16 March, 2010

Brother In, Friend Out

This is an Op-Ed piece for News Blaze


One thing is as clear as crystal. India needs to pack its bags and leave Afghanistan. None of the parties want it to stay. The Taliban and the Pakistani government never wanted it to. Now, even its 'friend' Karzai, to an extent under coercion, does not want it to meddle in Afghan affairs any further.

It's just a matter of time now. Only the modalities need to be sorted out.

The Afghan President Hamid Karzai's most recent visit to Pakistan last week, agreeing to arrange a series of peace Jirgas (Councils of Tribal leaders) with 'active Pakistani involvement' made matters absolutely transparent that finally the US-Pakistan camaraderie in the 'Global War On Terror' is bearing its true fruit.

USA has disbursed the Kerry-Lugar largesse to the civil administration of Pakistan. In return, the Pakistani authorities have acted with alacrity in tightening the noose around the Taliban by pumping in resources to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in order to continue the military offensive.

Ground operations in Swat valley have also gone on with enthusiasm. And to add to the list of accomplishments, several top Taliban commanders have been arrested in Pakistan, the big fish being Mullah Baradar; the man only second in the hierarchy to Mullah Omar.

Pakistan should be eulogized for its cunning diplomatic moves. On one hand, it appeased the Americans by acting against the Taliban and on the other it did not totally alienate the Taliban either. Pakistan is yet to reach the 'breaking point'.

Moreover, the civil administration seems to have handled pressure from the judiciary well, at least for the time being. Furthermore, the Zardari-Gilani duo configured proper arrangements with the Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Pervez Kayani; which could be seen from the service extension of Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the Chief of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

India however, appears to have bungled, at least as far as the ground realities are concerned. No doubt, it had put in a good deal of finances in rebuilding war-torn Afghanistan, even completed the 200 km Delaram-Zaranj highway but was never unequivocal in its approach.

What did India actually want to achieve in Afghanistan? Did it want to thwart the Pakistani moves of establishing a 'strategic depth'? Or did India wish to use Afghanistan as a spring board to launch into resource-rich Central Asia? Or was it just an economic venture anyway?

These queries may be answered only by the Foreign Policy establishment of the 'Land of Eternal Peace'.

Nevertheless, the situation today is that even Karzai has come to terms with reality. He knows that in order to entrench himself in the seat of authority, he has to do three things.

First, he should be on mutually agreeable terms with the Americans. Thus, he must negotiate with the Pakistani government.

Second, he needs to bring the Taliban, either the 'good' or the 'bad' or both, to the discussion table. To implement that, he must again appeal to the Pakistanis because of their close links with key Taliban leaders.

And third, so as to make the first two issues a reality; he must not alienate the Pakistani civil-military elite in any manner. Thus a natural corollary is to maintain a safe distance from the Indians.

All of the above three moves are directly hurting Indian interests in the region.

Actually India's calculations regarding Afghanistan were spectacularly misleading. It probably believed, definitely on an emotional note, that the Americans could be bought by the nuclear deal, vote against Iran, stalling the Indo-Iran gas pipeline and some nice rhetoric.

But USA wanted a far stronger ally which could be a force not only in finances but also military into Afghanistan if needed. And India vacillated on this very point.

It was torn apart between the pulls of the Gandhi-Nehru doctrinal ideology and the post-cold war realities.

Finally, India succumbed to indecision, which has been the hallmark of Indian foreign policy since independence.

Thus, when the Indian educated Karzai says: "India is a close friend of Afghanistan but Pakistan is a brother of Afghanistan. Pakistan is a twin brother. We are conjoined twins, there's no separation," India surely needs to shiver.

But this fever had to come. The signals were there for the taking. India just did not possess the radar. Or may be it did not pay any heed to the vibrations on the screen.

The last option seems to be more plausible.

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