Uncertainties grow over Afghanistan
by G Parthasarathy
BRUCE REIDEL, arguably one of the best informed and most experienced American analysts on the Afpak region, recently wrote an interesting analysis entitled “Battle for the Soul of Pakistan”. Reidel noted: “Pakistan also remains a state sponsor of terror. Three of the five most-wanted on America's counter-terrorism list live in Pakistan. The mastermind of the Mumbai massacre and head of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hafeez Saeed, makes no effort to hide. He is feted by the army and the political elite, and calls for the destruction of India frequently and Jihad against America and Israel”. Reidel adds: “The Head of the Afghan Taliban Mullah Omar shuttles between ISI safe houses in Quetta and Karachi. The Amir of Al Qaeda Ayman Zawahiri is probably hiding in a villa not much different from the one his predecessor (Osama bin Laden) was living in, with his wives and children, in Abbotabad, until May 2011.”
Despite these realities, a new narrative seems to be creeping in, as uncertainties grow in Western capitals over how the much-touted "end game" will play out. American combat operations are progressively ending and Afghan forces assuming full responsibility to take on the Taliban. There is uncertainty over whether Afghanistan's Presidential elections scheduled in April 2014 will be free and fair and whether the new President will enjoy support cutting across ethnic lines, as President Karzai, a Durrani Pashtun currently enjoys. As Pakistan remains an integral part of Western efforts to seek "reconciliation" with the Taliban and for pull-out equipment by the departing NATO forces, there appears to be a measure of Western desperation in seeking to persuade themselves and the world at large that there has been a “change of heart” on the part of the Pakistan army, which is now depicted as having given up its larger aim of seeking “strategic depth” in Afghanistan through its Taliban protégés, led by Mullah Mohammed Omar.
As Reidel notes, Mullah Omar remains an ISI protégé housed in ISI safe houses in Pakistan. Pakistan's real aim as a “facilitator” of “reconciliation” in Afghanistan became evident when Pakistan's Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz suggested to the Afghan Ambassador that the Taliban should be allowed to take control of provinces in Southern Afghanistan, as the process of “reconciliation” commences. The Americans have only encouraged such thinking and added to the confusion by their over-anxiety to directly engage the Taliban, discarding earlier conditions for dialogue. Such obvious over-anxiety prompted the Taliban to up the ante and infuriate President Karzai by converting their premises in Doha to the office of a virtual Government in exile.
The Americans and their NATO allies are evidently looking for scapegoats in case their “exit strategy” fails as it did in Vietnam. India now appears to be the new scapegoat in the event of such failure as the US and its NATO allies seem to be bent on blaming India, for any failures by them, to deal with the Pakistan army's support for the Taliban, which could lead to an ignominious exit for them from Afghanistan. In this effort, British writers like the self-styled “historian” William Dalrymple seem to have become willing and enthusiastic accomplices. In a recent paper published by the Washington-based Brookings Institution Dalrymple avers: “While most observers in the West view the Afghanistan conflict as a battle between the US and NATO on the one hand and the Taliban and Al Qaeda on the other, in reality the hostility between India and Pakistan lies at the heart of the conflict in Afghanistan”.