Thursday 9 April 2009

Outside View: Afghanistan -- back to the '90s? (UPI)

M D Nalapat

At the risk of some repetition, it is worth mentioning two facts that seem unknown to policymakers such as U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke. The first is that the Asia of the 21st century is a tad different from that of the 19th; hence dredging up stored wisdom on how European colonial powers handled situations on the continent during that era may not be an entirely accurate guide to sensible policy.

The second is that the ideology of the Pakistani army is based not on military needs and capabilities but on a vision of Mughal-era India and the conviction that someday that glorious epoch will return to the subcontinent.

Despite 50 years of standing by as money and equipment meant to fight first communism and later the Taliban were diverted toward India-centric purposes, the United States -- under a proposal originally made by Joe Biden, now U.S. vice president, and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. -- is likely to provide a huge budget boost to Pakistan. It seems that U.S. and EU policymakers are still under the delusion that the Pakistani army will -- or indeed can -- take on the jihadists.
Given this, it seems inevitable that the coming years will see the return of the Taliban to effective control of much of Afghanistan.

The emasculation of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari -- who, understandably feebly, sought to rein in the jihadists -- has been immediately followed by an acceleration of the war now being waged by Wahhabi fanatics in Pakistan against Shiites and moderate Sunnis. This was expected by everyone except those entrapped by Taliban Lite fantasies.
Since the deposed Punjabi chief justice of Pakistan was reinstated by the Punjabi chief of army staff, Pakistan has witnessed several terror strikes and the consolidation of the Taliban's hold over the northwestern fifth of the country.

Given the commitment of the Pakistani brass and ranks to the chimera of "re-establishing Mughal rule over India," it is farcical to expect a serious effort against the very Taliban that is correctly seen as an ally in such a project.

U.S. President Barack Obama would like India "to talk to Pakistan." He may not have noticed, but innumerable strands of dialogue exist and are expanding, including within the civil societies of both countries. What he seeks -- which is, not coincidentally, exactly what army chief Ashfaq Kayani wants -- is for New Delhi to enter into negotiations with Islamabad, designed to win at the negotiating table concessions for the Pakistani army that could not be secured through decades of state-sponsored jihad against India.

In addition, the Obama administration is pressuring India to accede to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Missile Technology Control Regime without yet having developed an effective nuclear and missile deterrent against known threats in Asia. These pressures have considerably dampened the progress toward an India-U.S. alliance that was palpable during the George W. Bush administration.

Instead, the Obama State Department seems to have returned to the policy of relying almost exclusively on the European Union, even though it has added China and Japan on the list of major non-Western countries with which it consults. Obama is likely to find that Beijing, exactly like the EU countries, gushes flattering rhetoric while refusing to budge from protecting its own interests. This has already been apparent in its reaction to the supposed satellite launch by North Korea, which saw the West and Japan isolated over efforts to condemn Pyongyang.
Now that the United States and the European Union, because of the increasing panic of their commanders in Afghanistan, have once again plumped for the Pakistani army, India will need to work out its options in the case of a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. The best option would be to once again team up with Russia -- but not with Iran, which seems to have established cozy ties with the Pakistan military -- to work out a strategy designed to revive the Northern Alliance and make it battle-ready.

It is difficult to visualize Afghan President Hamid Karzai being able to take on the Taliban, given the restraints placed on him by NATO, hence making inevitable a return of the Northern Alliance, perhaps this time in alliance with the moderate Pashtun forces under Karzai.
What is clear is that the Taliban must be fought and once again driven away from power in Afghanistan. Should they entrench themselves in that tortured country, not just Pakistan but India itself would be subject to the horrors of destabilization that religious fanaticism makes inevitable. Afghanistan is in danger of returning to the 1990s.

No comments:

Post a Comment