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Asia Times’ premiere South Asia correspondent M.K. Bhadrakumar has the best analysis of Afghan developments that I have seen recently. The key to solving the problem is to get India involved. Pakistan, understandably, does not like this, which is not surprising, because Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is the Taliban. A former senior Indian diplomat, Bhadrakumar’s command of the material is unique:

India, of course, can do a lot to help the US and NATO in such a scenario by training the militia operating under the “warlords” and also providing them with weapons. In sum, without military deployment in Afghanistan, Delhi has the capacity to play a decisive role in crushing the Taliban insurgency, which is what makes the Pakistani military establishment extremely anxious in the developing political scenario on the Afghan chessboard.

No wonder, the Pakistani military is watching with great anxiety any signs of new thinking in Washington in the direction of co-opting the Northern Alliance “warlords” in the fight against the Taliban. It is a close call. Opinion is divided in Washington. The general perception of Afghan realities through Western eyes makes the “warlords” appear a highly disagreeable constituency to serve even as collaborators in the current desperate situation. There is a serious mental block that needs to be overcome in the West in comprehending the Afghan realities. Pakistan counts on that.

Secondly, Pakistan expects the Obama administration to be sensitive to its concerns vis-a-vis an Indian presence in Afghanistan. Indeed, Washington needs to walk a fine line by not annoying the Pakistani military even while tapping into any help India can render. NATO has just urged Moscow to be a partner in the “Afghanization” of the war despite the backlog of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. India, on the contrary, would be regarded as a benign friendly power in Afghanistan. Yet, Washington has to make a choice in favor of optimally getting the Pakistani military’s help, which is crucial, rather than co-opting an Indian sideshow.

All in all, taking into account the distinct possibility that a friendly Karzai-led government will be in power in Kabul for the next five years, the mood in Delhi is increasingly that India should adopt a “forward policy” toward terrorism in the region rather than allow itself to be bled periodically by Pakistan-based terrorists.

Influential sections of Indian opinion are stridently calling for an outright Indian intervention in Afghanistan without awaiting the niceties of an American invitation letter. The fact of the matter is that there is tremendous frustration that Pakistan has neither moved against the perpetrators of the terrorist strikes on Mumbai last November nor folded up the terrorist infrastructure on Pakistani soil. Islamabad’s alibi that “non-state actors” are responsible does not convince Delhi, either.

Interestingly, even as these maneuverings are edging their way to a climax in the coming weeks, Delhi just hosted an international conference titled “Peace and Stability in Afghanistan”, which was attended by among others Lieutenant General David W Barno, who heads the National Defense University in Washington.

Barno, an expert consultant on counter-insurgency, had a 19-month tour of Afghanistan from October 2003 commanding the US and Coalition Forces. It so happens Barno’s tenure in Afghanistan was also the period the Northern Alliance “warlords” look back with nostalgia as their halcyon days in the power structure in Kabul.

I have my issues with Bhadrakumar, who is an anti-American Third Worldist of the old school. But one has to read him.

The two-day conference in Delhi, which was addressed by top officials of the Indian foreign ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office, ended on Wednesday. The Taliban struck at the Indian embassy in Kabul on Thursday. Maybe it is mere coincidence, maybe it is not. In the world of John le Carre’s spymaster George Smiley, you can never tell.



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