-Lt Gen Kamal Davar
THE assassination of former President of Afghanistan Burhanuddin Rabbani in his own house in the high-security diplomatic district of Kabul on Tuesday, while he was reportedly engaged, in his current capacity as the Chairman of the High Peace and Reconciliation Council, in peace talks with his old foe, the Afghani Taliban, is a grim reminder of the terrible political tragedy which stalks this hapless land.
The macabre act has the clear signature of Pakistan’s infamous Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), which has been hyperactive and gruesomely successful in Afghanistan for years. That it is currently sabotaging all peace endeavours between President Hamid Karzai and the recalcitrant Taliban is no surprise to anyone, for Pakistan in the pursuit of its myopic strategy and eternal quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, does not wish for peace to return to Kabul. With the US set to finally exit Afghanistan by 2014 Pakistan is striving to move into the political and strategic vacuum which will ensue on the departure of the Americans with the assistance of a pro- Pak Talibani dispensation which may likely replace President Karzai’s current administration in Kabul.
That former President Rabbani was, like the similarly assassinated Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Masood, pro-India is not a mere coincidence but a craftily orchestrated stratagem of the ISI, which has been at the forefront of coordinating anti-US, anti-Karzai and anti-India forces all across Afghanistan Thus this assassination along with countless high-profile killings in Afghanistan in the last few months -- like the Governor of Kandhar (a half-brother of President Karzai), the former Governor of Oruguzan Province, the mayor of Kandhar, besides many other loyalists of President Karzai -- has been music to the ears of anti-US warlords like Gulbuddin Hekayatmar, the Afghani Taliban, the Haqqani network and Al Qaida elements supported and handled by the ISI. The Taliban has been frequently targeting not only Afghan government assets but also the US and British offices in Kabul, the Intercontinental Hotel and various Indian development projects in Afghanistan. The Indian embassy itself has been violently struck twice in the last three years with major blasts clearly masterminded by the ISI as has been confirmed by the Afghan President himself and the Afghani intelligence.
Notwithstanding the US plan of finally exiting Kabul by 2014, the currently grave unstable political situation may prompt the US/ NATO/ISAF forces to retain a reasonable presence in Afghanistan even beyond this time-table. Perhaps, the next US President (Obama or a Republican after the presidential elections in 2012) may have to face graver realities of exiting Afghanistan in disgrace or to stabilise and then exit Afghanistan. It will be in the larger interests of peace and stability in the violent expanse called Af-Pak that the US only departs after a modicum of peace returns to this region and a stable, democratic and secular government is in place in Kabul which can administer a restive, violent and diverse nation like Afghanistan, now for many years a pawn in the re-enactment of the “Great Game” being played once again.
The situation in Af-Pak distinctly impacts India which has withstood, for nearly two and a half decades, Pakistan-sponsored terror acts not only in Jammu and Kashmir but also in its entire hinterland with alarming regularity. In a similar diabolical manner the ISI has been regularly targeting President Karzai’s loyalists in Afghanistan employing its terror-driven “strategic assets”.
India has had historical links with Afghanistan for centuries and for the last many decades has endeavoured to assist this impoverished land with a variety of development projects inviting the ire of Pakistani, which considers Afghanistan as its exclusive strategic backyard. As the leading power of South Asia and an emerging global player, India has a vital role to play in stabilising Afghanistan, which otherwise is of great strategic importance to us in more ways than one. India could endeavour to get the US, and more importantly, Iran and Russia to chalk out a common strategy for establishing peace in Afghanistan. Regrettably, the two other important players in this region, China and Pakistan, are not likely to submerge their own devious goals for the common good and thus any efforts to get them to cooperate for a common regional solution for Afghanistan may remain a distant dream.
India must not think of getting involved militarily in Afghanistan but should consider giving certain military arms and equipment to the Afghan Army and the Afghan National Police apart from increasing its training commitments towards them. India has already given $1.5 billion aid and committed an additional $500 million to them during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Kabul in May this year. As India continues its soft-power forays towards the friendly Afghans, it will be prudent to reach out to Afghans of all hues and ethnicity, especially the restive Pashtuns and strive to galvanise all of them into seeking peace with each other, making them wary of the machinations of Pakistan and pitfalls of a slide towards increasing fundamentalism.
India, unmindful of the myriad security and theological challenges it will face in working towards peace and progress in Afghanistan, has thus to shoulder a unique responsibility towards its currently troubled neighbour, especially bearing in mind its own unique place in South Asia. A seat on the global high table requires clarity in strategy, adequate economic clout and a political will embellished with adequate military muscle. Afghanistan is a basket case for the world in general, and India in particular, to ensure that the global war on terror reaches its successful conclusion and thus the world and India cannot fail in the rugged geography of the Hindu Kush