Afghanistan regarding the feasibility and consequent efficacy of the so-called “Loya Jirga”. This can also be deciphered from the language of Dr Abdullah, the closest competitor of Karzai, when he says: “formal Loya Jirga described in the constitution could not yet be held because the district officials who would attend it have not yet been elected. Karzai would have to spell out the aims if he wants support.”

Abdullah utters, “what’s the purpose of that Loya Jirga? What will be achieved in that Loya Jirga? These are big questions.”

Thus, it is crystal clear that if Karzai wants to muster support from all quarters so as to survive his entire term, then he first needs to behave as a martinet himself. Only

thereafter, he can suggest behavioral lessons to others. Obama and the US administration would surely keep a strict vigil on him.

And with the American President’s recent proclamation to ‘finish the Afghan job’, Karzai would have to answer probing questions of his countrymen: civilians and militants alike; regarding the future American role in their homeland.

Karzai’s call for the Loya Jirga can be interpreted as not only a mere rhetoric but also a step to hold onto the straw provided by the election victory. Well, it may also have an ethereal connection with Obama’s ‘Afghan job’.