Sunday, February 21, 2010

Something happened on the way to Kabul

Something’s in the air in AfPak. A major offensive in Hemland, which in of itself is not surprising. US drone attacks killing one of the dreaded Haqqani brothers in North Waziristan. Again, great news but hardly a surprise that we should be trying to do this. The interesting news is Pakistan’s arrest of Mullah Baradar. Pakistan is the critical cog in this wheel so whatever they do has a purpose and a meaning. In fact, Pakistan is the key to unlocking the war in Afghanistan. It is also the major world jihadi threat (not Afghanistan) and so must be dealt with in its own right also.

It appears that Baradar might have been willing to talk with the Americans. It makes sense then that the ISI would want to pick him up as they dont want to be excluded from any negotiations. The fact that they found him in urban Karachi (like they did with Khalid Sheikh Muhammed) and not in the wild badlands of the frontier suggest that they knew where he was from the get go and could have picked him up years earlier.

It used to be that Pakistan would conveniently “find” Al Qaeda leaders “on demand”. Now they are doing the same with the Afghan Taliban – people they used to (and for the most part still do) regard as strategic assets. There must be a powerful reason that they are cashing in these chips. And no reason can be bigger for Pakistan than India.

With over $1 billion in civilian assisitance already invested in Afghanistan and a high popularity rating among the Afghan public, the Pakistanis will do anything to stop further Indian “encirclement”. They even prevented fortified Indian biscuits from reaching Afghan children lest it boost India’s popularity.

Hopefully, Washington is playing this right. The smart thing to do is not to tell India to stand down. But to tell it to stand up in Afghanistan. Force the Pakistanis to play ball or face the alternatives. They will not listen to pleas about human rights or peace. They didnt care while the Taliban were turning Afghanistan into a medieval prison and playing host to 9/11. They dont care now – at least their army doesnt. But they do care that they have a seat at the table at the end of the day. And they especially care that India does not.

The only way to make them play ball is to deepen Indian engagement in Afghanistan – particularly with regards training and integrating the warlords into the new Afghan Army. Keeping India in is the way to make Pakistan play ball. Take India out, and the double dealing starts again. It is India that keeps Pakistan honest. Not American pleas. This is not rocket science, but then Washington has never really known how to deal with Islamabad.

In the great chessboard that is Afghanistan, news moves are being played. Hope we learn from our mistakes. Don’t undercut democratic allies or believe military dictatorships. Do the right thing, and the right result will happen. America needs to play smart – and tough.


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