The Afghanistan factor

By K.N. Pandita

Representatives of 70 countries met in Tokyo to deliberate on the crucial question of peace and reconstruction in two-decade long ravaged country of Afghanistan. This country shot into world news when in 1979 the then Soviet Union, pursuing the cold war strategy, marched its troops into landlocked Afghanistan to militarily support a pro-leftist regime of Dr. Najibullah in Kabul against dubious moves of American spy agency trying to destabilize him. A little known and less talked about backward Afghanistan was dragged into the vortex of international rivalry and strategy for no fault of hers.  

The US parading the Muslim world, especially Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, to counter the aggression of a godless nation against a puritanical Islamic nation generated massive response from sturdy Afghans known for their fighting spirit to protect their freedom. This opened the floodgate for flow of arms and ammunition from American arsenals to the crusaders in the foothills of the Hindukush and the Badakhshan Mountains. Real tragedy struck Afghanistan when the Soviets withdrew ignominiously and with that the benefactors, too, left the scene leaving the region crammed with lethal weapons within the easy reach of wanton boys not only in Afghanistan but also Pakistan, the conduit for the war material meant for the mujahideen. With the American-provided arsenal at their disposal, and the trigger-happy Afghan boys, the alumni of Deobandi madrasahs of Pakistan, ready to join Taliban ranks to kill and get killed, Pakistan carved strategic space to her west through Taliban instrumentality. Afghanistan was doomed. Creation of Afghan Taliban with American blessings provided Pakistan a strong foothold ideologically as well as militarily. It was her strategic victory over India, a country that had been wishfully humouring Afghans as their well wisher. Now that the once blue-eyed mujahideen re-christened as Taliban have become the Yankee’s Frankenstein, death, destruction chaos and mayhem are their cherished gifts stored in Afghanistan’s basket.

Asian and world strategies have changed. Afghanistan has emerged centripetal to it. What ails America-led NATO presence in Afghanistan is the political landscape and ground situation in the region after they withdraw in 2014. Should Afghanistan be left to her fate and to the wolves hibernating in Tora Bora caves or should a semblance of civil society be formulated to run its affairs? That is the question haunting the stakeholders. It is essentially to find a viable answer to this question that seventy countries met in Tokyo for a discourse on Afghanistan. India and Pakistan are in the front row of conference participants. Indian External Affairs Minister Krishna has made some thought-provoking assertions that cannot be underestimated. For example, he says that aid for reconstruction of Afghanistan has to be “without conditionalties?” But more importantly, he has touched on the significant issue of “existential threat” to Afghanistan, and the fallout of dismemberment of that state if it happens for whatever reasons. India for one can safely claim to have inducted apolitical element in her relations with and aid to Afghanistan. India has exhorted other participants of Tokyo conference to follow the example. However the history of international relations tells us that there are no permanent friends or foes in politics but only permanent interests.

India has raised the issue of threat to Afghanistan’s stability and sovereignty from the terrorists whose bases are in Pakistan but who operate on Afghan territory. This apprehension is shared by the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai and many other leaders as well. The terrorists are not under the control of Islamabad government; their handlers are known though invisible. The world community accepts that India has a positive and purposeful role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. This puts Pakistan’s policy of sidelining India in Afghanistan at big disadvantage.  There was a time during initial period of American intervention in Afghanistan when Washington vacillated on the question of relevance of India’s role in Afghanistan. But strategies have changed and new pragmatic approach is guiding Tokyo talks. India has rightly focused on two main themes (a) insulating Afghanistan against subversive and disruptive activities originating beyond her borders to the east, and (b) re-construction of Afghanistan, its infrastructure, economy, life and above all democratic arrangement before and after the American withdrawal.

Incidentally, on the sidelines of Tokyo Conference, foreign ministers of India and Pakistan met for a brief 30-minute interlude and brought under review the recently concluded talks between their foreign secretaries. Krishna made it clear to his counterpart once again that normal relations between the two countries were certainly subservient to Pakistan handling the culprits of 26/11 in accordance with the law. Krishna mounted pressure in the light of startling revelations made by Abu Jundal, the Pakistani handler of 26/11 terrorists. He demanded Pakistan deal with Hafiz Saeed who was spitting venom against India day in and day out in public and in private. What does a State mean by saying it has no control on non-state actors. Actors whose word and deed adversely threaten bilateral relations are criminals in the eyes of international and national law. If Pakistan wants really to be determined to seek Indian cooperation in stemming the cancerous terrorism on her soil, she must act to bring the Mumbai culprits to book.

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