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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 31, July 26, 2014

Defeat Talibanisation

Saturday 26 July 2014, by Kuldip Nayar

I find it strange that New Delhi is not seriously considering the pros and cons of what happens once the American and NATO forces reduce their presence in Afghanistan only in the shape of a few thousand troops. US Secretary of State Kerry has visited Kabul to devise the policy after the withdrawal. But New Delhi is not in the picture.

No doubt, the Afghans have the best goodwill towards India because it has helped them to set up hospitals, schools and build roads. Yet Islamabad, which considers Afghanistan its “strategic depth”, wants the country to be its satellite. New Delhi has tried to persuade Islamabad to let Kabul be independent and sovereign, but Pakistan has not bitten the bullet.

It all started when the Soviet Union sent its forces to Afghanistan to impose their ideology on a state which was saturated with Islamic ideas. America used the opportunity to bleed the Soviet Union by training the fundamentalists in Pakistan to make inroads into Afghanistan without considering the long-term reperc-ussions. And once the Soviet Union started retreating from Afghanistan, Washington lost all interests in the territory leaving behind arms and other equipment in the field itself. The fundamentalists used those weapons to propagate their strict and disciplinarian interpretation of Islam.

Islamabad had in its mind the armed and trained Taliban against India and there are numerous examples to testify that insurgency in Kashmir was nothing but a byproduct of a bigoted stance to shut out the participation of non-Muslims in governance, however unwitt-ingly demanded. I recall when I met in Kabul a leader from the Masud group, anti-Taliban in ideology and pro-India in its approach, he told me that the road to Kabul goes through Islamabad and if New Delhi was really interested in stopping the tide of fundamenta-lists, it should have a serious dialogue with Pakistan.

It is a pity that India refused to have any truck with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who was Pakistan’s confidante. No doubt, he is a nasty person to deal with, but if we had fixed our eyes on the situation a decade later, we should have swallowed some of his anti-India rhetoric. But all this is now history. The two countries, particularly India, should formulate some strategy to thwart the Taliban onslaught, which is bound to take place once they are sure that the Western forces are not in a position to match their weapons.

The most disconcerting aspect is the birth of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an indigenous growth which is in a position to strike wherever it wants and whenever it wants. It has proved this repeatedly. The recent attack on Karachi airport is an example. However, the Karachi happening is only the symptom, not the disease. The disease is fundamentalism which, to the horror of even middle-of-the-road Pakistanis, is spreading rapidly.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has opted for an easy path. He has been negotiating with the Taliban to accommodate their aspirations. The reason why the talks have not gone very far is that the Taliban’s insistence on Pakistan giving proof of their sincerity of taking measures like closing institutions for female literacy and making hijab (veil) a compulsory outfit for women in Pakistan. No doubt the next step they will demand is a ban on women car drivers, just like in Saudi Arabia. Music has already been sacrificed at the altar of extremism. The old-time singers or instrument players have no market in Pakistan. How ironic that they come to India to earn a livelihood!

Otherwise liberal Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the person who began placating the fanatics. He was the one who started a government stipend for the head maulvis in mosques and declared Ahmediyas non-Muslims. Today the graves of Ahmediyas are being dug and the remains of whatever is left is thrown out. The Pakistani establishment did not think even for a minute in humiliating Sir Zafrullah Khan, a prominent Ahmediya who turned the tables against India at the UN on Kashmir. In fact, the complaint which Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made in the UN about “Pakistan’s aggression” in Kashmir went against New Delhi largely because of his efforts, blessed by Britain.

The past, however bitter, should not now be recalled at a time when both India and Pakistan have few options except to organise a joint front to defeat the Taliban. New Delhi should not forget that the Taliban would be at the Attari (Amritsar) border if they are not defeated in Afghanistan itself. If it is embarrassing for the two countries to talk about their strategy in the open, they can establish a back channel as they have done in the case of Kashmir.

The repercussions of the Taliban gaining an upper hand, first in Afghanistan and then in Pakistan, are so inimical to the defence and development of India that it should go out of the way to befriend Pakistan on a joint approach towards Afghanistan. Since no serious talk takes place between the two because of Kashmir, they should keep this problem aside and allow the two Army Chiefs to sit across the table and devise a long-term strategy which would enable Afghanistan to stay independent.

Of course, this means that Islamabad would have to change its policy and not consider Afghanistan their “strategic depth”. This is in Pakistan’s own interest. The manner in which the Taliban have begun to count in the affairs of Pakistan should be a warning that the Taliban would not allow Pakistan to be a liberal Islamic state.

New Delhi should take the initiative to get America on board regarding the anti-Taliban policy. If and when they are defeated in their designs both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they would cease to be a force which is beginning to loom large in other Islamic countries where Taliban-like thoughts have begun to assert themselves.

It is a pity that India is not seeing the writing on the wall. At least Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said to be a strong ruler, should pick up the threads with Nawaz Sharif on this matter. Both hit it off well when they met in Delhi. Nawaz Sharif has even said so in a letter to Modi. Can things go ahead in the same vein in the interest of the policy to contain the Talibanisation, already quite assertive in Pakistan?

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com