Wednesday, 30 May 2012


Af-Pak
IPCS Special
Report
87
DECEMBER 2009
A Strategic Opportunity for South Asia?

http://www.ipcs.org/pdf_file/issue/SR87-Final.pdf

AF-PAK
A STRATEGIC OPPORTUNITY FOR SOUTH ASIA?
ALI AHMED
Research Fellow, IDSA, New Delhi
INTRODUCTION
“This is certainly decision-time in
Afghanistan and for Afghanistan. A
number of critical decisions will be made
over the next weeks. Together, they will
determine the prospects for success in
ending a conflict that has become more
intense over the last months.”
- UN envoy for Afghanistan, Kai Eide,
briefing the Security Council
 (29 September 2009)
Obama inherited a war. He has described it
as ‘one of necessity’.
1
 He allowed the
troop ‘surge’ under General Petraeus, a
carry over of the Bush years, to go
through, even as his administration carried
out a review of the situation in its initial
months.
2
 In March, in a white paper,
3
he
outlined his Af-Pak strategy, to be
spearheaded by Richard Holbrooke on the
political side and Petraeus on the military.
He is currently in the midst of fulfilling his
campaign promise of taking the Taliban-al
Qaeda problem to its logical conclusion.
4
                                             
1
“Afghan mission is 'war of necessity', says
Obama.” IBN Live
http://ibnlive.in.com/news/afghan-mission-is-warof-necessity-says-obama/99426-2.html
2
“McCain and Obama on Afghanistan.” Time.
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,
1823945,00.html
3
“White Paper of the Interagency Policy Group's
Report on U.S. Policy toward Afghanistan and
Pakistan.”
www.whitehouse.gov/assets/.../AfghanistanPakistan_White_Paper.pdf. Also see,
http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/09/03/27/A-NewStrategy-for-Afghanistan-and-Pakistan/
4
Indicating American determination, Obama has
said: ‘We will target al Qaeda wherever they take
root; we will not yield in our pursuit; and we are
The present juncture of contemplation of
the strategy has been brought about by the
commanding general in Afghanistan,
McChrystal, who has reported realistically
on the situation in Afghanistan back to the
Pentagon.
5
 The 66 page report,
6
 under
consideration of the White House, has led
Obama to review the Af-Pak strategy.
7
The
run-off elections of 7 November 2009 have
given Obama the time to think through the
McChrystal proposals, as also ensure that
the regime that is installed in Kabul after
the elections will be  a ‘credible partner’
with the capacity to deliver the
international role expected of it.
8
 The
resulting strategy would help protect the
achievements from their US$80 billion
expenditure better. This would also be
ballast as the Democrats contemplate
Congressional elections next year and
Obama faces prospects of the next election
later in his presidency.
                                                                   
developing the capacity and the cooperation to deny
a safe haven to any who threaten America and its
allies.’ This counters the perspective that the US is
looking for a face saving exit.
5
“Is It Amateur Hour in the White House?”
Newsweek. http://www.newsweek.com/id/215991
6
Bob Woodward. “McChrystal: More Forces or
'Mission Failure'.” Washington Post. 21 September
2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2009/09/20/AR2009092002920.
html for a pdf copy of the unclassified report.
7
“Obama seeks advice on Afghanistan.” BBC.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8295272.stm.
Also see,
http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Reado
ut-from-the-Press-Secretary-on-the-PresidentsNational-Security-Meeting-on-Afghanistan-andPakistan
8
“Obama's chief of staff links troop surge to
'credible Afghan partner.” Guardian. 18 October
2009Special Report 87
December 2009
2
The McChrystal reports states, "Failure to
gain the initiative and reverse insurgent
momentum in the near-term (next 12
months) -- while Afghan security capacity
matures -- risks an outcome where
defeating the insurgency is no longer
possible." Implicit in this statement is the
likely pattern of operations with the 40,000
troops reportedly requested for stabilizing
the military situation in favour of the
USFOR–A (US Forces Afghanistan) and
ISAF (International Security Assistance
Force) in the first year and thereafter,
rolling back the insurgency. This implies a
likely spike in the levels of violence in
Afghanistan, where this strategy will
unfold. It will also entail Pakistan doing
‘more’ in terms of rolling back the
Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban
leadership and al Qaeda on its side of the
Af-Pak region.
The paper analyzes the situation and the
likely manner in which it is set to unfold.
The paper first takes a look at the dangers
of a military pursuit of the Pakistani
Taliban, leadership of the Afghan Taliban
and the al Qaeda, to the stability of
Pakistan. Thereafter, it surveys American
options and recommends a political
approach which goes beyond merely
opening up to the ‘moderate’ Taliban. It
then dwells on India’s options and
concludes in favour of a proactive Indian
involvement.
It recommends reaching out to the Taliban,
including the hardcore Taliban, to forestall
the destabilization of Pakistan due to the
expansion of a counter offensive against
Pakistan’s military into Pakistan’s
heartland by the Pakistani Taliban. The
paper recommends a politically
predominant strategy for the international
community to prevent such a risk from
materializing. For India to favour a
strategy which takes Pakistani interests
into account, Pakistan will have to
reciprocate in a similar manner by ending
proxy war and preserving Indian interests
in Afghanistan. This can be achieved
through a dialogue between the two states,
one that is delinked from the presently
‘paused’ composite dialogue. The
argument here challenges mainstream
strategic thinking that privileges the
military option.  It hopes to widen the
debate on approaches available to the
international community and makes
constructive suggestions on India’s
options. An innovative Indo-Pak approach
to Af-Pak could help unlock the current
impasse, since as the McChrystal report
states, the face-off between the two states
‘is likely to exacerbate regional tensions
and encourage Pakistani counter measures
in Afghanistan and India.’
9
I
THE PAKISTAN SCENE
After having swept away the Pakistani
Taliban encroachment from within the
vicinity of Islamabad,
10
 Pakistan is
presently attempting to roll up the
Pakistani Taliban-al Qaeda combine in
South Waziristan. With the Tehrik e
Taliban chief, Baitullah Mehsud killed in a
drone attack,
11
 the leadership disarray
within the Pakistani Taliban is being
exploited in this offensive. Two divisions
of Pakistan Army, along with an armoured
brigade, face an estimated 10,000 hardcore
Taliban militants plus 6,000 battlehardened Uzbeks and al-Qaeda’s Arab
                                             
9
Stanley McChrystal. “Initial United States Forces
(Afghanistan) Assessment.” pp.2-11.
http://media.washingtonpost.com/wpsrv/politics/documents/Assessment_Redacted_0921
09.pdf
10
The Pakistani Taliban had come to within 100
km of Islamabad on their takeover of the
neighbouring districts of Swat after the peace deal
of April 2009. See Harinder Singh. “Tackling or
Trailing the Taliban: An Assessment.” IDSA
Strategic Comments. July 2009.
http://www.idsa.in/issuebrief/HarinderSingh200709.
htm
11
“Taliban confirm commander's death.” BBC.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8220762.stm 3
fighters.
12
 Pakistan is under pressure to ‘do
more’ and has been responsive to the
extent it has been suitably incentivized.
The Kerry-Lugar bill, promising US$1.5
billion for non-military aid to Pakistan
over the next five years has been signed by
Obama.
13
Pakistan can be expected to be proactive
and on the offensive only so far as this
does not open up an internal cleavage
along ethnic lines.  This threat has
consistently brought down the vigour in its
response. It does not want a civil war on its
hands nor a divide in the Army along
ethnic lines. There is also the Islamist
angle and anti-Americanism that has kept
its enthusiasm under check. Additionally,
there is a pre-existing affinity between the
Army-ISI combine and the Taliban. The
Army would like to preserve as much
leverage in Afghanistan through the
Taliban in a post-US intervention scenario
as it can. Therefore, Pakistan will be a
reluctant participant in the forthcoming
phase of further military action against the
Taliban.
14
 As with the post-9/11 moment,
in which Musharraf was made to make a
turn around in abandoning the Taliban,
15
Kiyani and Zardari, in that order, would
require to take a decision. The present
operations in Waziristan have a limited
purpose of militarily reasserting the writ of
the state.
Earlier, with the support of the Pakistani
society largely behind them, the Army was
able to undertake the Swat operation and
                                             
12
“People continue to flee as Pak jets pound
Waziristan.” The Hindu. 14 October 2009.
13 Nirupama Subramaniam. “Hue and cry in
Pakistan over Kerry-Lugar conditions.” The Hindu.
8 October 2009.
14 Harinder Singh. “The Pakistani Taliban: An
existential or a passing threat?” IDSA Strategic
Comments. September 2009.
http://www.idsa.in/publications/stratcomments/Hari
nderSingh230909.htm
15
“US threatened Pak bombing after 9/11.” IBN
Live. http://ibnlive.in.com/news/be-prepared-to-bebombed-us-told-pak-after-911/22158-2.html
the nation could absorb the three million
temporarily internally displaced people
resulting from the operation.
16
 However,
the question is whether the antiAmericanism in Pakistani society will
permit greater freedom of military action
to the duo. Secondly, with greater pressure
being mounted by the Army against it, the
Pakistani Taliban, which has a
considerable Punjabi component, could
step up its reaction elsewhere in Punjab.
Pakistan would not like to see the
instability spreading, particularly to its
multiethnic economic hub, Karachi.
Therefore, the answer is likely to be that
Pakistan would be a reluctant participant
and may cite reasons of internal stability
for its recalcitrance.
17
 The risk is in
Americans stepping in by expanding the
footprint of their military action. Presently,
its role is confined to using technology and
stand off weapons in Pakistan with the
tacit acknowledgment of the Army.
However, an enlarged footprint could see a
more rigorous counter and public relations
backlash. Besides considerations of
sovereignty,
18
 the brunt of the reaction
would be felt by the people in Taliban’s
terrorism, ultimately forcing the
showdown the state has been attempting to
avoid. Therefore, there are limits to which
Pakistan can be pushed and there are limits
of Pakistani action against the reactionary
forces within its polity. These have proven
far stronger than the  Pakistani state can
cope with. Therefore, the gun that the
Pakistanis usually hold to their own heads
while negotiating with their western
interlocutors, should be given some
credence. Strategic prudence demands that
                                             
16
“UN agencies concerned over 'massive
displacement' in Pakistan.” UN News Center. 8
May 2009.
http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=3
0743&Cr=pakistan&Cr1
17
For a perspective on the threat and Pakistan’s
ability to cope, see “Q&A: Militancy in Afghanistan
and Pakistan.” BBC.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8104063.stm
18
“Pak military up in arms over US aid riders.”
TOI. 8 October 2009.Special Report 87
December 2009
4
Pakistani concerns be taken on board. No
state should be compelled to commit
suicide.
Consider the consequences of a ‘military
first’ strategy. It  is being dubbed as a
‘Pakistan first’ strategy in the US,
indicating that the US will push Pakistan
even as it contributes its technology and
firepower.
19
 Pakistan, which is critical to
the outcome of operations in Afghanistan,
is to whittle the Afghan Taliban. In
reaction, its ally, the Pakistani Taliban is
likely to take the fight into the Indus plain
and Karachi. Pakistan, the best-positioned
state to tackle terrorism, could be
destabilized, with an obvious impact on
the conflict outcome. A situation of civil
war would have massive human security
consequences. The Algerian civil war of
the early nineties and the multiple
insurgencies in Iraq are the closest
parallels. The dimensions of what will
happen in Pakistan are greater because of
the demographic factor and larger area of
spread. The safety of nuclear weapons is
another issue that has been bothering
analysts over the past year.
20
It is in this context that Pakistan is
advocating reaching out to the Afghan
Taliban. It has indicated that the Mullah
Omar faction, called the Quetta Shura, can
be brought to the table.
21
 It prefers that the
faction be accommodated in the Kabul
power arrangement, with the current power
equations being duly modified. This would
require the western powers to exit. The
security arrangements would be taken over
by the UN under a peacekeeping mission.
The Taliban for its part would be required
to provide an assurance that it would not
                                             
19
“Obama admin considering 'Pakistan First'
approach.” Indian Express. 7 October 2009.
20 Ali Ahmed. “Pakistan’s Nuclear Assets, India’s
Concerns.” IPCS CBRN Brief. 11 February 2009.
21 Ambassador Mehsud presented an outline of a
proposal at the USI Seminar on 'Peace and Stability
in Afghanistan: The Way Ahead’, 06-07 October
2009, New Delhi.
revert to religious extremism or harbour
international terrorists such as the al
Qaeda. The idea will not gain traction lest
the gains of the Bonn process
22
 and those
regarding funding made at Paris, London
and Tokyo, be compromised. The return of
the Taliban could lead to another blood
bath with those siding with the West,
particularly the northern ethnic minorities,
being targeted. These problems exist, but
can be addressed as part of the
negotiations. The initiative to reach out to
the core Taliban is a more immediate
concern. The deal could be worked out
over a period of time as had been the case
with other conflicts through the Paris
peace talks, Geneva Accords and Oslo
process.
II
US APPROACHES
This is particularly important for America
to consider. It already has a sense of the
issue and this has caused it to modify its
strategy, diluting its purely military angle.
There is now a political component to the
strategy that includes a political approach
to the Taliban, possibly Saudi-mediated.
23
Talks have been reported with the
‘moderate’ or ‘good’ Taliban.
24
 The aim
however, is counterinsurgency-oriented, in
that, it seeks to create a divide within the
Taliban which would enable a whittling of
its power. This has not met with any
success since the Taliban, aware of its
ascendancy at the moment, has not
cracked. The leadership of the Mullah
Omar, Hekmatyar and Haqqani factions,
                                             
22
“Bonn Agreement (Afghanistan).” Wikipedia.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonn_Agreement_(Afg
hanistan)
23
“Source: Saudi hosts Afghan peace talks with
Taliban reps.” CNN. 5 October 2008.
http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/10/05/
afghan.saudi.talks/index.html.
24
“US open to Afghan Taliban talks.” Al Jazeera. 8
March 2009.
http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia/2009/03/2009
3885411963197.html5
hiding in Pakistan, is  also out of direct
reach of the US. The possibility of a
western exit, discernible by the exhaustion
of the Europeans and the latest opinion
poll in the US with 58 per cent respondents
against continuing intervention,
25
 has
possibly, in the short term, increased
Taliban’s resolve. Other than the neo-cons,
even congressional support, particularly of
democrats, for the war is denuding. This is
being played down in the US to prevent
the Taliban ‘waiting out’ the US-NATO
deployed in Afghanistan. Defence
Secretary Gates has indicated that the US
is prepared for the long haul.
However, to incentivize the Taliban to
come to the table, it is likely that there will
be a spike in violence with the additional
40,000 troops demanded by McChrystal
being used to gain a ‘position of strength’.
Just as the killing of Shamil Basayev
helped end the Chechen insurgency and
Prabhakaran’s slaying broke the LTTE
(Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), the
decapitation of the Taliban leadership,
reportedly hiding in Pakistan, to whittle
the Taliban, may be resorted to. The
strategy advocated by Biden is somewhat
along these lines, with the suggestion
being that the terrorists be taken out
through technological means rather than
troop-intensive counterinsurgency.
26
 The
US thinks that without taking the fight to
the Taliban, its power would be
undermined. Additionally, this would
cause a demonstration effect elsewhere
and Islamism may get a boost in claiming
that it had laid low yet another
superpower.
The credibility of NATO, in its first out of
area operation, would also be at stake.
Thus, the US, though cognisant of the
                                             
25 Kristi Keck. “Reassessing Obama’s War of
Necessity.” CNN.
http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/09/16/afghani
stan.obama/index.html.
26
“Obama Considers Strategy Shift in Afghan
War.” New York Times. 22 September 2009.
limitations of a military option in light of
its Vietnam experience, would rely on it at
least partially, to herd the Taliban to the
table. This is likely to result in a catch-22
in which the Taliban will not negotiate till
the exit strategy is on the table and the US
will not put this on the table lest it lose
face. The war is thus, set to increase before
the situation stabilizes. While the US takes
on the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan would be
required to destroy their bases in the
FATA (Federally Administered Tribal
Areas). The problem is in the linkages
between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.
That latter comprise both disaffected
Pukhtuns and Punjabis of a jihadi mindset.
They would expand the war in case they
are further constricted by military action.
Therefore, the destabilization of the
nuclear-armed state on India’s borders is a
strong possibility.
III
AN APPROACH FOR INDIA
India is alive to this possibility.
27
Some in
the strategic community in fact, would
welcome the destabilization of Pakistan.
28
Their rationale is that the Pakistani state
would only be paying a price for its own
actions over the past three decades. It
would increase the power asymmetry
between a growing India and a failing
Pakistan. It would not only ensure a
decisive de-hyphenation of India from
Pakistan, but also enable uncontested
regional hegemony by India. Lastly, in its
impact on India-China equations, it would
leave China without a consequential
partner in South Asia with which to
balance India and will lock it into a South
                                             
27
For an earlier, skeptical look at the possibility,
see C Raja Mohan. 2004-05. “What If Pakistan
Fails? India Isn't Worried...Yet.” The Washington
Quarterly. 28 (1), Winter: 117-128.
28
This was suggested controversially by Colonel
Ralph Peters in his article, “Blood Borders” in the
Armed Forces Journal in June 2006. See Shahid
Siddiqi. 2008. “Pakistan’s Balkanization.” Foreign
Policy Journal. 12 December.  Special Report 87
December 2009
6
Asian box as a regional and not an Asian
power.
The governmental line of reasoning is that
a stable Pakistan is in India’s interest.
29
However, India wishes to preserve its
strategic interests even as the global
community thinks through its options.
India would primarily like to see Pakistan
desist from using terror directed at
Kashmir or the rest of India. The most
horrific escalation of this was the Mumbai
attacks resulting in a ‘pause’ in the
composite dialogue between the two
states.
30
 India has therefore, been
attempting to sensitize Pakistan to its
concerns. This, it is attempting not only
diplomatically and through the US, but
also most likely, through intelligence
action. Such action  though does not have
official acknowledgement, but its effect
can be discerned from the vociferous
manner in which Pakistan has been
complaining of Indian interference in
Baluchistan and expansive Indian presence
and interests in Afghanistan.
31
 While the
former found controversial mention in the
Sharm El Sheikh joint statement,
32
 the
latter has been directly targeted by terror
action, such as the bombing of the Indian
embassy in Kabul in July 2008 and again
in October 2009. The ‘strategy of
containment’ of Pakistan on the one hand
and withholding from talks till it appears
responsive to India’s concerns on the
other, is, however, not an end in itself. It is
a ‘means’ to an ‘end’, the end being the
discontinuance of terror directed at India.
                                             
29
“PM’s statement in Lok Sabha on the debate on
the PM’s recent visits abroad on July 29, 2009
PMO.” PMO.
http://pmindia.nic.in/parl/pcontent.asp?id=43
30
Pia Malhotra and Aparajita Kashyap. "Resuming
The Dialogue: India, Pakistan And The Composite
Process.” IPCS Issue Brief. August 2009.
31
“India fuelling unrest by funding Taliban: Pak.”
Indian Express. 26 October 2009.
32
“Joint Statement Prime Minister of India Dr.
Manmohan Singh and the Prime Minister of
Pakistan Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani.” MEA. 16 July
2009. http://meaindia.nic.in/
Therefore, India needs to consider the
extent to which it wishes to carry forward
the strategy of containment.
India needs to appreciate the extent to
which Pakistan can respond in its present
circumstances.
33
 Ajai Sahni characterizes
Pakistani propensity to negotiate with a
gun to its own head as a ‘skillfully
constructed nightmare fantasy.’ While
skepticism is understandable, a reality
check is in order. While it is taking on the
Pakistani Taliban and the al Qaeda, in
particular the Uzbek forces in Waziristan,
it may not be in a position to take on the
Punjabi terror groups it has nurtured. The
violence throughout October this year, as
Pakistan launched its South Waziristan
operation, only demostrates the reach of
the extremists.
34
These attacks culminated
in the targeting of the General
Headquarters itself. The message is
implicit that the Pakistani Taliban has the
capacity to expand the reach of terror into
the hitherto stable Punjab. Pakistan would
be wary of consolidation of extremists,
both Pukhtun and Punjabi, by also taking
on the anti-India jihadi terror groups.
Therefore, India requires to decide how far
compelling Pakistan will be in its interests.
Decidedly, a destabilized nuclear state on
its borders with the potential to interfere in
its internal affairs, particularly in majorityminority relations,
35
 is not in India’s
national interest. Therefore, there is scope
for India to consider the Pakistani position
on negotiation with the Taliban. Quite
                                             
33
In his “Encounters in a Nightmare”. In Ira Pande
(ed.) The Great Divide: India and Pakistan. New
Delhi: Harper Collins. p.157.
34
So far 180 people have been killed in October
alone according to “Fresh attacks rock north
Pakistan.” BBC. 23 October 2009. Along with the
GHQ, attacks have targeted the Islamabad
University and the Kamra air base.
35
The inside-outside connection is usually lost
sight of in strategic commentary. Here it is taken as
relevant to the Indian consideration. This is
particularly when rightwing forces take advantage
of the strains.  7
obviously, India would require extracting
from Pakistan the price of its cooperation.
Such concession by India to Pakistan
would require that Pakistan make a similar
concession. At the very least, it would
require giving up its use of terror as a
strategic tool directed at India in Kashmir
and elsewhere. At the same time Pakistan
would require to guarantee good behaviour
of the Taliban in Afghanistan in order that
those who have associated with the West
and India are not imposed upon by a
returning Taliban. This would enable
political space for the Taliban in
Afghanistan and also facilitate Pakistani
aims. Indian interests  can be protected in
the deal through India’s soft power, based
on its economic strength, extended to
cover the reconstruction efforts there.
36
Thus Afghanistan instead of being treated
as a space for strategic contestation should
be seen as one of strategic opportunity.
This would require wisdom and trust. The
Indian Prime Minister’s refrain is pertinent
in this regard: ‘Trust but verify’.
37
 This is
easier if each side has something to gain.
India gets a guarantee against terror,
underwritten by Pakistan, not only of
terror perpetrated by Punjabi groups, but
also the Taliban. Pakistan gets ‘strategic
depth’ in Afghanistan and some control
over the Pukhtun approach to the Durand
line. And while the Afghans get a respite
from the insurgency and
counterinsurgency, the US and NATO get
a face saving exit. The guarantees Pakistan
and Taliban are to provide have to be
factored in, in a cast iron manner. This
                                             
36
India has contributed US$1.2 billion to
Afghanistan’s reconstruction. See Foreign
Secretary’s address, “Concluding address by
Foreign Secretary at the International Seminar on
Peace and Stability in Afghanistan: The way
Ahead.” MEA. 7 October 2009,
http://meaindia.nic.in/
37
In his address to the Lok Sabha on 29 July 2009,
the PM said, ‘Trust but verify is the only possible
way of dealing with Pakistan.’
http://pmindia.nic.in/parl/pcontent.asp?id=43
would require talking through the idea first
between the states involved.
To this end, an India-Pakistan discussion,
not linked to the composite dialogue, has
been suggested here.
38
 In this, the
necessary ‘give and take’ and verifications
would require to be worked out. This is
only the first step. A parallel US-Pakistan
dialogue, along with the other interested
states, can be undertaken to evolve a
strategy towards the Taliban, culminating
in a replacement of ISAF with a UN
mission, including contributions from
members of the SAARC experienced in
UN peacekeeping, Muslim states
39
elsewhere and other UN members.
40
 The
reconstruction efforts can be jointly
undertaken by Pakistan and India, under
the aegis of the SAARC, along with other
states such as China. Pakistan will require
to allow Afghanistan a route through its
territory for access to India.
41
 This way the
drugs problem could be ended with the
Indian market becoming available for
Afghan goods, thereby, ending the
economic rationale for poppy cultivation.
The US would have  a receding and less
visible military role, and would require
underwriting its success through its
political and economic contribution. Thus,
it can be seen that several possibilities can
open up, provided the first step is
negotiated first. In principle, there is a
need to accept that the Taliban can be
engaged with.  That wider possibilities on
                                             
38
Prem Shankar Jha suggests a dialogue also
between the armed forces indicating the
ameliorative prospects of dialogue in “Double
Deadlock”. In Ira Pande (ed.) The Great Divide:
India and Pakistan. New Delhi: Harper Collins.
p.115. 2009.
39 Arif Rafiq. “A Muslim solution for Afghanistan.”
Christian Science Monitor. 6 October 2009.
40
Firdaus Ahmed. “A Strategy for Af-Pak.” IPCS
Article 2828. 9 March 2009.
http://www.ipcs.org/article_details.php?articleNo=2
828
41 Ambassador R. Sikri’s intervention at a USI
International Seminar on ‘Peace and Stability in
Afghanistan: The Way Ahead’ on 07 October 2009.   Special Report 87
December 2009
8
the India-Pakistan stand-off open up, is the
best incentive for treating this juncture as
a strategic opportunity.
IV
RATIONALE
Arguing for this first  step would require
dealing with the critique that getting the
core Taliban on board would amount to
‘appeasement’. The question that needs to
be answered is whether the Taliban will
continue to be expansionist if it returns to
power?
42
 Will this result in triumphalism
and provide a boost to the waning tide of
terror? Will terror find, yet another time, a
safe haven in Afghanistan? If the answers
to these are in the ‘affirmative’, then the
hardcore Taliban would require to be
eliminated; even if this takes time or
carries the risk of  Pakistan going under
with a considerable human cost. Recourse
to history is useful. Terrible aftermaths
have surrounded revolutions – French,
Russian, and Iranian.
43
 The fear among
neighbours and interested powers that
revolutions are expansionist and therefore,
require dissipation of their energy, have
often led to bloody interventions. While
Taliban is not in the same category, the
fear is that they too are expansionist. Also,
in history, is the manner in which the
Vietnamese were projected as communists
out for ‘salami slicing’ Southeast Asia.
Likewise, the Taliban are seen as
forerunners of an Islamist tide that could
destabilize the Middle  East, Pakistan and
Central Asia.
44
 Instability in energy and
resource-rich lands would lead to
disruption in the global economy and the
way of life of the West in particular. This
constitutes the vested interest or vital
national interest of the West. This explains
                                             
42
“Taliban say they're no threat to other countries.”
TOI. 8 October 2009.
43
Stephen Walt. 1996. Revolution and War.
Cornell University Press.
44 Ahmed Rashid. 2001. Taliban: Militant Islam,
Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. Yale
University Press.
their presence and resort to the military
instrument. Is their projection of the threat
correct?
Here the argument is that the image of the
Taliban, particularly one received from the
western media, is possibly self-serving and
a trifle exaggerated. It does have a
substantial element of truth, in that,
Islamists and the Taliban are an extremist
and reactionary force. This owes to their
need to define themselves completely
antithetically to their enemies, the hated,
western ‘other’. In case of an end to the
war and the resulting absence of an
‘enemy’, the Taliban  can redefine itself.
The threat they pose to Islam elsewhere is
also overdrawn. The interpretation of
Islam of both Central and South Asia is not
so weak as to succumb easily to the
Taliban’s version. The Muslim populations
of Pakistan, India and Central Asia are not
amenable to extremism, but instead are
forward looking. Therefore, any threat of
expansion or Talibanization is much less
likely than is feared. In India, the origin
and sustenance of both problems that are
likely to be affected, that is, Kashmir and
India’s minority management, have a
largely internal dimension. The threat of
aggravation from outside is overdrawn, as
is restricted at best to tactical issues such
as training, logistics etc., as against any
strategic linkage. The government has yet
again launched an initiative to talk to the
dissidents in Kashmir.
45

The major point is that defeating them
would be inordinately costly. Among the
problems faced by Obama and in the
European capitals are scarce resources and
inadequate time.
46
 Since the outcome of
conflict is always uncertain, there is no
guarantee of a victory in such a conflict.
The Iraq model can be taken as a counter
argument, in that, the Iraqis were turned on
                                             
45
“Hurriyat to talk to Centre after consultation with
others.” TOI” 7 October 2009.
46
“Afghanistan 'under resourced' for years: US.”
TOI. 1 September 2009.  9
the al Qaeda in their midst through the
‘awakening’ campaign in the Sunni
Triangle.
47
 However, the dimension of the
problem here is much bigger, in that,
Pakistan is more than four times the size of
Iraq in terms of both, size and population.
With the ‘home front’ of the West
weakening, in terms of the peoples’
support for the war, their governments
would be hard put to stay the course if the
situation gets worse. Since the elimination
of the Taliban and the remaining al Qaeda
is not a possibility, military force could be
applied for arriving at a ‘position of
strength’ from which to negotiate. Will
this happen? The Taliban has been
resurgent over about  four years now. It
would require considerable degradation of
its fighting capabilities for the West to
gain an upper hand. This would require
great exertion in military power in a time
compressed dimension. The human costs
ought to serve as a deterrent, particularly
in light of the Pakistani state’s incapability
to handle the aftermath of the earthquake
in POK in 2005 and the presently
internally displaced people from Swat.
These only provided an opportunity for the
Islamists to gain ground and public
sympathy, thereby, further tying the
regime’s hands in  acting against them.
Therefore, the outcome is once again
open-ended and fraught with uncertainty.
The campaign would be interrupted by
cataclysmic events. An example is that
while no one may miss or mourn Mullah
Omar, the death of Osama bin Laden as a
martyr could lead to an emotional
upheaval with unpredictable consequences
in the course of the war.
Finally, it bears mention that the
seemingly far-fetched option of Indian
military intervention, alongside the
international community, has also been
                                             
47 Aaron Glantz. “Petraeus' Testimony. FPIF. 8
April 2008. http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5136
discussed by the strategic community.
48
This ‘boots on ground’ approach involves
cases in which Pakistan does not commit
itself or there are unforeseen events within
Pakistan such as a rightwing coup. It can
only grow stronger in case of more bomb
attacks against Indian interests in Kabul
such as the one on the embassy on 8
October 2009.
49
 In such circumstances,
commentary has it that the international
community may rely on India.
Interestingly, at the time of the writing of
this paper, India and the US are
participating in a joint military exercise in
which their mechanized troops will
undertake counterinsurgency operations in
a semi-urban terrain.
50
 This is perhaps with
a view to send a signal to the Pakistani
establishment that the international
community has additional options,
including the possible containment of
Pakistan. This could  bring forth greater
commitment from Pakistan since it would
not want its traditional foe to gain any
leverage against it or get any closer to the
US. However, in case the envisaged
circumstances were to come about, then
the possibility of India participating in
anti-Taliban operations might become
more real. Interoperability for this has
been built up over the years of military
engagement with the US.
51
 Since the
capability exists, the decision to use it may
well be a positive one. The consequences
and implications would then undoubtedly
be thought through, but the dangers will
remain. The argument that not acting may
bring about worse dangers would be used
to convert sceptics. Time pressure may
                                             
48
C Raja Mohan. “Debating India's stand on
military aid to Afghanistan.” Indian Express. 7 July
2009.
49
“Kabul blast outside Indian Embassy.” BBC. 8
October 2009.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8296137.stm
50
“Indo-US military tango next week.” TOI. 8
October 2009.
51
Firdaus Ahmed. “Military cooperation with the
US: A mixed bag.” India Together.
http://www.indiatogether.org/2008/oct/fahusind.htmSpecial Report 87
December 2009
10
undercut a wholesome debate. Therefore,
it is best that this direction of strategic drift
also be questioned in terms of its
implications on internal politics, on civilmilitary relations, on militarization and,
most importantly, if Indian military
participation would help or heal.  
V
CONCLUSION
The moot question is ‘Can the Taliban be
moderated by engagement?’ This is not
infeasible. Even prior to their ostracism,
they were attempting to gain international
legitimacy. In control of two-thirds of
Afghanistan, they had been canvassing for
recognition and support. It is there
religious extremism
52
 and association with
Bin Laden - fallouts also of the lack of
openings elsewhere - that deprived them of
this. There is a degree of correspondence
between them having been denied support
and their extremism, as was demonstrated
in their destruction of the Bamiyan statues.
While this is indeed indicative of the type
of regime they had and could be expected
to revive, it bears recall that a decade has
passed since. Their interest is selfpreservation and a return to power. They
would also like to see Afghanistan’s
reconstruction. They will not be able to
militarily go about this since the might of
the international community is arrayed
against them. Their power has been
considerably degraded and would continue
to wane as long as defiance continues.
Their reliance on the Pakistani Taliban has
brought about costs that their host society
may be unwilling to bear. Their associates
in the Pakistani establishment and ISI are
also keen that the war end and the western
military depart the region. This can only
happen if the Taliban be prodded to act
maturely and rationally. The Saudi regime
could convince them to participate,
particularly if it underwrites the resulting
                                             
52
See Ahmed Rashid. 2000. Taliban: Islam, Oil and
the New Great Game in Central Asia. London: IB
Tauris. pp.82-95.
regime economically.
53
 In return, the
Taliban could sever ties with the al Qaeda
that is anathema to the Saudis. Therefore,
there are advantages for the Taliban to
talk.
In case they are offered a return to a share
of power and assistance with
reconstruction, in return for their
reconstructing their  ideology, it would
appear a fair bargain. The presence of
other groups in the power sharing
arrangement would further balance out the
Taliban. The argument here is that when
approached as equals and not as losers in
the war, they may find this acceptable. To
get them to accede to talks, as a first step,
the exit of the western powers and their
replacement by blue helmets over time
could be promised to be taken up in the
negotiations. The details of this
changeover can be worked out, with a
phased approach, beginning with
relegation of the US to military bases
initially and, thereafter, a winding down
over a mutually acceptable period.
It needs be said that the al Qaeda problem
is on the wane. After eight years of
relentless military and intelligence
operations, the al Qaeda has been
considerably degraded.
54
  It  is  not  a  force
that can be completely eliminated since its
ideology holds sway elsewhere, even if it
is not militantly pursued. The wellsprings
of support are also to be found in the angst
against US policies in the Middle East.
Therefore, it needs reconsideration if the
UN mandate, permitting the US-led
‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ can
continue indefinitely.
55
 The US cannot
                                             
53
“Karzai Sought Saudi Help With Taliban.” New
York Times. 30 September 2008.
54
 “Britain Lowers Al Qaeda Threat Levels.”
Reuters. 20 July 2009.
55 On 23 March 2009 the United Nations Assistance
Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) had its mandate
renewed by UN Security Council resolution
1868. The annual resolution in March every year by
the Security Council forms the mandate for the UN
Mission in Afghanistan and defines the priorities of 11
have a blank cheque of indefinite
presence.
56
 That would be a return to a
colonial era and permitting ‘Infinite
Justice’, as Operation Enduring Freedom
was originally called. Instead, there is a
need to move to other ways to resolve the
al Qaeda phenomenon. These essentially
involve Obama and the US making good
on his Cairo speech.
57
 There is a need to
marry the Holbrooke mission in Af-Pak to
the Mitchell mission for the Middle East,
58
for results on this score. The bottomline is
that by continuing military action, the US
would overstay its welcome. Instead, a
move towards a political approach would
help it disengage militarily, thereby,
depriving the nationalist energy from
under-gridding the counter it has faced
from the Taliban.
India requires asserting its growing power
with a vision that accompanied its freedom
struggle and also needs to privilege it
economic over military power.
Outsourcing security in the region to a
superpower militates against its emerging
power credentials and negates is anticolonial heritage.
59
 Instead, it needs to
innovatively take a  lead in engaging
Pakistan in churning out a regional
solution, under perhaps the rubric of the
SAARC. Pakistan’s idea of taming the
Taliban’s nationalist credentials can be a
useful start point. Doing so would make
for a ‘win-win’ situation for all. This way
                                                                   
the Mission. For the mandate, see
http://unama.unmissions.org/Default.aspx?tabid=17
42
56
Jha, n.38, p. 112.
57
For text see New York Times.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/us/politics/04o
bama.text.html
58 Daniel Pipes blog. “George Mitchell's Return to
Middle East Diplomacy.”
http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2009/01/georgemitchells-return-to-middle-east
59 Mainstream thinking exemplified by writings of
analysts such as C. Raja Mohan is for a
Washington-New Delhi meeting of minds on
‘finding answers to deepening threats emanating
from Pakistan ("The Great Nuke Game.” In Ira
Pande (ed.) The Great Divide. p.138).’
the Taliban would be weaned away from
its propensity to extremism and violence;
Pakistan would feel more secure; and India
would be less threatened by their
combined action. It would enable Pakistan
and India to exercise a joint initiative in
which Pakistan has the political lead
compensated by India’s soft power.
60
 It
could herald a wider rapprochement. In
such a positive and proactive turn, it would
gain stature and come to be acknowledged
not only as a regional power, that it
already is, but an Asian power. Helping
break the Af-Pak impasse through
constructive contribution to a solution for
the US-led international community can be
India’s moment of arrival.
                                             
60
China’s expanding footprint in Afghan
reconstruction bears mention here. See C. Raja
Mohan. “The Great Game Folio: Plan B.” Indian
Express. 21 October 2009.

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