Militancy sucked in by regional politics

(Written by Dr. K.N. Pandita February 3, 2010)

British political circles almost underrated 60-member strong London conference on Afghan crisis. However, Prime Minister Browne thinks that a large assemblage confirms global abhorrence of terrorism. The US considers it is an affirmative step supporting the exit strategy.

Interests of stakeholders are crystallizing as the great debate on regional strategies is proceeding. Washington wants a national government installed in Kabul with two major components, namely nationalists of Karzai School and moderate Taliban leadership wiling to cooperate. At the same time, it wants Afghan National Army to be expanded and upgraded to replace the Security Assistance Force.

President Karzai strongly believes that he can take moderate Taliban leadership on board provided many of them hitherto brought on terrorist list by the UN are de-listed. UN representative in Kabul, Mr. Eide has supported President Karzai’s formula.

Believing that she has a crucial role in the region, Pakistan is supportive of a full-fledged Taliban participation in the coalition government in Kabul.  In that scenario, Pakistan aspires for revival of her concept of territorial depth westward and a custodian’s role for Pakistan Army once the US-NATO combined troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

 But a very significant move on the part of Pakistan is to maneuver ouster of India from Afghan and Central Asian scene. Its argument is that India’s presence in Afghanistan poses threat to Pakistan’s security and feeds insurgency in Baluchistan, an allegation which India has stoutly repudiated.

Islamabad could not hide its exasperation on American Defense Minister and US AF-Pak representative Holbrooke hobnobbing in New Delhi in last two weeks. Its hunch is that Washington and New Delhi are working in tandem to help ANA conduct operations against the resisting Taliban after the exit of the US in 2011. This misgiving was fuelled by a surreptitious visit of Indian intelligence chief Lt. Gen. R.K. Loomba made recently to the headquarters of Afghan National Army in Kabul. 

Pakistan has been doing a great deal of home work for building a strong pro-Pak lobby in Central Asia, which downgrades India’s role in regional strategies. Saudi Arabia and Turkey have emerged her dependable contacts.

Turkey, having overcome pressures from Islamic extremists, has assumed political importance with the Americans because of her improved ties with the Israel. By co-opting with the Saudi intelligence chief Muqrin bin Abdulaziz al Saud, President Gul of Turkey has been paving the way for the Taliban to start negotiations with the US. Turkey’s initiatives in her Asian neighbours are an indirect message to the European powers who are stonewalling her admission to the European Union that Ankara cannot be dismissed as un-influential member.

However, the US does not see eye with Pakistan in downgrading the role of India in Afghan crisis.   In her revised vision, India has a large role in South Asia not only in terms of the force of Indian democracy but in present conditions, more explicitly in terms of regional security especially of the Indian Ocean. It is in the background of this perception that the US wants Turkey to broker an understanding between the Islamic stakeholders for Afghanistan and India.

Pakistan’s dilemma is that in face of widening debate on exit strategy of the US from Afghanistan, many commitments of sorts are on the anvil. It reduces the thrust of Kashmir issue as the world powers will be watching new developments in Afghanistan with keen interest.  Turkish President’s visit to New Delhi, and later on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Saudi Arabia provide opportunities to intensify Indo-Pak interface in the background of unfolding evens in Afghanistan.

In the aftermath of London Conference, which was preceded by trilateral meet of Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan, it is possible to presume that Afghan crisis is nearing a final solution. In all probability, the US has come to agree to the Taliban reviving the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in combination with the nationalists faction led by Hamid Karzai. What Washington cares for is the aftermath of her exit strategy.

Iran has made no secret of a rival’s displeasure about Turkey trying to take leading role in Afghan negotiations.  Teheran thinks that Turkey having no border with Afghanistan is not qualified to be a party for negotiations. On the other hand, Iran has long border with Afghanistan, provided support to the mujahideen during war with Soviet Union and has given shelter to nearly a million Afghan refugees in her territory. As such she thinks she has a strong claim for voice in Afghan crisis.

In all probability, Washington has begun to re-think its South and Central Asian policy in the light of expanding Chinese influence. As such the shift may be from the mountainous terrain of Hindu Kush and the Pamir to the India Ocean. The US has not been happy with Pakistan allowing China conspicuous role in building Gawadar sea port. Both India and Iran have strong navies and could be tied up to the commitment of the defense of the Indian Ocean.

With Pakistan trying to elbow out India, and Turkey trying to shadow Iran in their regional roles, a sort of strategic understanding is developing between these two countries with Russia aspiring to regain her supremacy in regional politics. In view of India, Iran and Russia forming a new chunk of alliance in the region, it should be possible for India to play a role in normalizing relations between Iran and the US. A change in tempers is already visible and Washington’s shrill anti-Iran notes have fallen silent.

Thus with a substantial change in regional situation in the offing, the intensity of Kashmir issue is getting diluted.  American pressure on India to do away with the status quo in Kashmir has considerably reduced. This is one of the reasons why militancy has seen a spurt in Kashmir in recent days. This is also the reason why civilian dissent in the shape of protests, hartals and rallies for one flimsy pretext or the other has become recurrent. It is certainly an expression of anger on getting sidelined in sub-continental geo-strategy. This strategy has sucked in Kashmir militancy. No wonder if before a deal with Taliban is inked,  jihadis concentrated along the LoC will try to make a bold and strong bid to infiltrate in large numbers to the Indian side of Kashmir. It could be a do or die attempt for them.

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