Challenges and opportunities for lasting peace in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan
EXCERPTS FROM THE NINTH PANOS-HIMAL ROUNDTABLE, 2-3 OCTOBER 2010, BELGIUM
Bharat Bhushan, Editor, Mail Today
Anant Nath, Editor, Caravan magazine
Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor, Strategic Affairs, The Hindu
Surya Gangadharan, Diplomatic Editor, CNN-IBN
Om Thanvi, Editor, Jansatta
Shahir Zahine, CEO, Killid Group
Hussain Yasa, Editor, Daily Outlook Afghanistan
Danish Karokhel, Editor, Pajhwok Afghan News
Azhar Abbas, Executive Director, Geo News
Zahid Hussain, Columnist, Newsline and Wall Street Journal
Khalid Hameed Farooqi, International Correspondent,Geo News
Kanak Mani Dixit, Editor, Himal Southasian
A S Panneerselvan, Executive Director, Panos South Asia
Sahar Ali, Country Representative, Panos Pakistan
Panos South Asia and Himal Southasian have been bringing together top media editors from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan for an open, informal and informed sharing of experience and information. The Belgium meet, held 2-3 October 2010, was to be a site for mutual learning of new realities and unwinding of past prejudices, a wellspring to cleanse the scourge of stereotyping the other.
Since 2007, there has been no progress in the crucial Indo-Pak dialogues relating to Kashmir. The Manmohan-Musharraf formula, seen as a major breakthrough and going beyond the 1975 agreement between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah, is lost. The theatre for attrition between the two countries now seems to have moved to Kabul.
The July conference in Kabul was unprecedented in the sense that high-ranking representatives of some 80-odd countries and organisations tried to hammer out a solution to an insurgency that, it now appears, has become unmanageable. But what was really achieved? There were suggestions that the Afghan security apparatus could assume full control by 2014, paving the way for the withdrawal of foreign forces. Few in the region would argue that foreign troops should remain in Afghanistan indefinitely. It is perhaps also inevitable that Kabul will, as it has been suggesting of late, enter into negotiations with Taliban leaders who are willing to embrace a democratic set-up.
The failure of the India-Pakistan peace talks in the run-up to the Kabul meet also emphasises the impact of Afghanistan in determining regional peace. If diplomats on both sides are to be believed, the talks took off well but fell, like other earlier efforts, into the realm of squandered drafts. We have heard of such draft agreements abandoned at the last moment many times before – in 1948, 1963, 1989 and 2003, the latest being the 2007 Manmohan-Musharraf understanding.
The interest of both countries will be served better if neither side vents its bitterness in words that cannot be taken back, which will only complicate matters. Many people are satisfied that India and Pakistan are at least still on speaking terms. But the people all over are getting weary of repeated rounds of talks without sign of relief from their tribulations.
Islamabad should address New Delhi’s concerns over the proliferation of militant groups within its territory, and India needs to realise that these groups pose a greater threat to Pakistan than to any other country or peoples. One of the saner counsels being voiced is that India and Pakistan should cooperate in fighting terror as their common enemy. It is time such sentiments were translated into action. Anything that helps movement in this direction – from intelligence sharing to joint operations to common strategies at world forums – should be earnestly implemented.
India will wrong itself if it denied Pakistan the latter’s requirement of a friendly Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Islamabad has no justification for seeking a veto over New Delhi’s relations with Kabul. The fact remains that the conflict in Afghanistan has put a strain on Pakistan, especially with regard to its expectation from India that the latter keeps their common interest in mind.
It was in this broad context that the ninth Panos-Himal editors’ summit explored the space for mutual cooperation.
Afghanistan’s parliamentary election
Shahir Zahine: It is very difficult to do an evaluation of the election [held in September 2010] when the results are not still definite. In Afghanistan, election results take a month, going up and down during discussions between powerbrokers. If you put it in the context of the war, the fact that the election took place was a big achievement. For months, the Taliban claimed that anyone who participated would have their noses and fingers cut off. Yet almost 40 percent of those Afghans of voting age who registered ended up participating. Compared to 2005, this was low participation; but in the context of the war, it was an achievement.
Further, for the first time in our young democracy, we had a process completely led by Afghans. The Independent Election Commission was an Afghan body. The security apparatus was completely Afghan. Despite all the rocket attacks that took place during the voting, the process did not stop. The fact that the military apparatus did not allow the Taliban to take over any polling station means that the Afghan security forces are in good standing to take over power, as per the roadmap. A third achievement was the participation of women, as women even from areas experiencing insurgency participated in the voting.
Overall, the challenge is that the election has been hijacked by powerful people. Of the candidates who won, we see a number of people that were directly involved in the ethnic cleansing during the civil-war years. We had far fewer such people in the previous Parliament. Nonetheless, the election proved that Afghanistan is not abandoning the democratic process, which has been more or less imposed on the people of the country.
Zahid Hussain: There were four million votes cast in this election, while four-and-a-half million votes were cast during the presidential election. Why were at least a half-million more votes cast in the presidential election? Is it that the presidential election drew much more response from the people, or was it because there was mass rigging?
Shahir Zahine: There was a one-year gap between these elections, during which the security situation worsened. Also, we must understand that a lot of parliamentary candidates have never actually been to their provinces – they have never really connected with their constituents.
New power structure in Afghanistan
Hussain Yasa: What we need is a complete revamp of the ruling system in Afghanistan – the administrative system, the political system – which is a breeding ground for instability. The whole process should have started ten years back. At that time, when there were talks about reviewing the political and administrative systems, the international community was in a completely different mood. They just found a leader for Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, and they wanted to control the country through one man. They didn’t care that these roots of chaos were lying around in the streets – if you’re not going to fix that, one day it will resurface eventually.
Now, the most important question is whether the international community, or the region, can achieve anything through the current government. And the answer is no. At this stage, everybody is feeling that security has almost collapsed, and Afghans feel that they are losing despite all of the new institutions of the last nine years. There are a few root causes: Afghanistan is home to more than 35 ethnic and linguistic groups, and the main issue is that our political and administrative system cannot address this diversity. The approach of this strong centralised government is creating a sense of alienation among the various communities. Another important issue is the de-politicisation of the political institutions, which was deliberately done through a very rough type of electoral system that has already been abandoned throughout the world – the ‘single transferable vote’ system.
What we need is a system that would change the status of an Afghan from a subject to a citizen. Currently, none of the ethnic groups are happy with the country’s administrative set up. That is why NATO now has five security zones in Afghanistan, with the UN and even our Independent Election Commission and security forces working with a zonal system. But as far as administration is concerned, nobody is ready to abandon the unitary system, nobody is ready to decentralise power. Some of these zones could be ethnic, but most of them would be multiethnic areas.
Danish Karokhel: An important issue here is that our presidential system is confirmed by our Constitution, and it is impossible for us to change the Constitution right now, as that requires a Loya Jirga. I don’t think in the next five or ten years that will be possible. The second issue is that the Taliban and other insurgent groups didn’t like federalism or the presidential system. It is better we focus on how we can solve our problems with the Taliban – if we change the system, where is the guarantee that the Taliban will agree with us?
Shahir Zahine: The problem is that in order to change this, who will do it? Shall we ask the international community to supervise such a change? I don’t think they have any willpower or desire to do so. If we were to have another Loya Jirga to change the Constitution, the first change will be that Karzai will be president for life. Unless we Afghans grow as citizens and democrats, it’s going to be very difficult to bring a Loya Jirga. On the other hand, we could have a coup and then we have a Loya Jirga, but that’s certainly not democratic.
Zahid Hussain: There seems to be a contradiction. On the one side you are saying there is demand for more provinces on ethnic lines, and on the other hand you want fewer provinces. How would the various ethnic groups respond to this proposal of reducing the provinces and bringing in the five major zones?
Hussain Yasa: Afghanistan’s administrative system is a unitary one, with a few small provinces, and various ethnic groups are asking for their own provinces. If we were to do so, one day we would have a hundred provinces. Instead of increasing the number of provinces, we should go for bigger administrative units.
India-Pakistan proxy war in Afghanistan
Shahir Zahine: For the first years of his presidency, Karzai was very close to the Indian administration, and the Indian presence was perceived by Pakistan as a threat. But for the last year Karzai has very calmly said, ‘My very close relation with India didn’t take me anywhere. I have to manage my relations with Pakistan.’ In Kabul city, security has improved significantly since relations between Karzai and Pakistan improved.
Hussain Yasa: After Partition, Afghanistan was the only country that refused to recognise Pakistan. At that time, when people could choose whether to go to India or Pakistan, the Afghans felt there should be a third option: to Afghanistan. That struggle was to reclaim the portion of Afghanistan that was lost in 1893. But when Afghan presidents or kings had good relations with Pakistan, they never broached the issue. When relations aren’t so good, on the other hand, the issue of the Durand Line is always raised.
Bharat Bhushan: The Durand Line was meant to be in place only for a hundred years. So from 1883, it should have expired in 1993. Further, this is only a rough line on the map – it’s not based on geographical features. So what we’re talking about isn’t recognition of the Durand Line but rather delineation of the border. Isn’t there a move in Pakistan to get the country’s western border demarcated? How can we have a country that doesn’t have a western border? Maybe it’s a very good way of living, ultimately – a world without borders. But does it bother Pakistanis?
Siddharth Varadarajan: If you were to draw up a list of Indian strategic objectives in Afghanistan today, and even historically, nowhere on that list will be the idea that India would like to use Afghanistan in order militarily or otherwise subvert Pakistani territory. Rather, the focus has been more in terms of trying to do what you can to ensure that Afghan territory is not used to subvert India. Pursuant to that goal is the Indian commitment to ensuring that you have a stable, peaceful government in Afghanistan that can be in control of its territory. That’s why a lot of the Indian involvement in Afghanistan today is in the nature of capacity-building, providing aid, building roads, etc.
I don’t mean to deny or question that India does not have a vested interest in ensuring that there is some level of unrest in Balochistan. No doubt, in state politics, this is a factor. And if Pakistan has tried to use instability in Kashmir to India’s disadvantage, there would be Indian agencies trying to do similar operations. But the Indian state doesn’t have the capacity to use Afghan territory to subvert Pakistan in Balochistan.
Azhar Abbas: I think it’s pretty clear that India has no desire to destabilise Pakistan. In terms of tactics, yes: if something is happening in Kashmir, then raise the temperature in Balochistan. Strategically, though, there’s been a huge change in thinking in Pakistan in term of the old ‘strategic depth’ thing. On a strategic level, Pakistan is less interventionist in Afghanistan. Tactically, they don’t have the capacity right now even to do an operation in North Waziristan – the army is so stretched. But Pakistan doesn’t need Afghan territory to do any operation.
Zahid Hussain: When George W Bush and Pervez Musharraf met for the first time after the attacks of 11 September 2001, Musharraf kept telling Bush not to allow the Northern Alliance to come to Kabul. That was actually the major point of conflict, because the Northern Alliance was historically seen as anti-Pakistan. I think Pakistan probably still fears the former Northern Alliance – certainly they would not like a government to be controlled by those people. If this situation could be settled, Pakistan would probably be happy to pull out whatever support it gives to some sections of the Taliban.
Siddharth Varadarajan: There is no reason why India and Pakistan ought to compete in Afghanistan. As noted, one of the main objectives of India is that Afghanistan territory should never be used by elements hostile to India. Others are to develop Afghanistan as a transit point between Southasia and Central Asia; to develop it as an energy corridor between Iran, Turkmenistan and Southasia; and to hasten the integration of Afghanistan into the Southasian economic region. None of these objectives ought to discomfort Pakistan.
Bharat Bhushan: For Pakistan, the pullout will mean that it is left to fight America’s ‘war on terror’. But the Pakistani establishment is likely to say that it’s not their problem. There will also be very little domestic support for Pakistan unilaterally acting against al-Qaeda or the Taliban, even if the establishment were willing to do so on its own. For India, the withdrawal would be detrimental, because Pakistan would have a strategic hold over Afghanistan, which would invariably be perceived as directed against India. The Indian sense of Pakistan’s ambition in Afghanistan is that it is anti-India and that the tool for realising that ambition would be the Taliban. If the Taliban ideology gains ground in Afghanistan, it will certainly impact secular India and compound its problems in Kashmir. With a Taliban takeover, what would also fade away is the community of interest that India had with the US on the global ‘war on terror’.
As US troop withdrawal begins, Pakistan is likely to become more intransigent, this will pose a greater security challenge for India. Under these circumstances, can we talk about a trilateral framework of cooperation between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India? Pakistan would have to assure India of no interference in Afghanistan, and India would have to keep out of the Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, not exploit the controversy over the Durand Line. Pakistan could give transit rights to India for trade with Afghanistan, which it currently does not. The two countries could agree to joint development of infrastructure in Afghanistan, but with the guarantee that such efforts would have no strategic force behind them. They could also jointly work to open up Central Asia to Southasia, by exploiting its rich energy resources. Then there is China, which would use Pakistan, its trusted ally, to continue to limit India, and to keep Indian influence out of Afghanistan and Central Asia. So, for any cooperation with India in Afghanistan, Pakistan essentially has to change its approach to India and vice-versa. Only then is such trilateral cooperation possible.
Hussain Yasa: If we go a little deeper, we can predict that the Pakistanis will mix the Afghanistan issue with other regional issues such as Kashmir.
A splintering of militant groups in Pakistan
Zahid Hussain: A united Pakistan is in the greatest interest of the Pashtun. The ‘Pashtunistan’ mentality of the 1950s and 1960s has completely changed, and the Taliban has taken a new shape that is more Islamic nationalism than Pashtun nationalism. We are also looking at both sides of the border. If you look at the Taliban, they refuse to recognise the Durand Line. But obviously they pose it under the cover of Islamic Pashtun nationalism, so they do not recognise any border. It is often said that Pakistan will try to impose a Taliban government in Afghanistan, but I think this is wrong, because it is going to undermine Pakistan’s own integrity. And the Pakistani establishment’s new position is that the Pashtun of Afghanistan should look towards Kabul, and the Pashtun of Pakistan should look towards Islamabad. Waziristan used to be the main centre of Pashtun nationalism – Pakistan’s greatest worry was that the tribal areas had become one of the bases for the Pashtun nationalists. But the situation has now reversed, with these areas having become the main base for Taliban nationalism, on both sides of the border. So, the distinction has gone completely.
Azhar Abbas: It is important to note that the entire Taliban movement, both Pakistani and Afghan, is quickly becoming a Pashtun-nationalist movement. And that is probably the most dangerous thing. Their religious extremist views notwithstanding, they are gaining sympathy within the Pashtun belt not for religious reasons, but because they are the Pashtun and they are fighting for their rights.
Zahid Hussain: I think 2007 was the turning point for Pakistan, particularly the raid on the Red Mosque. After that, all the militant groups that were once patronised by the Pakistani state turned their guns against the state and declared jihad. After the Red Mosque incident we also saw the rise of distinctive Pakistani Taliban movements, which did not exist before. This happened in December 2007, when almost a dozen militant leaders got together and formed the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), with Baitullah Mehsud as their leader. This group had a distinctive agenda of enforcing a so-called Sharia rule in the style of the Afghan Taliban – before that, the focus of the Pakistani militants had largely been on fighting the US coalition forces across the border. Further, TTP has much closer links with al-Qaeda than with the Taliban movement in Afghanistan – in a way, TTP is a front organisation for al-Qaeda. That’s one of the reasons why al-Qaeda, although closely linked with the Afghan Taliban, have different tactics and strategy in Pakistan.
From 2007 onwards, the TTP was not only confined to the tribal areas, but spilled over to other areas – for instance, Swat, which has no border with Afghanistan. Also in 2007, for the first time, we see militant organisations directly targeting Pakistani security forces and installations, which are now seen as an extension of the American forces. Then in 2009, also for the first time, Pakistani security forces began to take very concerted action. Earlier we had vacillated between fighting and making peace deals, but at this time we decided there would be no more peace deals.
That also changed the perception of how the Taliban and the Afghan Taliban are tied together. It is not only the nexus between the TTP and al-Qaeda; there is also a growing nexus between the banned militant groups and the Taliban, and a new form of al-Qaeda that has emerged. US officials have often said that al-Qaeda has weakened, largely because they feel that their drones have killed so many al-Qaeda leaders. That’s a fact, but it’s not correct to say that al-Qaeda is weakened. I think probably al-Qaeda has taken a different form, which the Americans have failed to understand. The new al-Qaeda is largely Pakistani. Further, there is also distinction between al-Qaeda and the Taliban: TTP provides the recruits or suicide bombers, but al-Qaeda largely attracts educated Pakistanis who have not been a part of other militant organisations.
Azhar Abbas: As far as Pakistan is concerned, the war has just started. The next few years are going to be very bad for internal stability. The worst thing is the linkage between al-Qaeda and some of the urban extremist groups, while also dangerous is the fact that they have split into several smaller groups, and also that they have taken on global designs as well. It has thus become more difficult for the security agencies to keep track of them. Unfortunately, I don’t know whether the Pakistani military establishment and others understand the game the Americans are playing. If it’s just a reaction to 9/11 and there’s this anger, that’s fine. But if it’s a long-term strategy, that’s worrisome: as long as the Americans are there, it will give inspiration to the militants.
Zahid Hussain: There is now a very thin line between the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban. Yet if the Taliban rules Afghanistan, it will also control Pakistan’s NWFP.
Siddharth Varadarajan: Where in this cartography of violent organisations – where would you locate Jamaat-ud-Dawa or Lashkar-e-Toiba? One has not seen a situation in which LeT has mounted an operation inside Pakistan. But it’s hard to imagine that opportunistic connections would not get formed. So where do you locate LeT in this? Second, even within other organisations, it seems plausible that the intelligence establishment is trying to firewall different groups and is saying, ‘Al-Qaeda, TTP, these guys we really have to go against. But organisations such as LeT, which don’t pose an immediate threat within Pakistan, we can ignore them for the time being.’ But even when it comes to the anti-Pakistani groups, one has seen a certain lack of conviction on the part of the establishment to really go after these guys.
Azhar Abbas: There’s no conspiracy behind any of this. Most of these people are picked up by ISI or some elite intelligence agency: they interrogate them for 15 days to three months, and thereafter they have found all the connections, or they’ve further arrested people. Then they hand them over to the police saying, ‘This guy was travelling from this road, and we stopped this truck and we arrested him from there.’ They make a fake FIR, and that is what the police actually take to court. But they have no clue what the background actually is, and then these guys go scot free. Right now, in Swat, about 2000 people are being illegally detained by the army. The army doesn’t want to do that, actually: no judge wants to go to a court where such extremists are to be tried. So, there is a huge fight between the army and the Interior Ministry on this issue.
Zahid Hussain: In the long term, LeT is a militant organisation, and doing the same things that other organisations are doing within the Pakistani state. But we have to be clear: LeT has never had links with the Taliban. When the Taliban came to power, there were four organisations that had a close connection with them – Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. LeT was actually part of the Afghan resistance against the Soviets, but after that LeT has never been part of Taliban. Second, their entire focus was on India. Further, LeT has always received support from Saudi Arabia, which is one of the reasons they have never been part of the Taliban.
Siddharth Varadarajan: What is new about the Bombay attacks as far as the modus operandi of Lashkar is concerned it is the targeting of Jews, Americans, Australians, Britishers. Somebody has told them, ‘You do this.’ Even if we accept the Indian theory that ISI is involved, ISI has enough brains to know that targeting a Jew or an American in Bombay is the stupidest thing to do. Clearly, LeT has already made connections with people, is learning things, is perhaps teaching them things.
Zahid Hussain: That’s a problem when a militant organisation disintegrates into smaller cells. For example, the people who carried out this attack in Bombay probably had also developed links with al-Qaeda.
Azhar Abbas: LeT is a huge organisation. But there are also smaller groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Mohammed, and others; it’s a nightmare. Jamaat-e-Islami is much more dangerous for us than the Taliban or LeT, because they have roots in the civilised society. The Taliban operates from the tribal areas, but Jamaat-e-Islami has penetration.
Zahid Hussain: I spoke to some Jamaat people, and they admitted that one of their biggest problems is their younger elements. At one point, Jamaat was part of ‘global jihad’, so their cadres could say, ‘The North Americans are in Afghanistan, we should fight them!’ That is the problem with them – that most of their younger cadre have started going to North and South Waziristan for training, and they are no longer under their control.
Shahir Zahine: To offer a parallel, in Afghanistan the Hizb-e-Islami is more dangerous than the Taliban because they are intellectual, educated Islamists – they could take over a ministry or the governor’s office. The Taliban killed many Hizb-e-Islami people calling them heretical. The Taliban is very traditional, not at all political, but political Islam is very dangerous for the future of everyone.
Zahid Hussain: Political Islam has failed. The rise of political Islam was during the 1950s through the 1970s, and it’s never been able to take over any government. Within that movement we also saw the rise of militant Islam, which did not believe in political struggle – they did not believe in taking over the state through peaceful means. Yet that’s what we witnessed after the 1980s; al-Qaeda is a product of that. And that’s exactly what has happened in Pakistan, when we look at mainstream religious parties that believe they are part of the political process, like Jamaat-e-Islami. But within those groups, there are people who have started leaving to join the more militant ones.
US strategy in Afghanistan
Bharat Bhushan: The 2011 pullout of US troops is a domestic compulsion for President Obama, but there are differences between the White House and the Pentagon on this. The Pentagon does not want to suffer a military defeat, but the president has political compulsions for a token pullout. So the problem is to draft a viable policy that does four things: allows the US to maintain its global role; prevents any future terrorist threat to America, and prevents Afghanistan from becoming a source of such threat; finds a political solution that allows America to cut costs in Afghanistan and withdraw troops; and allows for all this without unacceptable damage to the reputation of the US armed forces.
Obama’s strategy is to send more troops, deploy them in southern Afghanistan, erode the military power of the Taliban, and hope that this will force them to come to the negotiating table. The other US political strategy involves Pakistan. The Americans realise that without Pakistan it will be difficult to reach any political settlement with the Taliban, as their leaders have safe havens across the border. Further, the ISI is said to be in contact with some of these groups, and Pakistan has offered to mediate with the Taliban. At the same time, American public opinion is upset with Pakistan for maintaining contact with the Taliban, especially the Haqqani network.
Zahid Hussain: What they have suggested is that by 2014 the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police will be able to take control of the Afghanistan, and gradually they will shift their responsibility. Can the Afghan forces do so?
Shahir Zahine: I think it is possible. As I noted, one of the hopeful signs of the last election was that the Afghan security forces took care of election security. I don’t think the Americans are ready to leave Afghanistan in terms of bases. Instead, they want to remove their casualty numbers and fighting forces. In their best dreams they could not imagine having influence over the Chinese border, the Iranian border and the former Russian republics – they have it now.
Zahid Hussain: The more important issue is that the situation cannot continue indefinitely. Already the war has entered its 10th year, and public opinion in America has been changing. There has also been talk about negotiations, but there is a massive difference of views among the NATO forces. The British want immediate negotiations to start with the Taliban, while the Americans are ambiguous about that. There is also significant confusion in America about the pullout. When Obama first said that he had given a deadline of July 2011, it did not mean that they would pull out completely. If you look at the Pentagon and General Petraeus, they want more troops in Afghanistan. But there is also war fatigue: the Netherlands has already pulled out, Germany is not willing to send more troops, Italy’s position is the same, and Poland has pulled out. That has made the situation much more complex. My concern is what is going to happen after the 2014 deadline.
Re-integration and reconciliation
Bharat Bhushan: There are currently two strategies being followed: re-integration and reconciliation. Re-integration means rehabilitating those who are fighting the Western forces into civil society, the understanding being that they are mercenaries fighting for money or that they are fighting due to local grievances. Reconciliation seeks negotiations with hardline Taliban leaders such as Mullah Omar, the Haqqani brothers, etc. There is less consensus on the second option in the US. Associated with this are Karzai’s overtures to the Taliban leaders. He has not been successful but has set up a group, the Peace Council, to negotiate with the Taliban. The Americans probably understand that Karzai is trying to carve out some political space – and that if he is successful, his dependence on the US decreases, and he improves his image as an Afghan nationalist reaching out to his political opponents. After the withdrawal, Karzai’s real power will depend on the Afghan security forces, the extent of territory he controls, and how he deals with the Pashtun warlords.
Hussain Yasa: The idea of reconciliation and reintegration is not a new move – it actually started in 2004.
Zahid Hussain: Can re-integration be done without reconciliation? If you really want integration, then first you have to have reconciliation. Yet this is missing. Even if an agreement is signed with the insurgents, who will implement its provisions? Karzai also plans to set up a new commission to talk to the Taliban. But there has been no movement on this.
Hussain Yasa: Re-integration comes first and then perhaps we can talk of reconciliation. There are differences within the Taliban, as well. Some don’t need to go through the process of reconciliation: just provide them the grounds for their return, and they will come back. This is the lower ranks of the Taliban, who joined due to some local or social problem. But as far as the reconciliation, until and unless the tempo of the higher ranks is broken, it is not possible that they will come to the negotiating table. Karzai is objecting to the presence of NATO forces, saying that while he is extending the hand of friendship while, on the other hand, there is ongoing fighting. There is massive gap between the vision being put forward by Karzai and that of the NATO forces. That’s why the Taliban asks why they should talk to Karzai, as he doesn’t seem to be in control.
Minorities and the Taliban threat
Hussain Yasa: After six years of spending large amounts of money, there has been nothing achieved: almost 9500 armed people surrendered to government, but there was no practical outcome. Now, Karzai is on the offensive, saying that the international community came with its own objective and will leave only after that is achieved. He wants to keep his political base in the south, and this is why he has changed his tone towards Taliban – instead of calling them ‘terrorists’, he is using terms such as ‘our armed opposition’ or ‘our brothers who are not happy with us’. As a result, the other communities are feeling insecure.
There is also a rumour that, before leaving, the Americans will change the map of Afghanistan. This has encouraged the Taliban to launch activities to capture as much territory as possible, in order to foil this alleged plan. That’s why this summer saw war in central Afghanistan, where the Hazara and the Pashtun share borders. The Americans now seem to be beginning to support the other minority communities, and are providing them with weapons against the Taliban.
The communities that are feeling insecure because of the Taliban, such as the Hazara and the Uzbek, have received messages from the leading anti-Taliban organisation, the Jamaat-e-Islami. This will bring Pakistan and India into this game. If this were to happen, Pashtun and non-Pashtun sentiments would be high, and could lead to a proxy war. Pakistan would have no option but to support the Pashtun, and India could hardly sit by indifferently. To avoid breaking up Afghanistan, Pakistan and India would need to support the US – this is the point on which they can come together. The Americans are currently withdrawing from the south, concentrating on the north, including to strengthen the Northern Alliance as a counter to the Taliban. But reaction to foreign troops varies. Sometimes when there are caught they are killed immediately – in fact, any foreigner can be. In some areas, they are welcomed, such as in the northern, non-Pashtun part of Afghanistan. The presence of the coalition forces gives them some assurance for their safety there.
Indian media, Pakistan floods
Surya Gangadharan: Fifteen years ago, when there was no satellite television, we were given a week or more to travel through the region. Nowadays, this period available is crunched down to three days, and finance is a huge issue. For today’s young journalists, foreign affairs is about little more than an explosion, a crash or a suicide attack. Journalists nowadays also have a problem in going through wire reports and making a proper story or a package: the whole thing is focused on getting the soundbite. There is also a trend to look to the Hindi channels and replicate them – these go over the top and hardly ever cover foreign news at all, unless it’s Pakistan.
Kanak Mani Dixit: I got my information and sensitivity from CNN and the BBC. I watch the Indian channels, but I didn’t get it from there. Why was this the case?
Surya Gangadharan: When you have this scenario playing out in Pakistan – of attacks, bomb blasts, floods – I think there is a sense in the Indian middle class that they’re ‘getting what they deserve’. No Indian news channel sent any correspondent to cover the floods.
A S Panneerselvan: What should we make of the reports about flood relief being used by the LeT and others to shore up their image?
Zahid Hussain: This is very exaggerated. Militant organisations are not operating freely as such. The only organisation to do a little bit – and they do not have many operations – is Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Dawa has a few camps, not very large, and its members are distributing food. But when it comes to real politics, and when it comes to influence just because they are opening some camps, it does not provide them political support. There was a lot of talk after the earthquake of 2005 that they were using the relief work to get more recruits. But look at the 2008 election – in places that were hit by the earthquake, like the NWFP, the Islamic parties were wiped out.
The Iran connection
Hussain Yasa: Pakistan is also not comfortable with the presence of the NATO forces at their border. In southern Afghanistan, several groups are demanding NATO’s departure, before they engage in talks with Kabul. But the party that is most strongly opposed to the presence of the international coalition forces is Iran.
Shahir Zahine: The only entity that would be disturbed by infrastructure in the western border of Afghanistan is Iran. And no one is talking actually about the support that Iranians are giving to the Taliban – today, this is much more than the support coming through the ISI channel.
Zahid Hussain: The Iranian factor is also a huge deal in Pakistani society, which has not had good relations with Iran. This has worsened since 9/11 because the Iranians have always considered Pakistan an American stooge. Among the security apparatus too, there has always been massive suspicion about Iran for various reasons, which probably goes back to the Iranian revolution and the very aggressive policy adopted by Iran at that time. Now, the Pakistanis have also been looking at Iran, and how the Iranians have been acting with regards to Afghanistan. One thing to be clear is that, because of American policy in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the largest beneficiary has been Iran. Now, Iran might be using the Taliban to continue to engage with the Americans.
Siddharth Varadarajan: While, historically, India was the one reluctant to talk about Kashmir, now Pakistan is the one that is reluctant. From the Indian point of view, it seems that for three or four years it engaged with Pakistan to work out the contours of a solution to Kashmir, and today they are in a situation where they don’t know whether the Pakistani side wants to take that forward or not. Instead, the Pakistani side is insisting on the resumption of the Composite Dialogue, which has not made any progress in the last 15 years. But then, at the ill-fated meeting in Islamabad between Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna in Islamabad, Qureshi for the first time spoke positively about what had been accomplished prior to 2007, and urged India and Pakistan to go back to that level of engagement. So it seems that the ‘Track II’ formula can be revived, but the wheels for it might have to be reinvented.
To a certain extent, India has stalled the process by taking an irrational stand that it will not accept any resumption of formal talks with Pakistan until the Bombay trial reaches a certain stage of closure. In my view, equating talks with surrender is an error of judgement. India should talk to Pakistan – talking doesn’t mean conceding. Engaging with Pakistan might open the door to revival of what was promising about the 2004-2007 process. India needs this backchannel process because, in its absence, we see Pakistan reverting to its old position – such as the UN General Assembly, where Qureshi talked about the plebiscite.
Zahid Hussain: I think it is not correct to say that Pakistan is pulling back from the Track II negotiations. Certainly it was postponed, due to the political situation in Pakistan; but Pakistan never pulled back. Even after the change of government in 2008, President Zardari, at his first press conference, expressed his commitment to continue with backchannel talks. It was the Indians who kept postponing meetings, and things started changing after 2008, when the Bombay attack took place. When there is indication that India does not want to restart backchannel talks, the hardliners prevail. Now, it is very difficult to restart from where Musharraf left off.
Siddharth Varadarajan: After Zardari got elected the Bombay attacks happened, along with other ups and downs that led us to question the extent to which Zardari was really in charge. After Bombay, Zardari and Gillani promised that the ISI chief would come to India, and then that was cancelled. So there was a question mark about who was in control. I think where India made a mistake is in suspending dialogue.
In 2007, Musharraf had to back down. Musharraf’s military colleagues have informed me that army officers from that period considered Musharraf’s formula his own ‘solo flight’: even though the core commanders were informed and vaguely consulted, they never gave their consent. They never bought into the process, and cannot be held responsible for taking that process forward. When Zardari was elected, he initially endorsed resumption of the backchannel talks. But this did not have support from all stakeholders within Pakistan – certainly not the military’s support, and perhaps not even Zardari’s own party’s support, which saw the backchannel process as a Musharraf initiative.
Zahid Hussain: About Musharraf’s solo flight, it was not easy for any Pakistan leader to change Pakistan’s position so drastically. And there was scepticism within the army but he did have the support of the military, though he cultivated this support. Musharraf was a hardliner, not a moderate; it was a long journey for him to come to that position. In 2006 in Islamabad, Musharraf made his famous speech, saying that he was prepared to have an out-of-the-box settlement. No other Pakistani leader could have gone to this extent, and that was a lost opportunity.
Azhar Abbas: Musharraf went out of his way, beyond the expectations of the entire nation, actually, and made overtures to genuinely have peace with India, realising that he is the only one who could have done so. Now, we need to look at India’s response: Why did India have cold feet? The feeling is that if India was unwilling to compromise when Musharraf was trying, and he was the army chief, then they are not serious.
Conflict management in Kashmir
Siddharth Varadarajan: About the internal situation in Jammu & Kashmir, to understand why the valley is in flames today, we have to understand why it was calm from 2003 to about 2007. The reason is that there was progress on a number of fronts: India was talking to Pakistan on Kashmir, Manmohan Singh held these internal roundtables, and the election was held. By 2008-2009, progress on all of those fronts ground to a halt. Today, the Indian government needs to urgently address, understand and empathise with the people in the valley.
A S Panneerselvan: Foreign officials in Pakistan point out that India has evolved its diplomatic statecraft so well that it is good at conflict management, and it never moves into conflict resolution. That is its approach with Kashmir, as well. The idea is ‘restoration of normalcy’ means you are not granting any political powers.
Siddharth Varadarajan: I think we need to separate out conflict management and resolution, externally and internally. What you say for India’s approach is true for internal conflict: They also arrive at conflict management only after trying to crush the resistance with brute force. You come to conflict management only when you realise that the use of force doesn’t take you very far. On external conflict resolution, though, critics of the Indian state have been surprised in a pleasant way by the degree to which virtually all sections of the Indian establishment came around to supporting Manmohan Singh’s approach on the final settlement of Kashmir.
Bharat Bhushan: Manmohan Singh, when he first became prime minister, was very sensible with regards to Kashmir. He used to have Saturday meetings at his residence where he would call Kashmir experts and civil society representatives, academics, bankers and ask them, ‘What should we do?’ In his second round, though, he lost that initiative on Kashmir. The government became more confident. The Hurriyat was for talks, the people wanted talks, but the government didn’t want them. They thought everything was being ‘managed’. And then the Omar Abdullah government mismanaged the situation completely. He had no communication with the people or even his own party. A situation emerged in which people were throwing stones and the security forces were shooting and killing. Then they went back to showing the same sensitivity. An all-party delegation went to Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s house for talks, which was a very good initiative. So what is happening now is interesting, but is it sustainable?
Azhar Abbas: The intelligentsia in Pakistan understands the post-Mumbai scenario. But we also understand that life doesn’t end in Mumbai, and if you stop everything because of that, then wi ll never move forward.
Bharat Bhushan: In July 2010, when India said that the process needed to move forward incrementally, why did Pakistan adopt an all-or-nothing approach? And why the demand for the plebiscite?
Azhar Abbas: I don’t see anything wrong if Pakistan is demanding that all these things be on the agenda. India, on the other hand, is saying, ‘No, first discuss terrorism, settle everything and then we will go beyond that.’
Zahid Hussain: The problem is that we can keep trading blame or accusing each other of stalling the talks. But the real thing is that two years has been a long time, and there is a perception in Pakistan if we keep aside Kashmir, there has not been any progress even on those issues that could have been sorted long ago, such as Sir Creek. This has strengthened the hardliners who did not even support Musharraf talking to India in the