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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 11, March 6, 2010

Afghanistan: Terror Blast in Kabul, SCO’s Moves and Russian Offers

Saturday 6 March 2010, by Bashir Mohammad

The recent terrorist attack in Kabul killing several Indians once again bears testimony to the desperation of the anti-Indian terrorist outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is learnt to have been instrumental in carrying out the latest Kabul terror strike, to target Indian nationals in Afghanistan. Of course, they are operating under the directive and with the full assistance of the Pakistani intelligence working overtime in its bid to diminish Indian influence in that South West Asian state, albeit unsuccessfully. (In this connection one should not needlessly get perturbed over whatever nonsense Washington’s AfPak envoy, Richard Holbrooke, may have circulated contrary to the foolproof evidence gathered by the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security.)

What has incensed these anti-Indian forces is that whereas the terror offensive across the border in Kashmir is not yielding the expected outcome of effectively isolating and cornering New Delhi and the latter’s silent diplomatic efforts towards bringing about an internal settlement with the separatist elements in the Valley are making appreciable headway, the Indian endeavours at helping Afghanistan’s reconstruction (New Delhi has the largest civilian assistance programme in that country) have generated phenomenal goodwill for this neighbouring state among all sections of the Afghan public. That is precisely why Indians are being targeted by the Pakistan-backed LeT in the capital as also elsewhere in Afghanistan. While such terror acts have caused legitimate concern in both the South Block and Kabul’s Presidential Palace with President Hamid Karzai reportedly feeling highly embarrassed, close observers of the Afghan scene are fully conscious of the origin of such acts: deep depression in the ranks of the Pak intelligene as well as its Afghan cohorts in the Taliban and Al-Qaeda stemming from their inability to place India on the defensive. So the imperative need for beefing up security for Indians in Afghanistan notwith-standing, there is no reason for New Delhi to feel dejected or dispirited because the goodwill that Indians have earned in Afghanistan is there to stay and will be a major asset for it in future. And therefore there is no question of India quitting Afghanistan because that will further embolden Islamabad to reinforce its anti-India crusade through terror outfits like the LeT with renewed vigour.

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Meanwhile with the US leadership determined to pull out of Afghanistan after “consolidating” the Kabul Government by its surge against the Taliban (that, it hopes, would be successful) on the one hand and negotiations with the “moderate” Taliban on the other, there is a new development on the Afghan chessboard. Just before the London Conference on Afghanistan on January 28, all the six member-states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)—Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrghyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan—met at the level of Deputy Foreign Ministers in Moscow on January 25 to evolve a broad agreement on the peace settlement in Afghanistan. The three observer states of the SCO—India, Iran and Pakistan—also participated in the Moscow deliberations along with Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Mohammad Kabir Farahi. The SCO members agreed that the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) should remain in Afghanistan until it was able to accomplish its principal task—building an Afghan Army capable of taking charge for ensuring peace and security in the country. However, foreign military presence, they felt, should be phased under the UN Security Council mandate and Afghanistan should finally revert to the neutral status that characterised it before the Soviet military intervention in 1979. They also opined that reconciliation (with the Taliban in general) and reintegration (of the “moderate” Taliban with the Afghan polity) should proceed in tune with the principles the Afghan Government had spelt out at a meeting in Abu Dhabi earlier in January itself: laying down arms, acceptance of the Afghan Constitution and snapping ties with the Al-Qaeda. The SCO members further demanded that the NATO-led security forces finally address the problem of growing narcotics emanating from Afghanistan and threatening the whole region.

What is more relevant is that these states agreed to enhance economic and security assistance to Afghanistan. It is in this context that one needs to realise the importance of a recent Russian offer: to rebuild dozens of industrial projects set up by the USSR in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Russia also proposes to train and equip more Afghan anti-narcotics officers. The significance these offers cannot be overemphasised. For that reason it is all the more necessary that India and Russia step up consultations on how to jointly help the Afghan people through constructive cooperation aimed at nation-building. Hopefully these would take place during Russian PM Vladimir Putin’s forthcoming visit to New Delhi later this month.

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