Afghan president in person is being held responsible for stalemate in intra- Afghan talks who does sound hypocritical as on one hand the logic for not employing Afghan forces against the resurgent Taliban was attributed by him to prevention of civil war but simultaneously has enticed the disgruntled warlords by exploiting the ethnic and sectarian fault lines of Afghan mosaic and on the other hand he indulged in procrastinating talks with little to offer & instead bragged on electoral mandate based ironically on 5% public participation. The veritable nature of the political landscape suggests the upper hand of Taliban who this time around are reported to have broad based their strength by having 40% non Pashtu manpower which saw occupation of Northern &western non- Pashtun areas without any resistance contrary to the status of 1996-2001 era. This comports with Taliban assertions about voluntary surrender by Afghan forces amid fierce clashes in places owing to retaliatory attacks by either side against each other. The readers are reminded of Indra-Abdullah Accord of 1975 leading to resumption of reigns of Govtt in JK by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah even though without any, pre Govt formation, electoral process but admission of his charisma placing him in the select category of the 03 to 05 tallest leaders of the State more particularly in Greater Kashmir during the preceding two millenniums. Syed Mir Qasim the incumbent chief Minister was more eager to relinquish the office in the interests of people and country for which subsequently he was castigated by Prime Minister Indra Ghandi when in the wake of Opposition conclave 1983 held in Srinagar Mir Qasim resigned from All India Congress & released the correspondence exchanged between Indra Ghandi & him. In one of the letters she accused him of exaggerating the position existing in the State resulting in side lining of Congress party from ruling the State but in retrospect the non- partisan study would establish the period from 1975 to 1984 as the highly peaceful era in the history of the State together with mainstreaming of local population exhibited in voluntary turnout of crowds ( not hired) in the public meetings addressed by the prime Minister during 1983 Assembly elections, a unique feature unimaginable prior to 1975 but it suffered a severe blow owing to engineered defections in 1984, the phenomena of 1987elections substituting of Congress party, as a buffer, by opportunistic opposition having nothing in common except hatred against Great Helmsman and lack of conviction for taking forward the momentum of the 1975 accord. Ashraf Ghani need be apprised of the story behind Kashmir Accord and momentous role displayed by Mir Qasim whose steadfastness in this behalf didn’t diminish even as the indifference by ruling parties subsisted against him till his death in 2006. During Doha talks not only Taliban but Gulbu Din Hekmatyar & others have impliedly disapproved of the tactics of Ashraf Ghani which are largely held responsible for deadlock in the talks and the outcome likely is in emergence of Dr Abdullah Abdullah or G Hekmatyar as a consensus choice for leading the interim Govtt before the popular vote is sought at the hustings. Meanwhile the big five & the bordering countries of Afghanistan should persuade Kabul Administration to implement the covenants of Doha agreement and world powers also to desist from expecting the charter worked out in Rome conclave to be acceptable in toto to Taliban given the reality of most of the champions of democratic order in Afghanistan themselves not signatories to the UN declarations on civil liberties, humen rights & fair treatment for refugees facing genocide through State instruments because of their ethnicity or religious beliefs.
Imaginary stakes: The anarchy in Afghanistan is likely to affect the countries bordering it & more devastatingly the State of Pakistan. The Soviet invasion of 1979 saw influx of more than five million refugees into Pakistan and their spread across the country with resultant net output in militarisation of youngsters & their weaponisation. The other bordering neighbourhood has had minuscule effects excepting Iran where eight lakh Afghan refugees were looked after on delineated Afghan areas bordering Iranian territories. In Pakistan the combination of Islamists & Pashtun would not allow their Govt to ignore the situation in Afghanistan, should the country be engulfed in civil war the possible outcome of Ashraf Ghani’s strategy for dealing with the emerging crisis, which is not the position in rest of the bordering countries. It is analogous to Indian concerns for the political situation in Sri-Lanka propelled by Tamils from India as the clamour for rights is from their co- religious Tamil population against the total integrationistic State policies of the Island Govt. Pakistan has double the Pashtun population as against Afghanistan’s &the stronghold of cadres of Islamic parties have history of unnerving even popular Govts whose sensibilities on State to State relations could be undermined by a Govt only at its peril. The Indian set up is immune from the potential of popular pressure for which the Afghan developments hardly matter barring to the extent of strategic interests. Even when the Soviet invasion of 1979 took place the number of refugees in India didn’t exceed 2000 to 3000 who were mainly the party members of Parcham and Kheliq factions of Afghan Socialist/ communist Parties but not the mainstream of Afghan society perhaps India being a non- bordering neighbour and on the strength of Indian support for Soviet action by holding the same as a legitimate response to the call from the Govt in Kabul, the usual refrain those days in Soviet Block in order to justify the takeover of the country by Soviets. In the later internecine & fratricidal conflict India aligned with Northern Alliance with material support& after 9/11 seized the opportunity for entering into Afghan turf by joining American led coalition to the consternation of Afghan mainstream who alone in multi ethnic country actually have had historical relationship with Indian sub- continent but more precisely & pronouncingly in northern undivided India . The animosity towards India had its origin in the two watershed events of 1979 & 2002 during which India is perceived to have partnered with marauders represented by Soviets & their proxies in the Ist phase of uprising and trio of Ab Rashid Dostum, Ismail Khan &Ahmed Shah Masood during 2ndphase before 9/11. However the factum of aligning on ist occasion with the Govtt in Kabul and on 2nd with American led coalition including the northern alliance of Tajik ,Turkmen, Uzbek & Hazara ethnic minorities has created pockets of receptivity in the country for India as against elite & urban distraught for Pakistani State being perceived as a constant partner of disarray but the enchantment with India got a severe setback after 2014 for fascist like pronouncements of Hindutva brigade in India which is being overplayed by anti India forces to which the Afghans are susceptible on the basis of their faith to stand against tyranny moreso when directed by a State against muslims for no fault of theirs except for adherence to the promised faith in Islamic Deen. The unending war like mongering on communal grounds both in print & electronic media acts as a reminder for Ummah to rise in support of victims of falsehood sustained on Islamophobia and hence the negative repercussions on Afghans despite excellent bonhomie sometime back promoted by External Affairs Ministry. You can’t indulge in demonising a community as a whole back home on spurious & concocted grounds based on misleading conclusions on different facets of political history & simultaneously endeavour for beneficial relationship with countries the bastions of demonised faith as the dichotomy becomes visible disenchanting in the long run both the parties. During the ist phase of unprecedented turmoil in JK( 1990 to 1996 ) the presence of non- natives &Punjabies was negligible but because of old habits persons speaking languages other than koshur, Punjabi & its sister languages were dubbed as Afghans, no doubt most of them spoke Arabic, Persian, Dari, Pushto& other spoken languages of north- western Pakistan. The security forces can even at present churn out the actual number of Afghans who formed a component of Gun yielding personnel in the State. The ascendency of Taliban in Kabul shall have least ramifications for India given the position of militancy in JK when the situation inside the State was propitious for them and now they are committed not to export their version of resistance or use of its territory against neighbouring countries and beyond which in the backdrop of their thrust& priority for improvement of socio- economic indices of the war ravaged country does connote the elements of credibility. Trust and credibility legitimises the standing of Govt/ Social, Cultural and Political Organisations in which Afghans are no different from other races especially in developing& underdeveloped countries . The disclosures by Pervez Musharraf about training of youth from Kashmir and schemes put in place for Kargil operation accompanied with Hamid Gul’s, former ISI Chief , boastful comments about defeat of America by Americans in Afghanistan in the backdrop of revenge for 1971 machinations are a sad reflection of trust deficit facing the sub- continent. Hence no option but to engage with the Taliban lest the golden opportunity is lost for good. India is in a way fortunate enough in not having actual geographical boundary with Afghanistan otherwise Indian fate would have been akin to Pakistan in terms of influx of refugees, clandestine border crossings, diffusion of weapons, mass spread of drugs & unprecedented crimes associated with these planks. In the past India has countenanced major invasions from North- western side of the sub-continent and in a way it is Pakistan acting as a buffer whose existing territories fell to Britain much after conquering the rest of India. The folk tales in Punjabi,Seraiki, Sindhi, Pushto & Balochi describe the valour with which the Britishers &their coharts from India were encountered by the local Govts & their supporters giving tough times to the invaders but lost essentially due to treachery of Maharajas, Nawabs & local feudal landlords. Presently terrorism has strong foothold in many Muslim countries the pain &anguish thereof acts as lightning in cloud bursts on humanity but to the exclusion of the votaries of Hindutva who celebrate the agonies of muslims and the proof lies in propaganda spread by cultural, intellectual & other outfits of RSS. The narratives establish beyond doubt the least impact of Afghan conflict on India& its inhabitants & therefore thecase for assuming as if Afghanistan as a State were not existing for India to wriggle itself out from the baffling state of affairs of that country.
Pivot of strategic importance: Afghanistan sits on vast mineral, high quality gemstone &rare earth element reserves which in geologic surveys undertaken by western Research & Survey teams have been assessed @ 01 trillion US Dollars but the national Govt in Kabul claims them to be round 03 trillions. The hydrocarbon reserves in Greater central Asia particularly in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan & Turkmenistan with some remnants especially in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan &Kyrgyzstan are cynosure of energy deficient Nations. The oil & gas reserves are 4% & 6.8% of world resources respectively in this behalf. The commercial utilisation of these known reserves has not picked up owing to serious political instability of last four decades in Afghanistan & non- exploration of dependable cost effective accesses towards warm water Sea ports of Arabian Sea &Eurasian countries in North- west even after end of cold war & disintegration of Soviet union. All endeavours of central Asian countries backed by USA are hostage to Afghan imbroglio which conversely makes the plank of stability indispensable for Afghanistan. This strategic location of the Afghan nation could have been boonful for it and its immediate neighbourhood &beyond but for certain inherent proclivities of its political system &others bedevils the exploitation of natural resources in the region for socio-economic wellbeing of its inhabitants . Right from the ascendency of Tzars in Russia the look towards central, west & South Asia policy ,in view of geographical constraints compounded by frozen Artic sea ports for most part of years coupled with unviable available sea routes, got hamstrung by un- propitious attitude of countries of the three regions of Asia more so due to servitude of the population in the regions under Europeans. The post cold war offered an opportunity for realising the dream of thousands years for access to warm waters of the Arabian Sea even though not to the liking of USA in unipolar world but by now with China second to USA only & likely to overtake the greatest powerful country in economic strengths by 2032 & assertiveness of Russia both politically and militarily the decks are clear for leap forward in intra connecting of the three regions& side by side with China, Russia & Europe. The intra- Asian countries connectivity followed by extension to Europe is the single biggest stride for forging unity in Asia but simultaneously all countries committing to peaceful co- existence with leeway for settlement of bilateral disputes gradually without prejudice to the existing boundaries and use of force covertly or covertly. The trade with foreign countries especially exports by land locked central Asian nations has not flourished in view of the available sea ports & circuitous routes making it non- profitable or simply unviable. Iranian port of Bhander Abbas used by Uzbekistan &Tajikistan through Turkimistan is an example which can be substituted by CPEC routes to be further extended to these & other countries in the region particularly the Gawadher being a deep sea port with shortest distances for their trading hubs. Chabhar financed port city in Iran for outreach to central Asia through Afghanistan is supposed to be partnered by China also and made sister port of Gawadher by Iran subject to acquiescence of parties concerned otherwise in the wake of de- escalation in relations between India & Pakistan the joining of the former in CPEC would transform the connectivity venture into a mega business module linking countries beyond South Asia in eastern Asia. Within the parameters laid down in the Shimla Agreement 1972 both India & Pakistan are committed to maintaining the status quo without prejudice to the respective stand points of the two parties and the development of Karakoram highway precedes indo-Pak war 1971 whose massive improvement under CPEC is continuation of the use of existing roads in the area in upgraded models only therefore India has needlessly sown the seeds of mistrust by harping on’ no compromise on sovereignty ’’. It is high time for India to revisit the flawed stance and join the Chinese initiative for connectivity instead of wasting resources and time on Pak obsession/ phobia & on alternatives standing in no way equal to surface road & railway lines forming main components of CPEC and the proposed express highways from Ashgabat Turkmenistan, Tashkent Uzbekistan & Dushanbe Tajikistan to Peshawar in Pakistan on GTR after traversing Kabul & Mazair Sharief in Afghanistan. The hydrocarbon starving nations particularly China, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and ASEAN could have it uninterruptedly through network of pipes and refineries at cheaper prices thereby converting the Asian countries into a mutually beneficial interdependent economy. But fructifying of perspectives into a reality is in the hands of Afghans themselves alone who have to make a choice between geo- economics & geo- strategic whose penchant for latter so far has been the only impediment to the realisation of dreams of concerned populace little realizing the changes sweeping the region against the past postulations when Wakhan corridor forming part of British India was ceded to Afghanistan for creation of a buffer between Russia and British India but now all bordering countries desiring for it’s common use in connecting for trade & commerce.
The fast sprout of militant organisations like East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM),Islamic Movement of Central Asia(IMCA),Tochikistoni Ozod (Free Tajikistan), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU),Hizb- ul- Tahir(Pan central Asia), Tahriqi Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jamatul Ahrar( mostly of Lashkar Jungvi Pakistan), Jundullah ( Iranian Baloch)& Baloch militants of Pakistan ( BLF /BLA) post 2002 in Afghanistan during supposed to be secular USA backed Govtts begs answers from Karzai, Ashraf Ghani & others in view of these organizations non- existence or a limited presence during Taliban rule and seldom conduct of their activities in the respective monopolized areas. Mostly the cadres of these organizations are from respective countries/ regions but stay put in safe sanctuaries of Afghanistan with full knowledge of Afghan National Army / Afghan Defence Services who on quid pro quo basis use them in bordering neighbourhood as strategic assets for counter insurgencies wherever necessitated in their war against home grown Afghan Taliban. The outfits from central Asia &East Turkistan face authoritarian & repressive regimes back home who don’t acquiesce with their claims of Muslim identity in predominantly Muslim countries/ regions, as the case may be, and the suffocating environment is further stifled by lack of religious freedom& democracy with extreme poverty and concentration of wealth & political power in ruling parties lending legitimacy to armed struggles. The Pakistan originators steeped more in religiosity and less in traditions &rituals have declared the mission to establish ‘’ an Islamic state ‘’ in Pakistan and Baloch secessionists aim at seceding from the country and the Jundullah Sunni Baloch waging war against Iran considering the Govt in Tehran, a biased, intolerant & sectarian one. The inability of Afghan ruling classes to choose between perpetual wars and peace& secular Polity viz theocracy has put it in a quandary as while it is dead against extremism of Taliban in their country but promotes the similar ideology in neighbouring countries more focused on Pakistan and by default against others also. The sectarian & ethnic push through irregular militias with aid from neighbouring countries to their sectarian & ethnic affiliates shall undo Afghanistan resulting in creation of ethnic centres of governance and the entire region to revert back to stone age which can be prevented by bidding farewell to terror related engagements & working with sincerity for establishing an inclusive interim Govt under a neutral personality of utmost respect overriding the ethnic & sectarian considerations followed by elections for National Assembly on the basis of universal franchise without any discrimination on caste, race, and religion basis. The more often chants for Afghan owned & Afghan led peace process shall lack legitimacy should Taliban choose otherwise. Let Nations having contacts or bargaining positions with the Afghans of different hues facilitate the restoration of peace in the country instead of pitting one against another for advancing their strategic interests through their sleeping cells which Afghan society in general is unable to anticipate due to misplaced information orchestrated by the ruling parties as much as by the opposition but onus is on the ruling party.
Pragmatism the clarion call: The muscular option on the analogy of Syria advocated by self centered peaceniks for defeating the Taliban shall plunge the country and its neighbourhood into unending turmoil with not only casualties in lakhs but the entire infrastructure in complete ruin reducing the region into a wasteland. Led by Russia, Chin, Iran & Pakistan have aligned together for fast tracking the political solution acceptable to all or at least the majority of stakeholders of Afghan society. The Indian approach towards ending the Afghan conflict has potential at turning the imbroglio into ethnic conflagration owing to stoking of the ill founded concerns of Central Asian countries and sectarian by trying to rope in the Iranian State The strategy has not yielded dividends as the countries concerned fathom well the evil repercussions the implementation of this strategy could unleash with potential to accentuate the splitting of the region on ethnic and sectarian grounds & such an outcome is in all probability suiting Pakistan enormously by getting the strategic depth by default in much talked about confederation of truncated Afghanistan & Pakistan in early eighties by Gh Ishaq Khan the Pashtu President of Pakistan, as he then was. . Even Saudi Arabia as custodian of Holy places & parallel power centre for looking after the interests of Muslim nations has chosen to back the option of political settlement with rider for Taliban to distance itself from ISIS/Al Quada & pari passu by Turkey having responsibility as a rising power articulating the concerns of victims of State barbarity & violation of international law etc apart from the angle of ethnic and cultural affinity with Turkimistan & others in the region. The active invoulment of Saudis in turbulent country may prompt them to settle scores with Iran as retribution for promoting the Houthi militia in Yemen against the Saudi kingdom. The Taliban at present are fighting Afghan forces only and in the event of regional Govts choosing the military option the Taliban’s counter offensive may get rechristened as Afghan holy war against the ‘’satanical’’ forces for imposing war on Mujahideen resulting in the region getting engulfed under unending hostilities which the bordering countries have appreciated & that is the reason for their lining up with Russia & China.
The isolation of India for the first time in Greater central Asia is worrying &calls for recalibrated approach by relegating the Geo- strategic interests to backburner as neither Pakistan can convert the Afghan territory for strategic depth nor could India encircle Pakistan by use of Afghan soil & even the need therefor doesn’t arise in face of unequivocal opposition of Taliban to use of its country’s territory against the countries near & far away which conveniently amounts to denying of access to Pakistan for the purposes of what is being debated as ‘strategic depth.’’ The maiden diplomatic debacle in central Asia could have been averted but for mortgaging the formulation of foreign policies with domestic divisive politics for limited electoral gains at colossal disadvantages and aligning with the vanquished who may use India for re-establishing its relevance in the region the stepping stone for which inked by forming QUAD for connectivity amongst Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and USA , however, in tandem the USA electronic media in departure with precedents and policies for not featuring the internationally designated terrorists hosted Noor Wali Masood leader of banned TTP unraveling the duplicitous America against strait forward Russia & China who incidentally stand courted by USA for meeting of tri + Pakistan in Doha later this month for sorting out the impediments coming in the way for peaceful end to Afghan crisis, a significant development of far reaching consequences for the region particularly after the recent confabulations in Dehli between the two heads of Ministries of foreign affairs of USA & India. But then the Taliban don’t also seem to be saints should the briefing by ISI Chief to the top leadership of the country be authentic version of the proceedings which suggest that the Taliban’s relationships with terror groups including even TTP in Afghani then subsist despite their affiliation with Al’ Quada. Not only severance of ties with ISIS & Al’ Quada but their elimination the Taliban have taken upon themselves in the Doha agreement whose implementation is envisaged from all parties and not cherry picking as is the narrative echoed also publicly the other day by a Saudi dignitary. Genuine intervention for re-emergence of clear light blue skyline from one overcast with dark clouds, lest it be late.
(The author is former Chairman J&K Public Service Commission and tweets at @ aaluzdeva. Views are exclusively his own)