According to a New York Times report Pakistan has sought from the US a central role for negotiating peace with the Taliban. Pakistan’s army chief General Kayani conveyed this to top American military officials. Previously Pakistan was reluctant to approach the Taliban for talks. Pakistan’s leverage flows from the close contact its army has with the jihadi network of the Haqqani duo, Jalaluddin and Siraj Haqqani. This is the most formidable network attacking NATO forces. The Haqqanis exert maximum influence in Southern Afghanistan but are based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan. They are linked to both Al Qaeda and to Pakistan’s ISI. According to NYT: “In return for trying to rein in the Haqqanis, Pakistan will be looking for a friendly Afghanistan and for ways to stem the growing Indian presence there.”
If the report is correct it confirms Pakistan’s paranoia about India. Why should Indian interests in Afghanistan conflict with Pakistan’s? As long as Pakistan retains this hostile mindset India cannot remain complacent about an early US military withdrawal from Afghanistan. To safeguard its interests India must, as this scribe has repeatedly urged, make direct contact with both the government and the non-state elements in Afghanistan. India has an effective card to play which could effectively counter the hostile designs of the Pakistan army and ISI.
It would suit India if Hamid Karzai led a national reconciliation government that includes the Taliban. Mullah Omar could be given a suitable role that allows him to exert religious influence over Afghan society. His assertion that all he wants is non-interference by foreign powers in Afghanistan’s affairs in return for which he would guarantee non-interference by Afghanistan in the affairs of all foreign nations should be tested.
With regard to the social norms that should prevail in Afghanistan it had best be left to the Afghan people themselves to reach a consensus. It is the height of hypocrisy for Western nations to bemoan the state of women in Afghanistan and other such issues to justify intervention. The West is silent about norms equally unacceptable to it that prevail in rich or powerful nations such as Saudi Arabia or China. How societies treat their members is best left to the societies concerned. Gay marriages are equally unacceptable to many Asian societies as women in veil are to the West. Afghanistan’s transition from medievalism to modernity can come only naturally through increasing interaction with the outside world.
In order to provide the central issue that can unite the various groups in Afghanistan the Indian government can do no better than give unstinted support to the unimplemented Durand Line Treaty. That Treaty signed by the British in 1893 with the Afghan ruler Amir Abdur Rehman Khan lapsed after a hundred years in 1993. According to historians the areas from the Khyber Agency northwards to Chitral were not demarcated. That disputed land was legally to be returned to Afghanistan in 1993 after the Treaty expired in the same manner that Hong Kong was returned to China by Britain. Kabul has refused to renew the Treaty after it expired. Pakistan has vainly attempted to get Afghan Warlords and Taliban to sign a renewal contract of the Treaty. They refused to oblige.
Kabul's claim over the North West frontier Province (NWFP) is the one issue that would unite the Karzai government, the Taliban, and indeed all Pashtuns on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. India should immediately support Kabul’s claims on the NWFP. By doing this India would only be upholding international law. That this issue is very much alive becomes clear from the current controversy in the NWFP assembly. There is dispute among its legislators over renaming NWFP. They cannot decide whether the new name should suggest a separate Pashtun identity or denote a greater Afghanistan identity. If India plays its cards adroitly, Pakistan’s paranoid and hostile opposition to legitimate Indian interests in Afghanistan could be effectively checked. Provided India can summon enough courage to act independently.