Saturday, January 30, 2010
America legitimising Taliban!
It matters little to the 70 countries whose representatives met in London last Thursday to discuss the modalities of striking a deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan what Afghans think of the cowardly decision. “The London conference was not about Afghanistan, but about British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s re-election campaign,” Mr Aziz Hakimi, who heads an NGO in Kabul, has been quoted as bitterly commenting after the adoption of a $ 500 million ‘Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund’. Those who take a less than charitable view of US President Barack Hussein Obama’s much-hyped but utterly hollow AfPak policy and America’s trans-Atlantic ally’s sudden urge to end the Afghan war have promptly dubbed the ‘Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund’ as the ‘Taliban Trust Fund’.
The outrage is understandable. The absurd theory of there being a ‘good’ Taliban with whom the world can co-exist in peace and a ‘bad’ Taliban who should be shunned has finally been put to practice. Worse, the London conference has succeeded in erasing the mythical line separating the ‘good’ Taliban from the ‘bad’ Taliban. Never mind the display of faux displeasure and bogus dismay by the Americans in London; we can be sure that the decision to bribe the Taliban, ‘good’ and ‘bad’, with “jobs and homes” — euphemism for sacks of greenbacks — so that they give up their murderous ways, had the Obama Administration’s prior approval. In fact, the proposal, for all we know, may have emanated from Washington, DC. It was unveiled in London.
Mr Mark Sedwill, Nato’s newly-appointed civilian chief in Afghanistan, has been candid enough to admit that the proposed deal will involve reaching out to “some pretty unsavoury characters”. In effect, this means seeking peace with those who have sheltered Al Qaeda’s top leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. They will be asked to “cut ties with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups and pursue their political goals peacefully” for a certain price to be settled in cash. The US, at least officially, was opposed to a blanket offer, insisting that it should be limited to Taliban ‘fighters’. But it does not appear to have pushed this point too far, which only suggests that the ‘Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund’ is the outcome of a pre-rehearsed, carefully scripted, exercise.
Ironically, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which worked in tandem with the US in the early-1990s to facilitate the birth and rise to power of Mullah Omar and his evil gang that the world came to know as the Taliban, will now “play a key role in the reintegration process”. Pakistan, cock-a-hoop over the outcome of the London conference, has offered its services to train the Afghan police and security forces. We could soon see the ISI expanding its reach into, and control over, Afghanistan. In a sense, the US has conceded Pakistan’s claim over Afghanistan; Islamabad can now look forward to regaining its ‘strategic depth’ through a puppet regime in Kabul.
Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai is welcome to believe that he has secured his job, but so did Mohammad Najibullah suffer from delusions of invincibility till he was strung up from a lamp-post with his family jewels stuffed into his mouth. Yet, there’s little that Mr Karzai can do, apart from hope that the American and Nato troops won’t just up and leave but hang around “for at least a decade”. The contours of the ‘reintegration process’ will emerge at a peace jirga which Mr Karzai says he will convene in the coming weeks. But it’s unlikely that he is in command of the unfolding situation: It’s more than likely that Pakistan, backed by the US, will now call the shots, to begin with covertly and increasingly overtly as it gets into the act of reclaiming what it had lost in the aftermath of 9/11. Unless, of course, things go horribly wrong and the ‘Taliban Trust Fund’ turns out to be a non-starter.
For the moment, there is no reason to believe that the proposed deal with the Taliban will unravel, or be an exclusive affair restricted to the ‘good’ and not the ‘bad’ among the wretched lot. It now transpires that regional commanders of the Taliban’s infamous Quetta Shura held secret talks with the UN’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Mr Kai Eide, in Dubai on January 8. The Guardian, which broke the story, quoted officials as saying, “They (the Taliban) requested the meeting to explore avenues for talks. They want protection to come out in public.” A UN official, confirming the Dubai talks, said, “The Taliban made overtures to the Special Representative to talk about peace talks… That information was shared with the Afghan Government and the UN hopes that the Afghan Government will capitalise on this opportunity.” Capitulate, and not capitalise, would be a more appropriate word.
Having decided to sup with the devil, it makes little or no sense to set a standard for those invited to the supper. Ms Hillary Clinton, rather than take recourse to subterfuge, was being honest when, commenting on the London deal, she said, “The starting premise is you don’t make peace with your friends.” Having accepted this fact, the Obama Administration should stop pretending that it is opposed to the idea of a “future Afghan Government that includes allies of Mullah Omar”. Nor should US Special Representative Richard Holbrooke make a show of insisting that the “peace plan should focus on low-ranking Taliban fighters motivated by money, not ideology”. Mr Holbrooke is welcome to insist “That is not on the agenda here. There is nothing happening on it involving the United States” and that “the Taliban’s renunciation of Al Qaeda is a red line” for the US. Such assertions on drawing a ‘red line’ amount to what is referred to as a ‘red herring’. If Pakistan and the Taliban suffer from serious trust deficit, so does the US.
India should be worried — very, very worried — about the US-sponsored attempt to legitimise the Taliban and thereby instal Pakistan’s proxy regime in Kabul. But with a limp-wristed Government taking instructions from the US, there is little that we can do other than fret and fume. There is something extremely sinister about the orchestrated clamour in the New Delhi Establishment, of which certain sections of the media are an integral part, for the resumption of India-Pakistan talks. That the dubious initiative to revive the stalled bilateral dialogue should coincide with the London conference and the appointment of Mr Shiv Shankar Menon as National Security Adviser is not entirely surprising. India’s humiliation at Sharm el-Sheikh will now be taken to its logical conclusion by Mr Manmohan Singh, ably assisted by Mr Menon. If you have any doubts, look at the craven alacrity with which Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna has signalled that the UPA Government is willing to “do business” with a Taliban legitimised by the US.
[This appears as my Sunday column Coffee Break in The Pioneer on January 31, 2010.]