Talk to Taliban!
India Sholidn't Wait for US
The war in Afghanistan seems never-ending. Civilians die every day. With each civilian death Taliban gains legitimacy. With each civilian death the Afghan public shifts loyalty from NATO to Taliban. The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) has been monitoring the Taliban growth in Afghanistan since 2007. It tracked daily reports of incidents which indicated Taliban presence. Presence was defined by at least one if not more insurgent attacks every week. The findings were that 80 percent of Afghanistan has a permanent Taliban presence and 97 percent a substantial presence.
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. India along with her neighbors will eventually pay the price of a delayed Afghanistan settlement. On June 7, 2009 I wrote in these columns: “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.” Every day it becomes clearer that peace proposals cannot endlessly await the end of hostilities. It becomes clearer that the war needs a peace proposal for its early cessation.
What might that peace proposal be which India should push forward in Afghanistan?
For a start perish the thought that Afghanistan can immediately leap-frog to a western style democracy. Let the West nurse that daft idea. Afghan society is tribal and medieval. The first requirement is for the people of Afghanistan to feel that they are ruling themselves without outside interference. Establishing self-governance, not democracy, should be the prime goal. Once self-governance is achieved, democracy through interaction with the outside world by trade, aid and business can follow. This presupposes that the traditional social norms of Afghan tribal society should be allowed to function. These will adjust to a modern era gradually through the volition of the Afghan people themselves.
By which formula might the multi-ethnic tribes of Afghanistan establish self-governance? Traditionally the majority Pashtuns have ruled Afghanistan. But after the Soviets were expelled from Afghanistan restiveness of the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras has defied stability. President Hamid Karzai is attempting to retain Pashtun supremacy by making deals with the warlords of different ethnic tribes. His main opponent Abdullah Abdullah who is half Pashtun and half Tajik wants to create a federal Afghanistan. Actually the two approaches are complementary. For success there would have to be some power sharing between tribal leaders and the respective warlords of the various tribes. Therefore, whatever the final result of the Afghanistan election, a national consensus to govern the nation would be highly desirable. President Karazai has claimed that if elected he will call a meeting of Loya Jirga, the Grand Council of all the tribal leaders which is constitutionally the highest decision making body in Afghanistan, to invite all the militants and ask them to lay down arms. This is an excellent idea that would be more achievable if it were accompanied by the offer of granting federal governance to the different ethnic regions in the country.
India should promote this idea. It should talk directly to the main contenders in the Afghanistan Presidential election. India should also approach the Pakistan leader Fazlur Rehman who has influence with the Pakistan based Taliban. Rehman visited India not too long ago and called on the Deoband leaders because he subscribes to their ideology. The problem of course is Pakistani intransigence. To tackle that India also has leverage.
Last Wednesday President Zardari told London’s The Financial Times: “Afghanistan and Pakistan are different countries and cannot be lumped together for any reason.” He said that Pakistan has functioning institutions while Afghanistan is shattered by decades of ethnic conflict. One smells panic in his response. What kind of institutions are at work in the Federally Administered tribal belt of Pakistan? As for ethnic divisions, 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. Zardari’s nervousness is understandable. 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. I repeat: It is only in the context of a South Asian community with common defense 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.
India will lose nothing by putting forward this proposal. If accepted in principle it could be implemented only after terrorism is eliminated. Its acceptance in principle could conceivably go a long way in eroding public support for terrorism inside both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Our government should learn to think boldly and out of the box. The West cannot help us. We can help ourselves and the West.
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Dr. Rajinder Puri
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