Turkey excluded India from the Istanbul conference on Afghanistan. Pakistan’s pressure worked. All India could do was protest. Now the London conference on Afghanistan has started. India is invited. But the conference provides little comfort to India. There is a complete turnaround in the West’s approach towards Afghanistan. The purpose of the London conference is to open a reconciliation process with the Taliban. For different reasons each major participant seeks reconciliation. The US and UK want to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Pakistan wants them out so that it may resume its old game with the Taliban. Karzai wants them out so that it may facilitate achieving a national consensus with the Taliban. Only India sulks. It does not want Taliban back in power.
How pathetic! A billion strong potential world power has been reduced to a whining bystander attached to Uncle Sam’s coat tails.
As earlier predicted by this scribe there was no alternative to engaging the Taliban in talks. America has belatedly turned turtle to seek a dialogue. Time will tell if its efforts for reconciliation will succeed. Chances are the effort will not succeed. America seems to have no overall strategic vision of a peace formula that meets the minimum requirements of all the players. Only India has the key. But New Delhi, bereft of vision, failed to act and exploit its leverage. On September 12, 2009 this scribe advised New Delhi not to wait for the US but to seek a dialogue with both Hamid Karzai and Mullah Omar for creating a national consensus government in Kabul.
This scribe wrote: “The West is out of its depth in dealing with Af-Pak. India is best placed to resolve the issue. India has common regional interests with Pakistan even if Islamabad refuses to acknowledge it. India has traditional friendly ties with Afghanistan…A peace proposal should be prepared and announced even before fighting ends and the Taliban agree to talk. The terms of the peace formula might well facilitate an earlier end to fighting… Establishing self-governance, not democracy, should be the prime goal... The problem of course is Pakistani intransigence. To tackle that India also has leverage… Zardari should reflect on whether the Pashtuns in the NWFP are ethnically closer to their tribal brothers in Afghanistan or to the Punjabis and Sindhis of Pakistan… The unimplemented Durand Line Treaty which lapsed in 1993 and by which Pakistan’s tribal belt was to be returned to Afghanistan hangs like the Damocles sword over his head… So what leverage can India exercise to play a constructive role with both Pakistan and Afghanistan? If our government has courage and vision it can play the Kashmir Card... It is only in the context of a South Asian community with common defence and common market that a Kashmir peace settlement which does not disturb existing international borders can be found. Likewise, only in the context of a South Asian community can an Afghanistan-Pakistan peace formula that does not disturb international borders be found.”
According to a recent New York Times report the US wants to exclude Mullah Omar from the reconciliation process. Why? On October 31, 2009 this scribe pointed out: “After 9/11 Mullah Omar offered to surrender Osama bin Laden for trial to any third country but not to America. The offer was spurned. During Eid this year Mullah Omar said: “We consider the whole region as a common home against colonialism and want to play our role in peace and stability of the region. We assure all countries that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as a responsible force, will not extend its hand to cause jeopardy to others as it does not allow others to jeopardize us… Our goal is to gain independence of the country and establish a just Islamic system there on the basis of the aspirations of the Muslim nation. We can consider any option that could lead to the achievement of this goal.” According to some analysts this indicated that the Taliban could dissociate from Al-Qaeda. Why did not America or Pakistan respond to the offer? Why does not India ignore America’s failing policy and take the initiative? All Pashtuns, including the Taliban, are Deobandis. The headquarters of the Deoband sect is in India… Among Pakistan’s mainstream politicians Maulana Fazlur Rehman is closest to the Taliban. Some time back he visited India and called on the Deoband clerics. He held cordial meetings with RSS and VHP leaders…Do not these facts provide India justification to intervene and respond to Mullah Omar’s Eid offer? … The time to act is now."
India did not act. Now America along with the rest is acting. If efforts fail an eventual result could emerge through violence. For a peaceful, lasting solution the creation of a South Asian Union appears to be the only option. With India in the driving seat that might have been achieved. India as a bystander can only watch, wait and hope.