B S Raghavan

Risky gamble or rational gambit?

B.S. Raghavan | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on June 27, 2013

The US is all set to open parleys with a delegation of representatives of Talibans in Doha as part of the process of extricating itself from the mess it had created for itself in Afghanistan following its invasion and occupation of the country in 2001.

Be it remembered that the US, vociferously and in all world forums, justified that invasion as meant to free Afghanistan from the stranglehold of the Taliban Government, and as absolutely essential for world peace. Strangely, it is propitiating the same Taliban to come to its rescue!

The US, at the time, evoked some sympathy from the world community because the Talibans were universally loathed as barbaric, besides being reviled as being in cahoots with, if not acting as the cat’s paw of, al Qaeda which had perpetrated the monstrous 9/11 outrage on the American soil.

Unfortunately for the US, it is all too impetuous and impulsive in embarking on foreign adventures, convinced of the righteousness of its cause and banking on its military prowess.

And it always has a remarkable penchant for fouling up its mission by propping up persons in authority who are ineffective and command little respect or influence.

Thus, all too soon, again, it finds itself out of its depths in situations involving cultures, languages, temperaments and traditions beyond its comprehension. This was what happened to it in Vietnam, and what it has been confronted with in Afghanistan.

NEBULOUS CIRCUMSTANCES

More than ten years, and billions of dollars, later, Afghanistan, one-fifth of the size of India and with a population of 30 million, is still in the throes of instability and insecurity. Entirely dependent upon the US and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organsiation (NATO) for material assistance and security infrastructure, the Hamid Karzai Government has been unable to acquire any mastery over even the basic functions of governance.

It is in this kind of nebulous circumstances that the US and the NATO are planning to hand over at the end of 2014 to a newly-elected Afghan Government the responsibility to manage its own affairs, with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Afghan National Army supposedly trained enough to play its role of guaranteeing national security against both internal and external threats.

Understandably, the Americans and their NATO partners are themselves troublingly unsure about this vital presumption holding good and gravely uneasy about the possibility of the country being once again riven by outbreaks of internal conflicts and insurgency.

This is what explains their deciding to enter into some sort of a negotiation with the “good” and “potentially good” Talibans in Doha who are amenable to terms of peace and reconciliation mutually agreed upon, and willing to continue working with the mechanisms put in place in Afghanistan.

The manner in which US President Barack Obama has pressed it on the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, in a video conference leaves the latter no choice.

STRATEGEM

A statement issued by both Presidents “reaffirmed that an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process is the surest way to end violence and ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region (and) reiterated their support for an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the High Peace Council and authorised representatives of the Taliban”

Both countries are thus going all out to make it look like an “Afghan-owned and Afghan-led” initiative, but nobody is fooled.

It is nothing but a strategem conceived and executed by the US and its Western allies to make sure that they remain an “enduing force” in the region even after their departure.

In their considered view, this is a rational gambit with a favourable cost-benefit ratio.

Otherwise, they would not have allocated more than a quarter-billion dollars for putting the process in motion, and the US would not have forced the UN secretariat to restore to many of the Talibans, previously blacklisted for travel and holding bank accounts, rights and facilities due to members of civilised society.

CARDINAL QUESTION

The US perhaps is also hoping, as The Washington Post puts it, to “buy out midlevel Taliban figures willing to renounce violence and abandon their fight”.

The cardinal question is: Can Talibans really be differentiated as “good”, “potentially good” and “bad”? Are leopards known to change their spots? For instance, even as preparations were under way for smoking the peace pipe in Doha, the Talibans mounted a lethal rocket attack in the central district of Kabul.

On the one hand, Mullah Mohammad Omar, their supremo, had been promising not to hurt civilians, and on the other, according to UN figures, more than three-fourths of all civilian casualties were the doing of his followers, with the number increasing in recent years.

India cannot afford to turn a blind eye to what the Americans are doing, construing it as their business and letting them stew in their own juice. Afghanistan is in its neighbourhood, India is a regional, and an emerging global power and it has high stakes in its political stability, economic well-being and its ability to adhere to sane and sober policies governing international relations.

The Prime Minister must take the people and Parliament into confidence as to the nature of joint approach to Afghanistan arrived at between the External Affairs Minister, Salman Khurshid, and the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, at the fourth strategic dialogue held on June 24.

Published on June 27, 2013
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