The US is planning an exit without an exit strategy. Pakistan may rejoice but far from gaining strategic depth in Afghanistan, the Taliban may gain strategic depth in Pakistan.
By H K Dua : With Afghanistan facing a lot of uncertainty in the foreseeable future, it is imperative for India to begin thinking of how it should meet the contingencies arising in its immediate neighbourhood.
Latest reports from Kabul tend to suggest that President Hamid Karzai’s government has in a way begun talking to a section of the Taliban. Although these talks are at a preliminary level, the idea is to promote “reconciliation” to facilitate the induction of what in President Barak Obama’s language are called, “ the Good Taliban.”
Clearly, the inspiration for the talks with the Taliban comes from President Obama’s plans to begin pulling out the US troops from Afghanistan from next summer.
President Obama has convened a meeting of his senior advisors in December in Washington to discuss not whether the US troops should be pulled out or not, but simply to work out a time-table of the exit plans. Nato nations, which are fighting alongside the US, and are equally keen to get out of Afghanistan, are meeting in November to discuss similar ideas.
President Obama had made known his desire to pull out of Afghanistan soon after he moved into the White House. Domestic compulsions, the economic cost of fighting the war, continuing casualties and his keenness to contest for a second term have led him to favour a pull-out. Opinion polls in Germany, France, the UK and other Nato countries also support a pull-out.
Neither in Washington, nor in other Nato capitals,however, a serious thought is being given to the implications of a pull-out for Afghanistan, the region and the rest of the world. Even Henry Kissinger is reported to have remarked in a pithy comment that more exit is being discussed than an exit strategy.
No one expects the US and Nato troops to go on fighting endlessly in the mountainous terrain year after year, but leaving without achieving decisive results makes no sense.
“The Good Taliban” is an oxymoron. And if the current exercises in Kabul and Washington lead to the induction of such an entity into the Karzai government, it is unlikely to bring about “a sufficient stability” into Afghanistan as is being aimed at by the allies.
The move for a Karzai-plus-Taliban government may provide an excuse for the US and Nato troops to leave, but it may not turn out to be a lasting arrangement in Kabul.
Once in the government, the Taliban would like to capture absolute power, possibly cutting short even President Karzai’s tenure. Pakistan will have achieved its desired goal to have “strategic depth” by placing a convenient regime in Kabul.
The Taliban, in power can again cause instability in Afghanistan, possibly a civil war between the Pakistan-backed Taliban government in Kabul on the one hand and the Uzbeks, the Tajiks and the Hazras on the other. The world community should not forget the grim days of the Taliban regime of the 1990s which brought the US and Nato troops into the country.
A civil war in Afghanistan can in turn lead to regional instability drawing in Afghanistan’s neighbours – a situation President Obama and his Nato would surely like to avoid.
Logically, a more grim scenario may emerge which will not bring comfort to even Pakistan, a state already facing acute problems with all sorts of Jihadi groups functioning under different labels like the Pakistani Taliban, Lahkar-e-Toiba, Hizbul-Muhahadeen and others.
What if the Taliban in Afghanistan join hands with the Pakistan Taliban and other Jihadi groups, and Al-Qaida! After all it is not that Pakistan wants to acquire a strategic depth in Afghanistan, it is the Taliban that have already acquired a strategic depth in Pakistan. This can create difficulties for Pakistan which already is wrestling with its multiple problems associated with symptoms of a failed state.
There is a more serious danger inherent in the unfolding situation. What if the nuclear weapons now being guarded by the Pakistan Army fall into the hands of the Jihadi groups one day! It is a grim, almost nightmarish, scenario that should cause worry to the world and should never be allowed to happen.
Washington and chanceries in Nato need to rework their plans to pull-out taking into account the consequences of what they are intending to do now because of domestic reasons.
Geo-political compulsions would require them to think of a post-pull-out dispensation for Afghanistan which should allow it to be on its own without leaving scope for outside interference by any other foreign power.
This kind of special dispensation can be discussed at an international conference of the members of the UN Security Council, EU countries, Afghanistan and its neighbours, including Pakistan, Iran and India. International guarantees can be worked out at this conference ensuring that no outside power will play games, big or small, in Afghanistan. It has always suffered from such power games.
Appeared in DNA. Bombay, on Oct 20, 2010.