BEFORE the entry of the Soviet forces into Afghanistan on the Christmas Day in 1979, I used to visit Kabul regularly. I found President Mohammed Daud in the sixties, a fatherly figure who had no idea of what was happening in his country. Even otherwise, he was dependent on provincial war lords, a pattern which has not changed since. But he was not aware of the strong base that the communists, particularly the Khalaq, had developed in the country. This was the period of innocence. That Daud was pro-India was significant because New Delhi wanted to keep out Islamabad which insisted thatAfghanistan its “strategic depth.” For that reason, Pakistan denied India the use of road to transit goods to Kabul.
President Hafizulla Amin, a communist, was at the helm of affairs in the second half of the seventies, ousting Daud in a coup. But Amin did not want Afghanistan to be a Soviet satellite. He was anti-Pakistan and did not allow even Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s plane to land at Kabul. Atal Behari Vajpayee, then foreign minister, told me that when he met President Amin, the latter suggested to him that the Indian forces should march intoPakistan from the East and the Afghanistan forces from the West.
Babrak Karmal came to Afghanistan riding the Soviet tank. Moscow looked like an unwilling supporter of the coup. But it had committed itself so much to him in the name of communist ideology that it had to go along and see the execution of another communist, President Amin. New Delhi should have condemned the aggression, but stayed neutral because of its close relations with the then Soviet Union. It was the biggest disgrace to India’s foreign policy.
Moscow’s fears that it would be sucked into a war defending Babrak Karmal’s government came true. Little did it realize that America was looking for an opportunity to bleed the Soviet Union to death. In fact, the happenings in Afghanistan at that time gave a fatal blow to Moscow and gave victory to America in the cold war.
Washington constituted a force of fundamentalists—the Taliban—with Pakistanin the front who liked Kalashnikovs and unlimited dollars to fight against the khafirs(infidels) from the Soviet Union. This was the opportunity which the then Martial Law Administrator General Zia-ul Haq exploited not only to get the maximum money and weapon for Pakistan but also spread fundamentalism in his own country. He was the person who set up Shariat courts in Pakistan which still come into conflict with regular law courts.
The US-Taliban inflicted so many casualties on the Soviet Union that public opinion in Russia was infuriated receiving dead bodies from the Afghanistan front.Moscow had no option except to pull out. But, after defeating the Soviet Union, the worst that Washington did was to quit immediately and drop everything, leaving behind weapons and the Taliban it had trained. The world is today paying for the sins thatAmerica committed at that time. It is committing a similar blunder of projecting its withdrawal—reminiscent of what it did in 1982 without bothering about what would happen to Afghanistan and the region. The Taliban became a menace and went on to occupy Afghanistan. They had all the weapons that America left behind.
When America found Afghanistan as an epicenter of terrorism after the 9/11 attack on New York and went after the Taliban, it looked like rectifying the mistake it did earlier. Pakistan was a reluctant partner of the US in 1979 as it is today. But after having suffered the Taliban’s terrorism inside it own territory, for example the Swat, Islamabad has come on board to a large extent. But it still has contacts with “good Taliban.”
Terrorism today has spilled over the Pakistan borders. Lashkar-e-Toiba, arm of the Taliban, has carried out attacks even on the Indian soil. The attack on Mumbai on 26/11 was Lashkar’s doing. Today the Lashkar does not need the help of even the ISI. Al-Qaida has taken the control over all the terrorist organizations, including the Lashkar and renders all assistances.
For obvious reasons, America has become crucial to the area, not only because of the troops it has deployed but also because of the coalition of resistance, including the UK and the European Union, has put together. Washington’s focus is on the region itself. When President Barrack Obama dismisses General Stanley McChrystal, who was the key of new operation, he gives a message of his determination to fight the war wholeheartedly.
Yet President Obama’s declaration that the US forces would begin withdrawing from the next summer tantamount to weakening “the wholehearted fight” against the Taliban. How can one fight without reservation when you declare beforehand your decision to quit? The last time when America did so, it gave birth to the Taliban government, a flagship of fundamentalism. This time the scenario could be worse because then the Taliban had not tasted power which they did after America’s withdrawal. At present, they are lying low and awaiting the departure of the American forces. The Afghanistan government is not viable. Nor has its military developed enough teeth to thwart the Taliban. What was needed was not the change in command, but a change in American policy to withdraw its forces.
True, Islamabad has been able to keep New Delhi out. The latter has not taken up any new economic project. Pakistan has been able to convince America which needs Islamabad’s support the most that Pakistan cannot fight with all its troops because it has to keep a large number of them on the western border with India. Indeed, America has changed the scenario in favour of Pakistan. President Hamid Karzai who was literally abusing Pakistan till a few months ago met Chief of Army Staff General Parvez Kayani to show intimacy between Islamabad and Kabul.
The basic question remains unanswered: How to eliminate the Taliban who have made Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan as their playground. They have killed hundreds of Pakistanis. There is no alternative to the Taliban’s elimination. And hereIndia can be of great help. Both countries have to evolve a joint strategy to fight the Taliban who are threatening the entire South Asia. It may sound wishful thinking. When the intelligence chiefs of India and Pakistan meet to discuss how the agencies can fight against terrorism effectively, some type of joint mechanism against the Taliban becomes feasible. If nothing else, the two countries have to think of ways to fill the vacuum which the withdrawal of the American troops would create. If Taliban are allowed to step in, it would affect the peace and stability of the entire South Asia.