One is not surprised that lazy strategic analysts and clueless media persons have been taken in by the Pakistani canard that it alone will bring in Taliban to negotiations and ensure peace in Afghanistan. Once having swallowed this untruth, the linkage of Indo-Pak tensions over Kashmir as an obstacle to peace in Afghanistan is only a short step away.
It needs to be reiterated that Pakistan is part of the problem in Afghanistan and not part of solution. Let us first understand the source of Pakistani ‘influence’ over Taliban. It is based on two factors, one is the sanctuary it provides to Taliban fleeing from American/Afghan action and second is the logistic support and heavy weapons like tanks it would field in support of Taliban in a final push on Kabul. Pakistan is following this policy as it wants a regime under its influence to rule Afghanistan-the so called ‘strategic depth’. The issue has acquired further urgency after the Indian airstrike on Balakot on 26 February 2019.
If we look at past history and Taliban’s 1996 conquest of Kabul, one realizes how crucial Pakistani support was for Taliban victory. Najibullah became head of state of Afghanistan in 1986. Soviets withdrew their troops in 1989, leaving him in charge. Najibullah continued to defend Kabul for another three years. He only fell when major part of Afghan forces under Rashid Dostum defected and Pak army helped the Taliban with tanks and guns. Soviet Union itself dissolved by that time and Najibullah got no external support.
Americans are well aware of the double dealings that Pakistanis are well known for. Who can forget that while they took billions of dollars from the Americans to fight Al Qaeda, they sheltered Osama Bin laden in Abbotabad cantonment. The Americans would like to ensure that Taliban do not have a total victory and share power with the elected Afghan govt. Unlike in 1992 when Soviets abandoned their protégé Najibullah, Americans have no such intention. To ensure that Taliban do not go back on their commitments, the Americans intend to keep small forces, mostly air elements, in Afghanistan even after withdrawal.
In this situation, Pakistan that is heavily committed on its Eastern border with India, suits the Americans. In this scenario, Pakistan will be constrained in providing help to Taliban. Without Pakistani help, Taliban will find it difficult to overcome the Afghan forces that are well armed.
Many military analysts have been mesmerized by the Vietnam War wherein the Vietnamese defeated the mighty US. But it must be clearly understood that they could only achieve final victory once the US forces left South Vietnam and regular North Vietnamese army units were inducted.
Such is the power of modern conventional forces that no Guerrilla outfit can defeat them in an open confrontation. The defeat suffered by the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam) in 2009 further reinforced this lesson. Open Pakistani support and participation will be crucial if the Taliban are to repeat their feat of recapturing Kabul.
It appears that Americans have made their own calculations and it is therefore not a surprise that for the first time in 50 years, the US supported Indian actions in the UN Security Council. Another permanent member France and Russia took pro India stance since they have a flourishing defence relationship with India. The real surprise was our ex-colonial rulers-United Kingdom. It is believed that UK sided with Pakistan.
British position may well have been due to current political disarray in that country and the colonial attitude hangover. Otherwise, a Britain that is staring at ‘No Deal Brexit’ and economic down turn ought to value the most important member of the British Commonwealth. It is time that Indian diplomats give nudge to the British to make them aware of their potential loss should they continue to adhere to their pre-1947 games. I cannot forget the classic remarks by one of our past PM, Mr. Inder Kumar Gujral, while on a tour of Egypt on 12 Oct 1997, told the intellectuals gathered there that
“Britain is a third-rate power nursing illusions of grandeur of its colonial past. It created Kashmir when it divided India. Now it wants to give us a solution.” Later the Indian Foreign Office gave a bland explanation that this was ‘personal view’ of the PM and not official view of India. This happened on the eve of visit by the British Queen to India added further fuel to fire. Looks like the British seem not to have learnt much from history.
It is often said that Public memory is short, but it is surprising that we see to have forgotten our own recent history. Changes of some sections of Article 370 that essentially merges J&K into Indian Union was the unfinished business of Simla Agreement. There are enough records to show that Indira Gandhi tried to make Pakistan agree to existing division of J&K. A step towards that was taken when the CFL (Cease Fire Line) of I January 1949 was converted into LOC (Line of Control) in 1972. It is a very detailed line that has been surveyed on ground with maps signed by the representatives of both the countries. It was as yet not an international boundary as Mr. Bhutto the then PM pleaded with Mrs Indira Gandhi that he needed time to prepare his people to accept this. The verbal assurance by Mr. Bhutto was that it will indeed soon be turned into recognised border, “ Aap Ham per bharosakijiye!” (please believe me).
What the current Indian move has done is essentially carried forward the Simla process. It is true that for tactical reasons India continues to claim whole of J&K, but that is more in response to the Pakistani claims on valley rather than any serious claim. Even during General Musharraf’s rule both countries had come to similar conclusion.
The only unique element of the current Indian decision is unilateralism. It is time that the world gets used to a new confident India.