Saturday, May 14, 2011

US cannot leave Afghanistan in a hurry

Osama's death will prolong Kabul's security, political crisis

New Delhi: Prime minister Manmohan Singh visited Kabul earlier in the week and assured that India would continue to help Afghanistan. There is however concern that with the killing of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, the reason for the United States' war in Afghanistan is over, and that this may hasten the exit of American and other NATO forces from Afghanistan. It was the presence of Bin Laden in Afghanistan that served as causus belli for the US-led NATO invasion in 2001.

A very senior former diplomat who has been dealing with the post-2001 developments in Afghanistan speaking on condition of anonymity said that the US would remain there for a longer time. “It is true that the last week has been a tarumatic one for the Americans, and they would want to reduce the troop presence. But they will not turn their back on the country in the immediate future.”

He agreed that the return of Taliban into the political mainstream there, which is quite likely, would be pose a problem for India. He emphasised the point that next to the US, India has been the largest donor for Afghan reconstruction with a US$1.3 billion aid in the last 10 years.

Lt. Gen. (Retd.) A.S.Kalkat, who oversaw the withdrawal of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) from Sri Lanka in the early 1990s, said, “India has security stakes and economic interests in Afghanistan. Some of the people operating in Kashmir are doing so from Afghanistan.”

Kalkat too agrees that India will have to accept the 'good Taliban' being integrated in Afghan politics. “Taliban in a power-sharing system will mean that Pakistan will retain partial influence and control in Afghanistan.”

Former diplomat Lalit Man Singh, who served as Indian ambassador to Afghanistan in the 1970s, has a different taked based on exhcange of views with Pakistan's representatives, especially with regard to the Taliban. “Pakistanis have been telling us that the Taliban who are not engaged in talks are different from the Taliban regime that held power between 1996 and 2001. These Taliban are want to fight elections, say that they will not impose the shariah law and they are willing to talk to India.” Singh feels that India needs to take into account the changed stance of the Taliban.

He says that India did not have a clear strategic policy in Afghanistan in the last decade, and that India has been kept on the margins at the Bonn conference in 2002, and recently at the conferences on Afghanistan in Istanbul and in London. He agrees that US president Barack Obama has been involving India in the talks over Afghanistan but India is still not in the inner circle.

The ambassador however feels that this summer will be a fierce one in Afghanistan with the Taliban and Al Qaeda elements in the country launching retaliatory attacks against the Americans to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden. He says, 'Also the Taliban would not be like to be seen with American in the immediate aftermath of the killing of Osama. The Quetta shura led by Mullah Omar and the Haqqani group, which is engineering the attacks in Afghanistan from the Pakistan side will be unleashing a series of attacks this summer. It will be a drawn-out crisis.”

He says that the Americans will not be able to leave Afghanistan in a hurry. “Even in the long run, the Americans are seeking permanent military bases in Afghanistan, especially in places in the north of the country like Bagram, Mazar-e-Sharif for strategic reasons,” Singh observed.

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