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Posts Tagged ‘Optimists might yet hope

To Rawalpindi, via Kabul

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C. Raja Mohan

Optimists might yet hope that Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will undo some of the damage he did last week by making nice to Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna on the margins of an international conference in Kabul on Tuesday. But don’t bet on it.

Qureshi’s behaviour might have been outrageous in terms of diplomatic protocol, but there is nothing personal to it. In any case, Qureshi is unlikely to have much time for Krishna in Kabul.

Qureshi, a feudal from southern Punjab with a penchant for the theatrical, has every reason to preen on the international stage he has this week in Kabul. Thanks to his army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani’s shuttle diplomacy to Kabul in recent weeks, Pakistan has acquired a pivotal position in the political transition that is beginning to unfold in Afghanistan.

Some in Delhi interpret Qureshi’s unexpected decision to walk back from the prior understandings so carefully crafted in the weeks before Krishna’s visit to Islamabad as having something to do with the statement of Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai, made in an interaction at this newspaper a couple of days before the talks.

Some see Pillai’s affirmation on the role of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence as a needless provocation on the eve of the talks; others read it as an opportunity that Kayani simply seized. The Pillai episode should not distract us from a larger difficulty that has enveloped Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s efforts to revive the peace process with Pakistan.

Seen from Delhi, the Mumbai trail leads relentlessly to the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the ISI. As the former director general of the ISI, the current army chief, and the most consequential political figure in Pakistan, Kayani has no incentive to put his prime instruments against India in the dock just because they plotted the 26/11 attacks.

Add to this Rawalpindi’s new triumphalism on Afghanistan. The Pakistan GHQ believes that the balance of power in the region is tilting towards Pakistan for the first time since the September 11, 2001 attacks. After a decade on the defensive, Kayani believes, his army has the United States and India on the ropes.

Kayani senses that the US needs the Pakistan army more than ever if it wants a dignified exit from Afghanistan. The army sees Washington with no option but to write ever bigger cheques for Islamabad. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handed over one of those for $500 million in Islamabad on Monday.

China, the rising power in the region, has signalled a deeper interest in Afghanistan and could provide the economic resources needed for a future Pakistan strategy in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Beijing has unveiled a civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan to underline the commitment to sustain Pindi’s strategic parity with Delhi.

As Washington’s Afghan trumpet sounds increasingly uncertain, President Hamid Karzai has decided that he needs some understanding with the “Talib-jan”, his new phrase of endearment to the Taliban that has drawn some political flak from his rivals in Afghanistan.

The only one who can deliver reconciliation with the Taliban is, if we might, Kayani-jan. Meanwhile, India is tripping all over itself in Kashmir, again.

Rawalpindi would rather cash in than make concessions to India on terrorism. When its policy of holding on to the Afghan Taliban and the LeT is paying off, Rawalpindi has no reason to abandon them as Washington and Delhi want it to do.

Last week’s diplomatic fiasco in Islamabad is rooted in the fact that Delhi and Rawalpindi no longer agree on the nature of the relationship between terrorism and the peace process.

The positive and productive engagement between India and Pakistan until 2007 was built on the agreement hammered out between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and General Pervez Musharraf in January 2004. Rawalpindi promised to control cross-border violence and Delhi agreed to negotiate on all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir.

By all accounts much progress was made.

Since he took charge, Kayani has repeatedly signalled that he has no stake in what Musharraf might have done with India. Delhi can indeed finesse the question of terrorism originating from Pakistan, but has no leverage now to change Rawalpindi’s behaviour.

If it wants to win a measure of influence on Pakistan’s decision-making, Delhi must start to think about Rawalpindi and Kabul in an integrated manner, much like Pakistan which views India and Afghanistan as part of a single security complex.

For Rawalpindi, the search for influence in Kabul is not an end in itself. It is about altering the balance of power with India. To successfully transform relations with Pakistan, the prime minister needs to recast his Afghan policy.

Until now Dr Singh has held firm in his conviction that reconciling with Pakistan is more important than raising the stakes in Afghanistan. The time has come for Dr Singh to invert that mental map. Put simply, the prime minister must see that the road to Rawalpindi runs through Afghanistan.

If Dr Singh does not think boldly about a new Indian policy towards Kabul, he will find India losing ground in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Pakistan-Afghan trade and transit agreement signed in Islamabad on Sunday underlines Rawalpindi’s determination to push India out of Afghanistan. The agreement explicitly affirms

that India will not be allowed to export goods to Afghanistan through the border at Wagah. The American and Afghan calls for a broader regional framework including India were vetoed by the Pakistan GHQ.

Central to any restructuring of India’s policy must be a decision to intensify the engagement with the Pashtun leaders on both sides of the Durand Line that divides Pakistan and Afghanistan.

India can no longer deny itself the option of engaging the Pashtuns, including the Afghan Taliban, who hold most of the aces in the unfolding battle for the lands between the Indus and the Hindu Kush.