The first signs of a change of course in American strategy in Afghanistan are around. They do not constitute a complete strategic outlook, but coming as they do from US President Barack Obama, they may be a sign of things to come.
In an interview to The New York Times on Saturday, Obama hinted at reaching out to moderate elements in the Taliban. While a military solution to the Afghan problem was always going to prove difficult, the US president’s comments have a hint of capitulation to them.
US officials and observers may disagree with such a characterization, but a deal with Taliban will signify that, whatever name one may choose to give it. The fact is, there is no “moderate” Taliban. There is no Taliban faction that will not engage in jihad with countries in central Asia and in India, one that would respect women’s rights and have a modicum of tolerance towards those who differ with it. Even if there were such a Taliban, the establishment in Islamabad will ensure that it does not find its feet. Given the amount of political capital that the Pakistani establishment has invested in saving the Taliban, it is inconceivable that it will allow a change in its political complexion.
In fact, there is grave danger that such a deal with the Taliban may actually endanger the Pakistani state. Imagine the situation when the Taliban has no credible opponent (US or Nato troops) to counter it. The Pakistani army gave up a fight in a far smaller area such as Swat. What will happen when the Taliban controls a far larger geographic space, one from Herat in western Afghanistan to the plains of the Pakistani Punjab in the East? It may not be far-fetched to say that the gates of India will be imperilled.
In case the US moves to establish peace with a “moderate” Taliban, India should start taking ameliorative steps immediately and not wait until the Taliban is ensconced in Kabul again. India could have saved the situation had it militarily helped the present Afghan government. Unfortunately, it did not.
India should oppose such a deal. It should tell Russia and Iran, the two countries that the US is trying to engage for talks on the Afghan problem, about the dangers inherent in such an approach.
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