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The shadow boxing on Afghanistan

 

SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | New Delhi, February 22, 2012 12:56
Tags : afghanistan | taliban | haqqani network | india on afghanistan | fprces removal |
 

Lot's been happening on the Afghanistan front that has escaped close scrutiny lately. As the draw-down nears with some quarters in the US administration predicting even 2013 as the possible year when the coalition forces will have the final combat role, the stakeholders in Afghanistan are preparing for the end game.

A few months ago, amidst much fanfare, the strategic deal between India and Afghanistan was signed. It is completely different matter that countries in the neighborhood, especially Russia, Iran and central Asian nations, gave a less than lukewarm response. It is now increasingly clear that the deal had little strategic value (though it indeed has the tactical value) and was more a knee-jerk reaction to the assassination of former Northern Alliance leader and former President Burhanuddin Rabbani by the Taliban suicide bomber.

For that deal to succeed, it was essential that the neighboring countries, except Pakistan, see merit in India's argument vis-a-vis Afghanistan. That, regretfully, has not happened. The Mandarins of South Block can be held accountable on that. Although we don't have the system in place to hold people accountable.

Russia's reaction to the Indian formula has been lukewarm in last couple of years. This might be the result of several factors that are not related to end-game in Afghanistan. In many ways, our Mandarins have shown remarkable professionalism by helping deteriorate the relationship between New Delhi and Moscow. A few military deals turned sour and that too affected the bond. Consequently, Russia has drawn itself back and is pretty cautious. While all this was happening, Russia had two rounds of strategic dialogues with China and Pakistan. While it went virtually unreported in India, there were few interesting decision that were made. And one of them was de-linking the membership of Pakistan in Shanghai Corporation Organization (SCO) with the membership of India. Russia, on principle, was also reported as agreeing to the Pakistani line that a talk with Pashtun is the only option in Afghanistan. For two countries who fought an indirect battle in Afghanistan for close to a decade or so, it indeed was an eventful meeting.

Iran, which was peeved by India's closeness to Israel and United States and some illogical diplomatic stance against them, decided to leave India out in its talks with Russia and other regional stakeholders such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It was only later last year that India decided to mend the relationship when it saw that there are no buyers for its proposal. Things have improved since then.

However, things have changed dramatically with the talks with Taliban representatives in Doha. It has been confirmed from the closed sources that not only the representatives of Mullah Omar and Gulbudin Hekmatyar were present in the talks with the US, there was a representative, hold your breath, of Haqqani faction as well. Now this is pretty interesting. After months of accusation against Pakistan and its intelligence agencies for bolstering Haqqani faction, the United States has decided that it was prudent to bring them on table. It is completely different matter that the talks have failed and failed because of the stubbornness of Mullah Omar faction and not Haqqanis. However, it has opened the way for further negotiations to happen.

The present bone of contention appears to be Mullah Omar's insistence on complete withdrawal before any sustainable talks can happen. Both the parties know that a compromise formula needs to be achieved before talks can go further. Which party will cede how grounds will be interesting to watch.

 
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the blog are that of the author and does not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Sunday Indian)
 
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017