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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 40, September 24, 2011

Afghanistan: Need for Decisive, Collective Action

Wednesday 28 September 2011, by Mansoor Ali

One basic aspect of the international approach to Afghanistan has been the tendency to devise strategy, take decisions and organise ground operations in a way that the Afghans perceive to be disrespectful towards them and even on occasions smacking of arrogance. At times they also take legitimate offence at the manner in which their country was being treated—their feeling of Afghanistan being regarded as a no-man’s land and not a sovereign state is not without basis. It is this perceived Afghan attitude which has led to tension between the Hamid Karzai Government in Kabul and the international community, fuelled the suspicion of foreign interference and bred a sense of collective humiliation among ordinary Afghans. It is of utmost necessity that this be brought to an end at the earliest.

Security in Afghanistan has regrettably deteriorated of late and this is quite obvious to any perceptive observer. And this despite international and Afghan efforts to salvage the situation. The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former President (1992-96) who happened to be the country’s most prominent leader trying to politically terminate the war with the Taliban through negotiations, at his home in Kabul on the night of September 20 provides an eloquent testimony to the prevailing state of affairs, and the needle of suspicion has been directed towards the Haqqani network, an insurgent faction allied to the Taliban and based along the Afghan-Pak border, enjoying the moral and material backing of Islamabad in general and the ISI in particular.

But Rabbani’s killing in Kabul (that goes to expose the futility of the negotiate-with-Taliban exercise) apart, the deterioration of the security situation is more visible in the northern provinces, the source of threats and their execution being the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. In this scenario all parties need to dispense with euphemisms. The steps to be taken in the near future should neither be detrimental to nor contradict the provisions of the Security Council resolutions including the ones that resulted in the sanctions regime. The possibility of reaching agreement with the Taliban or other extremist groups should not be brought within the realm of consideration. Dialogue can and should be undertaken only with those who had laid down their weapons and broken ties with the Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups, and those outfits need to bear the primary responsibility for the needless loss of life in the country. Any negotiation with the unreformed Taliban (reforming the organisation is in reality an impossible proposition) would not only be unproductive and a wastage of time and energy but also, more notably, jeopardise the global war on terror; and hence every move in that direction must be reversed forthwith.

Decisive action is necessary to combat the global drug threat that sustains elements like the Taliban and this does not brook the slightest delay. The international community must strive to attain a new level of multilateral initiative on this score. For several years troops of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) had cooperated with the Kabul administration, as did the member-states of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), in an anti-drug push. However, there seems to have been some slackening of such cooperation lately alongside the Western efforts to collaborate with the “good Taliban” that in effect is non-existent and illusory. Currently concerted steps are impera-tive to curb the trade in precursors entering Afghanistan from Europe; these precursors are used to produce heroin. This is an integral part of the struggle against extremist terror represented by the Taliban, Al-Qaeda et al.

In this context what is equally essential is that countries constituting the surrounding region should also play a positive role in fighting terror and restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan. Of course, India must be an indivisible part of such a regional endeavour (apart from New Delhi’s own constructive cooperation with Kabul). But so must regional institutions like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and CSTO.

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