Monday, February 15, 2010

Political Diary

Political Diary

By Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 29.01.2010

I haven’t quite understood what happened at the Conference in London on Afghanistan because, with the suddenness of revelation, Yemen was listed along with Afghanistan as one of the items in global focus.

South Block went into deep thought on the yoking of Yemen with Afghanistan. Then a responsible US diplomat told me that the media was misleading us as usual and that London was all about Afghanistan. So clearly the last word on what happened in London has not yet been heard.

Also, London happened in the shadow of President Obama’s state of the Union address. This was more than just an ordinary distraction. Everyone almost forgot Davos.

Yes, the Afghanistan conference. Whatever may have been decided in London, the fact of the matter is that very little was expected of the gathering. All one knows is that President Obama has announced troop withdrawals after 18 months. To facilitate conditions for this withdrawal 30,000 or more troops will be inducted now.

Mercifully, inane comparisons are no longer being made. “Look how the surge worked in Iraq” we were being told. Implication being that it will work in Afghanistan too.

First, the surge has not worked in Iraq. Look at the rash of recent bombings and suicide attacks. Further, the US troops have not withdrawn. A large number have simply retired into cantonments.

Comparisons with Iraq are absurd for more basic reasons. When the US troops occupied Iraq, the world for the first time in decades became aware of a truth: that 65 (sixty five percent) of Iraq was Shia who cheered the demolition of the Baath party under Saddam Hussain. Likewise the Kurdish north, protected by the no fly zone since operation Desert Storm, rejoiced in its virtual autonomy.

In Afghanistan there is nobody rejoicing at the US-NATO presence.

Ask Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador in Kabul, after Washingtyon retaliated militarily in 2002 how he was able to obtain Iranian co-operation during the military operation.

Ofcourse the Iranians were happy with the Al Qaeda and Taleban variety of Islam being targeted, if possible obliterated. They were equally thrilled with arch enemy Saddam Hussain’s fall.

In other words, the US had ca co-operative Iran during the Afghan and Iraq operation. Is this co-operation likely to be shunned on account of the on-again-off-again nuclear issue?

But at present, in Afghanistan, the nightmare the US faces is a failing Pakistan. Even if one accepts the ludicrous proposition that the US will achieve in Afghanistan in 18 months what it has not in eight years of disorganized exertion, how do they intend to tranquilize the AF-Pak border?

Just because the media has not played up dissensions within the US administration, it should not be assumed that whatever is on display as policy in London does not have influential detractors in Washington. It is no laughing matter that Peter Galbraith, second in command of UN operations, resigned his job because Hamid Karzai was persisted with despite a fraudulent election.

S.M. Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart met on the margins in London. Krishna had the advantage of Richard Holbrooke’s appraisal of the situation in Pakistan. The American worry is they don’t know who is really in control in Islamabad. Yes, notionally the buck stops with Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, but who is the politician with any longevity?

For India, there is no optimistic view on Pakistan. There is either a softer, in my view the more helpful approach, or a hard line sustained by retired persons from the Armed forces, and the Foreign Service.

The hard line maintains that whoever you talk to in Pakistan will have little traction because the Army plus the ISI will scuttle the peace process. The extreme manifestation of this approach is Arun Shourie’s statement in Parliament after Mumbai: “Two eyes for an eye and a jaw for tooth”

The pragmatic view accepts the Pak Army as an obstacle, but let us not forget that Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh never came closer to a peaceful arrangement along the LOC than when Gen. Musharraf was in control.

The basic constituency in Pakistan in quest of Peace with India is civil society across the board. Yes, the IPL snub will hurt, but the Pakistani people would like to get out of the jam they are in. So, some contacts with Pakistan, even at the official level are in order. They will help bring down temperatures.

But what if another Mumbai happens? Will, I can guarantee you that there are malignant vested interests (some on our side too) out to repeat Mumbai. The important thing is to remember WHY? These interests are out to scuttle any normalcy with Pakistan. They thrive on Indo-Pak hostility. The only way to frustrate them is by not derailing peace processes. This is where the role of the media comes in: report the outrage but keep your cool. If you whip up war-like hysteria, you have walked straight into the trap the terrorist, supported by the ISI or not, has laid for you.

Once you generate hysteria against an act of terror, willy nilly you begin to demonize Indian Muslims too. And once that happens the great edifice of Indian secularism which protects, among others the world’s second largest Muslim population, is weakened. And that precisely is the project of those who author 26/11, and its variants.

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