(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India
Meet on Afghanistan
THE London Conference on Afghanistan
held in the last week
of January was supposed to plan out a coherent “exit strategy” for the
of the quagmire it finds itself in. Instead, the conference has only
in sending out confusing signals to the international community. While
was a lot of talk of engaging with the “good Taliban there was also a
emphasis on a military solution to the conflict.
However, the desperation to get
out of Afghanistan
tangible from the statements of most Western leaders present at the
The willingness to open a dialogue with the “good Taliban” to find a
solution was an indication of the prevailing pessimistic mood. But with
or military solution nowhere in sight it was evident that the military
occupation of Afghanistan
would continue for another five years at least. The Afghan President,
Karzai, in fact wants foreign troops to be around for a minimum of 15
reiterated this demand once again in London.
More than 70 countries, along with the European Union, NATO and the UN
the London Conference. The EU and NATO officials were critical about
15 year time line for withdrawal.
It is evident that the grandiose
promise of President
Barak Obama to withdraw all American troops by 2011 is no longer a
proposition. With the militarily ascendant Taliban refusing to be drawn
dialogue, the conditions on the ground will mean that US troops will
to be stationed in Afghanistan
beyond the deadline set by President Obama. The 10,000 additional NATO
from European countries that Washington
expected to be deployed in Afghanistan
as part of the military surge, does not seem to be materialising. France has announced that it will not
any more troops to Afghanistan.
Germany has promised
500 more troops while the Dutch are on the verge of pulling out all
soldiers out of Afghanistan.
While appealing to the “good
Taliban” to start talks,
the West has set up a $650 million “trust fund” to buy off warlords and
group allied with the Taliban in the fight against the occupation
forces. The West is also trying to
persuade the Saudi
Arabian government to use its influence and money to wean away fighters
the Taliban. The Saudis have pledged $150 million in new aid to Afghanistan.
“You have to be willing to
engage with your enemies if
you expect to create a situation that ends the insurgency”, the US
State Hillary Clinton said after the London
conference. She however hastened to add that the outcome of the London
Conference did not in any way signal an early “exit strategy” for the US from Afghanistan. The UK’s
secretary, David Milliband, had announced that Afghan forces will be in
of all the provinces within the next five years.
The Afghan President appealed to
all the neighbouring
countries, “particularly Pakistan
to support our peace and reconciliation endeavours”. In fact, Pakistan
emerged from the Conference with its role further enhanced. There was
implicit acknowledgement from the international community that any
to the Afghan tangle was only possible with the help of neighbouring Pakistan.
India, which was represented by the
Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna, was confined to the sidelines, at the
the major donors of development aid to Afghanistan. It has a high
political and strategic presence in the country. At every opportunity,
Pakistani establishment has been complaining about India’s
growing footprint in Afghanistan,
considers as its own “strategic backyard”. Even more galling to New Delhi was
endorsement of the idea of talking to the “good Taliban”. New Delhi, along with Teheran and Moscow,
are of the view that the Taliban---the good, the bad and the ugly---
The Americans, who are doing the
bulk of the fighting
seem to have come to the conclusion that the only feasible way out of
political and military impasse is either to bribe the Taliban to lay
arms or negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban leadership. The
doing business with the Taliban government before the events of
2001. New Delhi
was also in talks with the Taliban government in the late nineties.
talk of an imminent gas pipeline being routed through Afghanistan from Turkmenistan.
The American company,
Unocal, was keen to extend the pipeline through Pakistan
It was the hijacking of an Indian Airlines passenger plane to Kandahar
during the NDA regime that significantly hardened New Delhi’s position towards the
The Taliban foreign minister at
the time, Wakil Ahmed
Muttawakil, had negotiated on behalf of the hijackers of IC-814.
militants had also undergone training in Afghanistan when the
in power. The West has now identified him as a member of the “good
is no longer on the UN “sanctions list”. Muttawakil
who is now a free man is being used
to persuade the Taliban leadership to the negotiating table. As foreign
minister, he had tried to play a mediatory role between the Bush
and the Taliban leadership before the American invasion of Afghanistan
The Indian external affairs
minister continues to
insist that the Taliban are all terrorists. “We consider them to be
who have close links with al Qaeda and other terrorist groups”, he told
media on the sidelines of the London Conference.
At the same time, the Minister
said that India
would go along with the reconciliation
program announced in London.
Krishna said that the Taliban should
a second chance. “A solution through military action is not the only
alternative. I think that there are other alternatives which also need
tried”, Krishna said in London.
Given the consensus of opinion in London, the Indian government had no other option
fall in line with the West despite misgivings that the reconciliation
could help Pakistan
its “strategic depth” in Afghanistan.
The reconciliation plan has the
strong backing of the
Afghan President who is known to share a very warm relationship with New Delhi.
Karzai had expelled two UN diplomats in December 2007 for making
the Taliban. The Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, did not
the conference despite an invitation. Though the Iranian government has
lost for the Taliban, it has always been in favour of an Afghan
solution to the
problem. Mottaki during his last visit to Delhi
had made it clear that Teheran’s priority is an end to foreign
occupation of Afghanistan.
The move to start seriously
talking with the Taliban
was evident before the London Conference started. The American
commander in Afghanistan,
Gen. Stanley McChrystal told the British media that all Afghans,
Taliban can play a role in the peace process “if they focus on the
on the past”. Kai Ede, the outgoing UN representative, is a strong
the reconciliation process. He said that this was the first time that
making efforts got “such strong support” from the Karzai government’s
international backers. Ede stressed
military strategy in Afghanistan
is deeply flawed and is doomed to failure unless political concessions
There were reports that the UN’s
was already engaged in secret talks with the Taliban leadership. The
have been strongly denied by both Ede
and the Taliban spokesman. The Taliban dismissed the London Conference
propaganda exercise. Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s rival in the recent
was of the view that the Taliban at this stage are not willing to enter
negotiations. The Taliban has been saying for some time that it will
engage in talks only if there is an end to foreign occupation.
But, in a renewed bid to
reassure the West and
neighbouring countries about its future intentions, the Taliban
that they had no intentions of harming neighbouring countries and other
countries of the world, once the occupation forces left the country.
There are unconfirmed reports
that the Obama
administration is using Pakistan’s
Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate (ISI) to negotiate directly with
Taliban leadership. The US National Security Adviser, James Jones,
explicitly ruling out Pakistan’s
help, told an American newspaper group that Washington was “pursuing a general
of engagement”. Hillary Clinton however clarified after the London
that the US
backed the re-integration of the Taliban into the political process but
Taliban leadership led by Mullah Omar were excluded from the