Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Srinagar urged Pakistan to end terror so that Indo-Pak talks may commence. That will not happen. Pakistan cannot end terrorism given even the most sincere efforts by a section of the army genuinely fighting it.
The New York Times of October 28th quoting senior American and Pakistani officials reported: “Even as the Pakistani government plays down the American role in its military operations in Taliban-controlled areas along the border with Afghanistan , the United States has quietly rushed hundreds of millions of dollars in arms, equipment and sophisticated sensors to Pakistani forces in recent months… President Obama personally intervened at the request of Pakistan ’s top army general (General Kayani) to speed the delivery…” Not surprisingly Pakistan ’s assault against the Taliban is perceived by large sections of its public as an extension of America ’s war on terror. As a result of this public disenchantment with the Pakistan government and army might well equal that entertained for America.
What needs to be done is to stand Dr Manmohan Singh’s Srinagar statement on its head. Terror cannot be ended to start talks. Talks must start to end terror. And by talks one does not refer to the trivial cosmetic proposals bandied about in the composite dialogue to promote confidence building measures. If talks are to end terror they must address the core issues: they must encompass not just Kashmir but also the Pak-Afghan border. Terrorism is a South Asian problem. It requires a South Asian solution.
For initiating meaningful talks with the Taliban the first requirement is to stop demonizing them and to start appreciating reality. The Taliban are Pashtuns who were transformed from a warm hearted people to bloodthirsty terrorists within two decades because they were used as pawns in the great games played by big powers. They have not had peace for a single day since the US -- helped by Pakistan and China -- created the Mujahideen to counter Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It was America that inducted Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Just as the LTTE and Bhindranwale haunted the Congress in India, the Taliban are now haunting the US and Pakistan.
Critics affirm that there is no difference between Al Qaeda and Taliban. The critics are wrong. The methods followed by both are the same. The respective goals they pursue are very different. Al Qaeda seeks global jihad. The Taliban seek non-interference and self rule. 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. The Indian clerics of Deoband have unambiguously opposed terrorism and called it anti-Islamic. 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. He told them that Indo-Pak cooperation would contain America . There are several Pashtun refugees from Afghanistan happily settled in India . When they fled Afghanistan they chose India as their desired sanctuary. Do not these facts provide India justification to intervene and respond to Mullah Omar’s Eid offer?
Pashto civilians are being bombed by the Americans in Afghanistan and by the Pakistanis in Pakistan . In the violence engulfing them to whom will these victims of bombing turn – to the Punjabis of Pakistan, to the whites of America, or to their own tribal clansmen fighting both? On any objective assessment the Taliban operating on their home terrain have proved themselves as fighters to be second to none -- including the famed Viet Cong led by General Giap. Their motivation does not come from Islam. It comes as much from an unarticulated demand for freedom and self rule as it does for the Palestinians.
Pashtun frustration is understandable. They have been artificially divided by the Durand Line Treaty. For a century they have warded off foreign rule despite foreign armies attacking them and bombing them. I have been reiterating for years that a consolidated Pashtun identity must be given legitimacy through autonomy and soft Pakistan-Afghanistan borders or they will seize sovereignty.
This view was reinforced by an illuminating article in London ’s The Guardian of August 7 by Jason Burke who has spent considerable time in the region. He wrote: “Finally, over the last three decades something that could be termed the “Deobandi complex” has emerged in the broad spread of land between the Indus and the central Afghan highlands. It is not a state but has virtually every other attribute of statehood short of printing stamps and money… It is unsurprising that those marginalized by other relatively unstable and relatively chaotic political entities such as Pakistan should look to find a home within Deobandistan or Pashtunistan or whatever name might eventually be put on its passport stamps.”
The warning signals could not be clearer. Unless policies change radically Pakistan could implode. Unthinking armchair critics might welcome the prospect. They should reflect. Who will fill the power vacuum in a disintegrated Pakistan ? Do they think India ’s politicians will succeed in filling it? Unless the governments of India , Pakistan and Afghanistan initiate a sincere joint exploration of talks with the Taliban the region might be confronted with a stark choice. If South Asia does not evolve into a confederating community of sovereign nations, a sovereign Pashtunistan is likely to emerge. A sovereign Pashtunistan would break both Pakistan and Afghanistan . Alternatively the Pashtuns could opt for governance under Kabul to create a greater Afghanistan by breaking Pakistan . Both possibilities would plunge the region into chaos and instability. The three governments most affected should pre-empt this. The time to act is now.