Before the Soviet forces entered Afghanistan in 1979, I used to visit Kabul regularly. I found President Mohammad Daud a fatherly figure who had no idea of what was happening in his country.
Even otherwise, he was dependent on warlords, a pattern which has not changed since. But he was not aware of the strong base that the communists had developed in the country.
This was a period of innocence. That Daud was pro-India was significant because New Delhi wanted to keep out Islamabad which stressed Afghanistan as part of its ‘strategic depth’ vision. For that reason, Pakistan denied India the use of road for transit goods to Kabul.
Later, President Hafizullah Amin, a communist, was in power for a short while. But Amin did not want Afghanistan to be a Soviet satellite. He was anti-Pakistan. Atal Behari Vajpayee told me that when he met President Amin, the latter suggested to him that the Indian forces should march into Pakistan from the east and the Afghanistan forces from the west.
Babrak Karmal came to Afghanistan riding the Soviet tank. President Amin was killed. New Delhi should have condemned the aggression, but stayed neutral because of its close relations with the Soviet Union. It was the biggest disgrace of India’s foreign policy.
Moscow’s fears that it would be sucked into a war defending Babrak Karmal’s government came true. Little did it realise that America was looking for an opportunity to bleed the Soviet Union to death. In fact, the happenings in Afghanistan at that time gave a fatal blow to Moscow and gave victory to America in the Cold War.
Washington constituted a force of fundamentalists — the Mujahideen — with Pakistan in the front. They wanted Kalashnikovs and unlimited dollars to fight the ‘infidels’ of the Soviet Union. This was the opportunity which Gen Ziaul Haq exploited not only to get maximum money and weapons for Pakistan but also to spread fundamentalism in his own country.
The US and the Mujahideen inflicted so many casualties on the Soviet Union that Moscow had no option but to pull out. But, after defeating the Soviet Union, the worst that Washington did was to quit immediately and drop everything, leaving behind weapons and the fighters it had trained. The world is today paying for the sins that America committed at that time.
Now it is committing a similar blunder of projecting its withdrawal without bothering about what would happen to Afghanistan and the region. Raised from the ranks of the Mujahideen, the Taliban became a menace and went on to foist their rule on Afghanistan. They had all the weapons that America left behind.
When America found Afghanistan as the epicentre of terrorism after the 9/11 attack on New York and went after the Taliban, it looked like it was rectifying the mistake it made earlier. Pakistan was a reluctant partner. But after having suffered the Taliban’s terrorism inside its own territory, for example in Swat, Islamabad has come on board to a large extent. But it still alleged to have contacts with the ‘good Taliban’.
Terrorism today has spilled over Pakistan’s borders. Lashkar-i-Taiba has carried out attacks even on Indian soil. The attack on Mumbai on 26/11 was the Lashkar’s doing.
For obvious reasons, America has become crucial to the area, not only because of the troops it has deployed but also because of the coalition of resistance it has put together. Washington’s focus is on the region itself.
Yet President Obama’s declaration that the US forces would begin withdrawing from next summer is tantamount to weakening “the wholehearted fight” against the Taliban. How can one fight without reservation when you declare beforehand your decision to quit? The last time when America did so, it gave birth to the Taliban government, the flagship of religious fundamentalism. This time the scenario could be worse because then the Taliban had not tasted power which they did after America’s withdrawal. At present, they are lying low and awaiting the departure of the American forces. The Afghanistan government is not viable. Nor has its military developed enough teeth to thwart the Taliban. What was needed was not the change in command — from Gen McChrystal to Gen Petraeus — but a change in American policy that is looking to withdraw its forces.
True, Islamabad has been able to keep New Delhi out. The latter has not taken up any new economic project. Pakistan has been able to convince America which needs Islamabad’s support the most that Pakistan cannot fight with all its troops because it has to keep a large number of them on the eastern border with India. Indeed, America has changed the scenario in favour of Pakistan. President Hamid Karzai who was literally abusing Pakistan till a few months ago reportedly met the Pakistani army chief to show intimacy between Islamabad and Kabul.
The basic question remains unanswered: how to eliminate the Taliban who have made Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan their playground. They have killed hundreds of Pakistanis. There is no alternative to the Taliban’s elimination. And here India can be of great help. Both countries have to evolve a joint strategy to fight the Taliban who are threatening the entire South Asian region. It may appear as wishful thinking.
If the intelligence chiefs of India and Pakistan meet to discuss how the agencies can fight against terrorism effectively, some type of joint mechanism against the Taliban may become feasible. If nothing else, the two countries have to think of ways to fill the vacuum which the withdrawal of the American troops would create. If the Taliban are allowed to step in, it would affect the peace and stability of the entire South Asian region.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi.
Source: Dawn, 09 Jul, 2010