US-Pak, AfPak and India-NA

As Afghanistan braces for the US’ zero-option in 2014, the folly of trying to superimpose the template of India-Pakistan “hostility” over the bigger problem in Afghanistan — the internecine feuding and jockeying for power between Pashtun proxies, one led by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the other fronted by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, to pre-empt an Afghan plan to create a Greater Pashtunistan which predates the New Delhi-Islamabad rivalry — has prompted a whole new dynamic.

Powerful warlords from the former Northern Alliance (NA), who have spent the last 10 years locked in a bitter battle for the spoils of peace, have put their differences aside and come together, to fuse into a formidable Opposition front that harks back to a brief moment in time when Uzbek leader Rashid Dostum, Hazara chief Mohammed Mohaqiq and the canny Tajik, Ismail Khan doggedly fought the Taliban.
The contours of the Afghan landscape post-2014, that many had feared would descend into the fratricidal barbarity of the 80s and 90s, when alliances were made and unmade on the battlefield, could now see the famed trio whom legendary anti-Taliban leader Ahmed Shah Massoud gathered under the NA umbrella, ranged alongside leaders like the governor of Balkh, Atta Mohammed, and former foreign minister Abdulla Abdulla. This group will face off against Mr Karzai in presidential elections next year.
But the real focus of the Opposition alliance remains to stop the Taliban power grab, engineered by Pakistan’s military and intelligence wing, the ISI, working in tandem with Washington’s Gulf allies, which includes a newly aggressive Qatar. Under the tiny Gulf state’s weeks-old 33-year-old monarch, Sunni rebels including hundreds of Pakistani mujahideen, have reduced Syria to blood and rubble.
Why Washington has turned a blind eye to the recreation of an Afghanistan in the heart of West Asia, forgetting that a Taliban government in Kabul gave succour to the Al Qaeda that ultimately launched the first ever attack on the US mainland, is a mystery.
Mr Karzai tried to open talks with the Taliban, hoping to play on their common Pashtun ancestry, forgetting that Pakistan would do everything in its power to forestall any deal that reduced its influence over a future dispensation in a neighbouring state that it sees as coming under its sphere of influence; Secondly, that the Taliban itself sees him as a US puppet.
The new Opposition “Milli” (alliance) is under no such illusions. As political parties kept out of government these 10 years, gaining legitimate power through elections provide a path back into the political game. Except, their aspirations run contrary to plans scripted in Washington and Islamabad; Neither predisposed to the ascendance of an anti-Talib, pro-India grouping calling the shots in Kabul.
Both US and Pakistani policy wonks have focused on India’s use of soft power to encircle Pakistan, its opening of alternate trade links that give it access to the resource-rich Central Asian Republics, without factoring in the big picture. India wants a mature Afghanistan to take charge of its own future. And New Delhi, the beneficiary of the wrath of Pakistan’s terror proxies, can be the only counter to Pindi’s destabilising influence.
It has played by the rules thus far, by scrupulously staying clear of fostering its former protégés in the NA, while backing Mr Karzai in nation building, pouring $1.6 billion into projects in provinces in the face of the ISI nurtured Haqqani group’s attacks on its diplomats, its doctors, engineers and volunteers.
Pakistan has selectively targeted the Afghans, assassinating revered former President Burhanuddin Rabbani while failing in its more recent attempt on Hazara Shia leader Mohaqiq.
The multi-ethnic Afghan Opposition refuses to be cowed, saying suicide attacks are “a sign of weakness rather than strength,” that gives the impression of a much larger imprint for the Taliban than actually exists on the ground.
Trust in Washington’s motives are wearing thin. The fury in Kabul’s presidency over the Taliban flying its white standard at the “embassy of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” in Doha, is shared across the political spectrum as it watches the US’ spectacular mismanagement of policy, in its rush to get out of the Afghan theatre, its embrace of the Pakistan line that Indian influence must be limited and the Taliban restored to its pre-eminent status, pre-9/11.
“No one believes the Taliban have ‘shut their embassy’ in Doha. Just watch, over the next few months the Taliban will open embassies in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Istanbul,” said an Afghan official, adding “Pakistan must be made to realise that doing business with Kabul, can bring in $5 billion of trade annually. A Taliban government will reverse all that.”
Successive US special envoys for AfPak, have blindsided US President. Mr Obama, woefully unable to put his finger on the central problem in Afghanistan, has allowed not just Rawalpindi, but Saudi Arabia and cash-rich Qatar to influence policy in a reprise of the blind support the Saudis and the UAE gave the Taliban, under CIA tutelage.
Washington rubbed a pro-Soviet Indira Gandhi up the wrong way then. It may have rubbed a far more US leaning Manmohan Singh up the wrong way now.
Washington’s Afghan policy, doomed from the moment it chose to dust off the old “pick a Pashtun to counter the Pashtun” policy that brought Mr Karzai into play, is now in reverse. It can only get more complicated if “its worst ally” calls the shots.
As analyst Frederic Grare said “Pakistan has managed to turn its dispute with Afghanistan regarding the border issue and Pashtunistan, and its dealings with Central Asia and the United States — into a zero-sum game with India.”
Fact is, no one in Afghanistan — let alone a Delhi wary of another Taliban inspired terrorist resurgence — believes the last word has been said.
Waiting for Massoud’s young son to come of age to lead the charge against the Taliban is a long shot. It may stand a better chance if it prods a more pragmatic Pakistan Prime Minister
Nawaz Sharif to reorient his country’s strategic imperatives and urge the Army-ISI to drop its irrational fears that India is the enemy.
Either way, India has little choice — it cannot allow the Indo-Pakistan narrative to become the excuse that allows the regressive Talibs to retake Kabul.

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