Thursday, May 06, 2010

Peace in Afghanistan? India and Pakistan Won't Hear of It!

And we thought the war was just about the Taliban and the warlords and the druglords and a rancidly corrupt government. Who knew there was so much more? Now The Guardian's Simon Tisdall warns NATO's predicament is being made far murkier by the escalating proxy war between India and Pakistan.

Intent on filling a power vacuum after the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, India and Pakistan are engaged in what analysts warn is a dangerously escalating "proxy war". That's bad news for Britain and its Nato partners – because, paradoxically, the two old foes' intensifying machinations could delay or fatally undermine the western pull-out on which all current calculations are based.

...MK Bhadrakumar, a former ambassador, summed up Indian thinking in Asia Times. He said policymakers were "deeply disturbed … that the Obama administration is determined to end the fighting in Afghanistan and as a means of securing that objective, seeks the Taliban's reintegration and reconciliation. They want the fighting to go on and on until the Taliban are bled white and vanquished from the face of the earth".

India's objections to peace talks arise directly from its conviction that key Afghan Taliban groups are the creatures of Pakistan's military, specifically the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency. In its view, such connections mirror Pakistani security establishment links to the Punjab-based
Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed for the 2008 Mumbai atrocities and for a long history of attacks in Indian Kashmir.

...India's worries that Pakistan, by inserting itself in the centre of the peace process, will either fix it or wreck it, depending on its self-interest at the time, may be shared in Washington. But in a deliberate switch, the US is now determined to keep both Pakistan's military and Karzai sweet, after the furious ructions and recriminations of the last 12 months over battlefield setbacks.

...Amid rising region-wide tensions, in which China, Russia and Iran also hold cards, the risk is increasing that the jockeying for position over Afghanistan could fatally complicate US and British hopes of finally extricating themselves from the quagmire into which they strayed in 2001. Yet the closer their withdrawal gets, the less leverage they can apply.

"Neighbouring states are already considering the Americans as good as gone and are preparing for an endgame scenario with old rivalries renewed," Rashid said. "If no solution is found to reconcile Pakistani and Indian interests [in Afghanistan], the coming months might see stepped-up terrorist attacks against Indians in Kabul and the return of militants infiltrating Indian Kashmir."

Rather than the end of the Afghan war, this sounds uncomfortably like the beginning, or resumption, of a regional one.

Tisdall's account confirms what I've feared all along - that over the past decade all we've been doing in Afghanistan was babysitting an unresolved civil war. We've brought no resolution to any of the Afghan rivals nor have we even attempted to sort out the conflicting but powerful interests of so many outside players including Iran, China, Russia and of course India and Pakistan. That witches' brew has just been simmering along awaiting our inevitable departure and we're all but powerless to defuse any of these potential troubles.

Is this a reason for the West to remain in Afghanistan? Hardly. This is the price you can wind up paying for hubris and, in the 21st century, the Americans have found hubris irresistable. Remember that the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was the heyday of the Project for the New American Century, the pinnacle of the influence of the neo-conservatives. These lunatics absolutely believed that their country's military was so omnipotent that no other nation or group could stand up to them - and they had the ear of the White House where several, including Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Cheney were neo-cons themselves. Ideology trumped intelligence at every turn and the mess that is today's Afghan aftermath is the direct result of that mad arrogance.

The reality is that this miserable adventure could go sideways whether we remain or leave and the price of staying is unbearable. We wouldn't be staying to win, we'd merely stay to avoid losing all the while increasing the likelihood that we would lose in the end. Nobody has a game plan for winning this thing.

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