The strategy of Western countries in Afghanistan has oscillated between bravado and despair, depending on how many attacks the Taliban are able to mount on North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops in that ill-starred country. For the last six months, despair is the reigning mood.
As a result, advocacy of compromise and a call for the inclusion of the Taliban have gained ground in Washington and Western capitals. The 25 delegates who met in Islamabad over the past two days to approach the Taliban represent this spirit. It’s another matter that the Taliban have straightway rejected this approach, even before the first overture.
At a basic level, this is consonant with a switch in Western thinking about Islamic terrorism and what to do about it. What is being advocated now (for example by Afghanistan experts Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs) is to make a distinction between “Islamist movements with local or national objectives from those that, like the Al Qaeda, seek to attack the US or its allies directly”. Easy, and facile, conclusions follow. These include: Pakistan’s inability to wage a war against militants, the Indian presence in Afghanistan being a major problem, and no peace in Kabul without addressing the “legitimate” sources of Pakistan’s insecurity.
Alarmingly, Rubin and Rashid suggest that “solving” the Kashmir dispute and ejecting India from Afghanistan may hold the key to solving the Afghan tangle. To assuage Pakistani sensitivities, they even suggest the involvement of China in furthering development goals in Kabul. For acknowledged experts on the region, such reasoning reflects historical and strategic illiteracy. Kashmir has nothing to do with Afghanistan, except in the feverish imagination of the Pakistani elite that their country is being encircled by India. What if India were to retort by saying that it feels encircled by Pakistan and China?
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Fundamentally, such an approach, which Pakistan is more than happy with, means abandoning a secular and progressive government in Afghanistan. Consider the alleged distinction between “nationalist” and “global” Islamic movements. Presumably, the Taliban fall in the first category and Al Qaeda in the second. Anyone familiar with Afghanistan’s recent history and the nature of political Islam knows the distinction to be a false one.
India must reject changes in Western tactics that are detrimental to its interests in Afghanistan. If these countries (possibly including the new US administration) persist in this course, it must withhold cooperation to these nations. It has ample space to do so. Let the choice be stark: India or a failing Pakistan.
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