The Afghan dilemma

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Indications of USA and the UK preparing to exit from Afghanistan has sent the subcontinent into a tizzy. Due to clash of interests between India and Pakistan, the region is far from becoming stable. IFTIKHAR GILANI reports.

As “quiet dialogue” with separatists has quietened for a while, Kashmir continues hitchhiking at the international diplomatic chess game. Ahead of the London Conference on Afghanistan, scheduled on January 28, British roadmap for an exit strategy from Afghanistan has unnerved policy makers both in India and Pakistan. While India apprehends return of Taliban inimical to its interests, that heralds a renewed militant campaign in Kashmir, Pakistan does not want a repeat of 1988 Geneva agreement that allowed Soviet troops to withdraw without addressing either its (Pakistan’s) security interests (read Kashmir) or stability in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is primarily opposed to the plan, apprehending, Kashmir will be again put to cold storage after the Western exit, and left for India and Pakistan to fend for themselves. So far Pakistan’s theory of finding an intrinsic link between Afghanistan and Kashmir had found many takers in the West.

Apparently it was to blunt this edge that reports about “quiet dialogue” and “secret meeting” between Home Minister P Chidambaram and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq at the Lodhi Estate were leaked to the press. Diplomats here believe it was managed to give Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh a smooth ride during his US trip, where President Barack Obama was supposed to press for an early resumption of India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir. India successfully conveyed the world that they were seriously addressing Kashmir with its stakeholders and there was no need for Pakistan to raise heckles.

Pakistani diplomats call it a diplomatic naivety and lack of international understanding on the part of Mirwaiz led Hurriyat which was led to garden path ahead of Prime Minister’s visit to Washington. They remind that between 2004 and 2006 an understanding on Kashmir was reached only after Atal Bihari Vajpayee and later his successor Dr. Manmohan Singh had kept both Islamabad as well as separatists in loop.

India is also panicky over the West’s secret plan to pull out from Afghanistan – apparently surrendering to Taliban whom it could not defeat despite more than eight years of war since October 7, 2001. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has passed on to India the document given to him in confidence by the Britishers detailing the plan they seek to be endorsed by foreign ministers of 45 countries meeting in London on January 28.

The plan envisages gradual return of Taliban to power in the next 18 months to share power with the present regime as the only solution to restore peace in the mountain nation and facilitate the west’s disengagement.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s own future hangs in balance as he faces elections in three months as he has to explain the continuing British involvement in Afghanistan. He may be pushing the Afghanistan plan for his own sake but that may have secret approval of US President Barack Obama who is equally under pressure to end the Afghanistan war.

India is concerned because it thinks return of Taliban to power will mean more violence in J&K. Indian diplomats believe that 20 per cent of militants operating in Kashmir were either from Afghanistan or had been trained there.

NEW OFFER

India sent Director General of Military Intelligence (DGMI) Lt. General R K Lomba to Kabul last week to assure support to the present Karzai regime in the event of the foreign troops’ disengagement. India has steadfastly refused to join these troops as it remained committed only to rebuild Afghanistan.

India is believed to have made a new offer to Karzai to train two divisions on the pattern of the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) raised by the Indian Army to tackle militant violence in J&K, though there is no official confirmation.

BEELINE TO DELHI

The western governments are suspicious of India sabotaging their plan to compromise with Taliban, leading to prolonged and unending turmoil in Afghanistan. No wonder, New Delhi has become a key port of call for all the major powers involved in London’s Afghanistan conference to take India on board. Sherard Cowper-Coles, UK special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was here early this week, exploring where India will fit in the plan to be discussed in the London conference.

United States special envoy Richard Holbrooke, who is touring

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