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The easy way out

February 17, 2010

There is a lot of controversy about the arrest of the Taliban leader Mullah Baradar. Mullah Baradar is said to be the second in command in the Taliban hierarchy, next only to Mullah Omar, the one-eyed chief. The Pakistan Foreign Minister, Mr. Shah Mehmud Qureshi claimed the capture of Mullah Baradar as a coordinated operation between the ISI and the CIA and called this as a ‘strategic’ maneuver between the two ‘allies’. The Taliban is rejecting all claims that Mullah Baradar was captured from a madarasa near Karachi. They claim that he is still in Afghanistan and that he is actively planning and coordinating the Taliban offensive against the NATO forces.

There is another school of thought that Mullah Baradar has been detained by the ISI and they have been initiating a dialogue between the Taliban and the Americans. The truth may come out in due course, but one thing is for sure, Operation Moshtarak (together, in Dari) is not going as per the plans. The Taliban have withdrawn and there is hardly any resistance. The only resistance that the coalition forces and their Afghan recruits are facing is in the form of IED’s that have been strewn all along the path of the coalition forces. The Taliban have all but disappeared and the forces are left to talk to the villagers that have little to offer to the forces. The rugged terrain and the porous border make it very easy for the Taliban to move around.

The one thing that the coalition forces have resorted to is to continue the drone strikes well inside the Pakistan territory. That is the only threat to the Taliban, if there was one. If Mullah Baradar has indeed been captured, it is for strategic reasons and not as a prisoner. It is being reported that the Pakistan government has all but refused to carry out any further military offensive against the Taliban. What they are offering instead is to facilitate the dialogue between the Americans and the various factions of the Taliban. The $500 million set aside by the American government is precisely for such initiatives. They are not only trying to buy out the Taliban but also trying to make sure that they do not disturb the regional ambitions of the Americans. The west is going ahead with the Daulatabad – Heart gas pipeline and they believe that since the Pakistanis are so reluctant to fight the Taliban, they have no choice but to make a deal with them, make peace with them. It is also reported that the Haqqani faction is also in direct talks with the Americans.

Remarkably, President Hamid Karzai is also keen on striking a deal with the Taliban. It appears that Karzai also realizes that it will be almost impossible to defeat the Taliban. He therefore advocates a dialogue with the Taliban. He knows that if at all there is a strategic investment by the west in Afghanistan, then the west will have no option but to take an active interest in Afghanistan. He wants the gas pipeline to come about and then hope that the stakes will be so high that the west will think twice before they abandon Afghanistan altogether. He is hedging his bet on the successful operation of the pipeline and then hope that the west realizes that it will be impossible for the Afghans to ensure the safety of the pipeline on their own and therefore commit enough troops to help him rule on this rugged land.

The Taliban are playing along as they want the easy money. They also have been assured that they will not be targeted. But it must be understood that the Taliban are biding their time. They will take the money that the west has to offer and then keep doing as they wish. It will be very difficult to ensure the safety of the pipeline and there will be sporadic attacks, enough to derail the whole project. They will then demand more money and this will go on. The Taliban are never going to forgive Karzai for having sided with the infidel west. He and his government will be targeted. This whole peace initiative is therefore an exercise in futility. The Taliban are going to have their cake and eat it too. The Taliban are actively being supported by their masters in Islamabad. Pakistan and the Taliban are waiting for the time when the western forces start withdrawing before moving in and trying to capture Kabul.

In the meantime Pakistan is trying to broker a ‘deal’ between the west and the Taliban. It is incredible as to how gullible the west is. Pakistan is also trying to make sure they do not have to fight the Taliban, as they know that any such civil war will be hugely unpopular. Their operations in Swat and Waziristan were not too popular with the awam in Pakistan, mostly those who are outside of Swat and South Waziristan. Religion is still a delicate issue and people in Pakistan do not want orthodox Islamic outfits like the Taliban targeted by the army the way they were in western Pakistan.

The west must look at a more permanent solution to the vexed problem of the Taliban. Making peace with them is surely not the right way to go about the job. Pakistan must be made to understand that this ultra-orthodox outfit needs to be marginalized in a manner that they do not make a comeback. Orthodoxy within the Pakistan society must be reign in. Outfits like the Taliban do more harm than good. This is true not only for Afghanistan but also for Pakistan and the whole of South Asia. Pakistan would do well to take a strong military action against the Taliban. Defeating such a rag-tag outfit should not be too tough for a trained army such as that of Pakistan, then and only then will Operation Moshtarak have some meaning. India is doing its bit despite massive opposition from the public by engaging a recalcitrant Pakistan in dialogue. India is a bogey that Pakistan keeps throwing at the west to avoid having to take on the Taliban.  The elimination of the Taliban is critical for peace in the region. Karzai will do well to understand that he can never really buy peace with the rogue outfit that is the Taliban. He should also understand that once the west is gone, Pakistan will throw all its weight behind the Taliban to get to Kabul. There is no way he can avoid that. The only way is to fight it out now when the western forces are still in Afghanistan. India can help but the geographical situation is such that we can do only so much, Afghanistan being a landlocked country. It is true that the Taliban may never be able to take over the whole of Afghanistan but it is also true that Kabul can fall to the Taliban once the west is gone. A tough stand against the Taliban now is the only long term solution. The west must do all it can to get Pakistan to come around and weed out this monster that is threatening the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan all the time. This is a common enemy for both the nations and any ‘deal’ with them will only make them strong. A permanent solution in the elimination of the Taliban will see peace in the region. Pakistan will prosper then as will the region. Till such time that Islamabad understands this basic truth, there is no future either for Afghanistan or Pakistan or for the strategic objectives of the coalition forces that are stationed there – a drain on critical resources of a recession hit economy of the west.

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