Americans commit blunders, not mistakes

Americans commit blunders, not mistakes
By H K Dua

We all have heard about good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. And doctors and nutritionists tell everybody to eat almonds and walnuts the best of which, incidentally, come from Afghanistan.

Now comes a strange bit of news from Washington that President Barack Obama, who has begun experimenting with foreign policy, has discovered that there are indeed: The ‘Good Taliban’, and the ‘Bad Taliban’. No one knows how he has landed on this distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ — which eluded George W. Bush, who with his one-dimensional psychology often talked, but with evangelical zeal, about the Axis of Evil, which he thought he had been ordained to fight.

President Obama is perhaps a more cerebral person; he wants to fight against only the ‘Bad Taliban’ and not the ‘Good Taliban’.

Essentially, the term ‘Good Taliban’ perhaps is the creation of policy wonks working in cosy surroundings of the official Washington and far away from the treacherous terrain of Afghanistan. And the way President Obama has readily accepted the distinction between the ‘Good’ and the ‘Bad’ shows that he has missed the point that the term ‘Good Taliban’ sounds well, but essentially it is an oxymoron which carries within itself its own contradiction.

Value judgements apart, President Obama does not perhaps know that there indeed is no such thing as the ‘Good Taliban’ – unless he has won some of the Taliban over to the American side through back channel diplomacy and that defines what is good and bad.

The Taliban was created by Pakistan, ironically, during Ms Benazir Bhutto’s Prime Ministership, under American auspices. It was meant to fill up the vacuum created by the exit of Soviet troops and help Pakistan acquire strategic depth it was seeking beyond the Khyber.

Iraq was George W. Bush’s priority. President Obama apparently has placed sorting out Afghanistan on the top of his agenda. US troops are to be gradually pulled out from Iraq. President Obama is certainly feeling uncomfortable with the situation in Afghanistan, and in areas bordering Pakistan which provide sanctuary to Al-Qaida and the Taliban. He apparently wants to make enough progress on the ground before thinking of a pullout from Afghanistan, which is caught in a deeper mess than there was in Iraq for his predecessor.

President Obama was being candid when he told The New York Times in an interview that the US was not winning the war despite his decision to induct another 17,000 troops into Afghanistan. Possibly, he could also be worried about the growing despair of the NATO countries which have sent troops to Afghanistan but, having developed battle fatigue, are keen to pullout.

As is given to extremists, most of the Taliban believe that they are always in the right and their mission is to wipe out all US influence from the region. Also, along with Al-Qaida, the Taliban has taken Samuel Huntington’s thesis of “Clash of Civilisations” rather seriously, although many Americans are questioning its validity.

Motivations of the Taliban and Al-Qaida and the doctrines of hatred they propagate are practically the same, with varying degrees of adherence. The two organisations may be working in concert even if there may be division of labour, meant more to destroy than to build.

President Obama’s move to give legitimacy to the Taliban has other serious implications for the world, and certainly India, which has suffered at the hands of the Taliban.

Possibly, Mr Obama has come to the conclusion that mere reliance on Hamid Karzai — whose term as President is coming to an end in the next few weeks — is no longer desirable and there is a need for a change of guard in Kabul.

It is likely Washington wants the so-called the ‘Good Taliban’ to join the government in Kabul under a new President, before or after the elections due in May. Branding a part of the Taliban as the ‘Good Taliban’ is the first step towards their induction into the government.

“Co-opt them, if you can’t fight them’, seems to be the thinking behind President Obama’s move which marks a radical departure from the earlier policy.

It has serious implications for India, which cannot be expected to make the kind of distinction between the ‘Good Taliban’ and the ‘Bad Taliban’ the way Obama and his men have tried to differentiate.

Attributes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ can be stretched for convenience by the Americans, but for India the Taliban brings memories of a traumatic and humiliating experience of a late December nine years ago when an Indian Foreign Minister handed over a terrorist leader to the hijackers of an Indian flight from Kathmandu in exchange for 160-odd Indian hostages.

With the agonising memories of that day and subsequent terrorists’ strikes against India by the Taliban and its allied groups, it will be expecting too much from the Indian people to derive comfort from seeing the Taliban joining a new government in Kabul. Also, it is hard to see the US gaining any advantage from the Taliban acquiring positions of power in Kabul. It is, however, easier to grasp that India’s strategic interests in Afghanistan will suffer immensely.

Also, any gain for the Taliban will embolden them to move deeper into Pakistan where the political establishment is already finding it difficult to resist their attempts to gain a stranglehold on the troubled country.

Americans, who are generally fond of looking for shortcuts in foreign policy, will then see the region getting into a deeper mess than that prevailing in Afghanistan.

The Americans do not make mistakes; being a superpower, they make blunders. This indeed is one of them.