By G Parthasarathy
19 July 2013
The US and its allies are looking for scapegoats. They will target India for their failure to contain the Pakistani Army's support to the Taliban. Self-styled historians like William Dalrymple are willing accomplices in the act
Bruce Riedel, arguably one of the best informed and most experienced American analysts on the AfPak region, recently wrote an interesting analysis titled, ‘Battle for the Soul of Pakistan’. Mr Riedel 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”. Mr Riedel 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 election scheduled in April 2014 will be free and fair and whether the new President will enjoy support cutting across ethnic lines, as President Hamid 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 Mr Riedel 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 their failures to deal with the Pakistani 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, Mr 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”.
As a self-styled historian, Mr Dalrymple conveniently forgets that the present AfPak tensions flowed from British colonial policies advocated by imperialists like Lord Curzon, whose ‘forward policy’ aimed to check growing Russian influence in Central Asia and also give the British undisputed and unchallenged control over the oil resources of the entire Persian Gulf. It was Imperial Britain that changed historical borders, depriving the Pashtuns of moving across their historical homeland by the imposition of the Durand Line in 1893. The problems between Pakistan and Afghanistan since the birth of Pakistan have been primarily because of past actions of Imperial Britain, as no Afghan Government has ever recognised the borders imposed by Imperial Britain. It is this border dispute that has bedevilled relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan since August 14, 1947, when Pakistan was born.
India has never taken sides on this Pakistan-Afghanistan dispute — a creation of British imperialism. The Afghans, in turn, have never taken sides on differences between India and Pakistan, except during the Taliban rule. In a recent paper I received, written by a former Director General of the ISI, the author noted, while referring to past Pakistan-Afghanistan relations: “The message from Kabul both in 1965 and 1971 (India-Pakistan conflicts) was that we could move all our troops from the Durand Line to the Eastern borders, where we needed them. We did precisely that and the Afghans ensured for the duration of the crises there was all quiet on the western front. The two countries have their good neighbourly troubles, but their stakes in each other’s security and stability are so high that neither would do anything deliberately to hurt the other’s interests”.
The likes of Mr Dalrymple and his American and European friends should remember that the religious extremism and violence that ail and afflict Pakistan and Afghanistan today, are direct outcomes of the backing given by the ISI, joined by the CIA and MI6, to armed fundamentalist groups, to wage jihad against the Soviet Union on Afghan soil and beyond. This, in turn, encouraged the ISI to believe that promotion of ‘militant Islam’ is the ideal means to build influence within Pakistan, ‘bleed’ India and carry the forces of ‘radical Islam’ to Afghanistan and beyond. The US and the CIA paid the price for their earlier follies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, when attacks like those of 9/11 and the London bombings were planned and executed from safe havens in Afghanistan and along the Durand Line.
India will have to keep these realities in mind when fashioning its policies in Afghanistan. While we have played along with the Americans and complemented their policies in Afghanistan, there is need for New Delhi to be prepared to build new bridges in relations with its old partners like Russia, Iran and the Central Asian Republics, given the uncertainties and unpredictability in emerging American policies.