When will India Wake Up?
Twiddling Thumbs in Kabul
A mammoth international conference has opened in Kabul. It is attended by nearly 70 international representatives. The delegates represent 57 countries. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is co-chairing the conference. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also attending. Strengthening Afghan security, establishing democracy, and reintegrating Taliban with the Karzai government are on the agenda. Will the conference succeed? The Taliban have already welcomed the conference with bomb blasts in Kabul. Quick success therefore seems unlikely. America appears to have little empathy with the Pashtuns. It is trying to neutralize the Taliban by purchasing insurgents with lure of money and jobs. The Taliban have publicly rubbished this approach. It is true that the Pashtuns have a mercenary history impelled perhaps by an impoverished economy. But they also have a strong sense of honour and a well defined code. India is best placed to achieve stability in Afghanistan. It has no border conflict and tensions with that country as Pakistan does. It has many advantages. This is how it can exploit them.
First, India must recognize the basic problem of Afghanistan. It is dominated by the Pashtuns. The Pashtuns want peace, self-governance and non-interference by foreign powers. Mullah Omar during Id 2009 explicitly stated this. For the past three decades, and during long protracted phases earlier, they have been denied this. Unlike the rapidly depleting Al Qaeda that seeks global jihad, the Pashtuns seek non-interference. The hub of global terror is no longer Afghanistan. It is Pakistan. The Punjabi terror outfits of Pakistan have become more lethal than Al Qaeda. Created by the Pakistan army and ISI these outfits are slipping out of Islamabad’s control. Relationship between the Pakistan army and its sponsored terrorist outfits has become erratic. Terrorism has started to recoil on its sponsor. To formulate a meaningful independent Indian policy in Afghanistan New Delhi must differentiate between the Punjabi Taliban and the Pashtun Taliban, between Afghan Taliban aspirations and Al Qaeda aspirations. And then proceed to help reintegrate the Afghan Taliban with the Hamid Karzai government to create a national consensus in Afghanistan. How can India achieve this?
The Taliban like almost all Pashtuns are Deobandis. The Deoband headquarters are in India. No wonder so many Pashtun refugees from Afghanistan have settled in India. The clerics of Deoband have unambiguously called terrorism anti-Islamic. Maulana Fazlur Rehman is Pakistan’s mainstream politician closest to the Taliban. He had visited India and called on the Deoband headquarters. Later he met with RSS and VHP leaders. He stated that Indo-Pak cooperation would curb foreign interference in the region. Unlike some BJP leaders Rehman had harsh words for Mohammed Ali Jinnah. In Pakistan he said that Jinnah had made no sacrifice during the Independence struggle. This scribe had urged the government to attempt making Rehman an interlocutor with the Taliban. The government could have sought help of the Deoband clerics to achieve this. The government slept. Now China’s Communist Party has invited Rehman to Beijing and established fraternal relations with the Islamic fundamentalist party headed by the latter.
In a recent article former US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill wrote an article suggesting de facto partition of Afghanistan into its southern Pashtun territories and the northern non-Pashtun area. As a think tank intellectual and powerful lobbyist Blackwill was implying the unspeakable which no US government could suggest. Afghanistan’s de facto partition could eventually result into legitimized restructuring that unites the Pashtun areas of Pakistan with Afghanistan to help implement the provisions of the unimplemented Durand Line Treaty. In other words it would lead to the balkanization of Pakistan. Was it Blackwill’s veiled threat to Islamabad? Co-opting Pakistan’s Pashtun territory with Afghanistan would compensate Pashtuns for the loss of part Afghanistan to non-Pashtun Afghans. Significantly, China unlike India would never endorse dividing Pakistan.
The Indian government should have no inhibitions in reaching out to Karzai, the Afghan Taliban and all Pashtuns on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border to declare support for implementation of the Durand Line Treaty. Pashtun sentiment in Afghanistan and Pakistan would overwhelmingly favour this. It might be recalled that recently after protracted and fierce debate over selecting a new name for Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province the assembly finally agreed on Khyber-Pakhtoonwa. Does not the name keep doors open for future Pashtun cross-border unification?
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Dr. Rajinder Puri
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