Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Now that India and Pakistan have agreed to hold further talks following a meeting between the prime ministers of the two countries, are they going to step back from a bruising confrontation in Afghanistan?
It’s a war fought in the shadows with spies and proxies, and lots of money. Once in a while it gets really nasty as in deadly attacks on Indian interests for which New Delhi has pointed the finger at Pakistan.
It’s not clear what subjects Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani touched on during their meeting on the sidelines of a regional summit in Bhutan, but Afghanistan clearly is an important subtext, arguably the most pressing one at this time.
Both countries are positioning themselves for an eventual U.S. withdrawal from the country, with Pakistan clearly holding the better cards at the moment, both as a result of its geography and long-standing links with a resurgent Taliban.
The CIA is using smaller, advanced missiles – some of them no longer than a violin-case – to target militants in Pakistan’s tribal belt, according to the Washington Post.
The idea is to limit civilian casualties, the newspaper said quoting defence officials, after months of deadly missile strikes by unmanned Predator aircraft that has so burned Pakistan both in terms of the actual collateral damage and its sense of loss of sovereignty.
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
One of the issues that seems to arouse the strongest emotions in the Afghan debate is the question of when the United States and its allies should engage in talks with the Taliban. Some argued that the moment was ripe a few months ago, when both sides were finely balanced against each other and therefore both more likely to make the kind of concessions that would make negotiations possible. It was an argument that surfaced forcefully at the London conference on Afghanistan in January. Others insisted that U.S.-led forces had to secure more gains on the battlefield first.
If you go by this survey carried out in December by Human Terrain Systems (pdf) (published this month by Danger Room) the people of Kandahar province were convinced at the end of last year of the need for negotiations: (as usual health warnings apply to any survey conducted in a conflict zone):
Reuters’ journalist Myra Macdonald travelled to Pakistan’s northwest on the border with Afghanistan to find that some of the Kiplingesque images of xenophobic Pasthuns and ungovernable lands may be a bit off the mark especially now when the Pakistani army has taken the battle to the Islamist militants. Here’s her account :
By Myra MacDonald
KHAR, Pakistan – I had not expected Pakistan’s tribal areas to be so neat and so prosperous.
Pakistan is conducting its biggest military exercises in 21 years and at the weekend thousands of troops backed by fighter jets took part in a mock battle to repel a simulated Indian military advance and inflict heavy casualties. The manoeuvres were designed to test a riposte to India’s Cold Start doctrine of a rapid and deep thrust into Pakistan in a simulated environment, but you are never far from real action on the heavily militarised border between the two countries.
The shoe’s on the other foot. The Pakistani army is saying that it’s being let down by U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan just when it has made hard-fought gains against militants along its stretch of the border.
Some 700 militants have fled a successful military offensive in Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal agency to the Afghan province of Kunar just over the border but no action had been taken against them, according to a Reuters report from the area.
Leaders of more than 40 countries are gathering in Washington for a summit beginning on Monday to control the spread of nuclear weapons. Iran for obvious reasons is not invited, but it has announced a conference of its own soon after the Washington meeting. It’s called ‘Nuclear Energy for All, Nuclear Weapons for None, and among those who have agreed to attend are India, Pakistan and China.
While the level of representation to the Teheran meeting is not at the same level as Washington for all three countries, the fact that they have chosen to attend seems to be a signal to the Obama administration just as it is trying to isolate Iran for its suspected nuclear weapons programme. India’s presence in particular has raised the question if it is starting to re-assess ties with Tehran that have in recent years been allowed to slip in the pursuit of a strategic relationship with America.
It could be early days yet, and the sampling may be small, but there are signs of a drop in Taliban attacks following the Pakistani crackdown on the Quetta Shura, an intelligence website says. If the assessment put out by NightWatch intelligence turns out to be true over the next few weeks, it will reinforce U.S. military officials’ long-standing position you cannot win the war in Afghanistan unless you take out the Taliban leadership in Pakistan
For all the hand-wringing in India over getting sidelined by the United States in its regional strategy, the two countries have gone ahead and just completed an important deal on the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from reactors to be built in India.
The agreement is a key step in the implementation of the India-U.S. civil nuclear pact which grants India access to nuclear fuel and technology, even though it has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Under the agreement India can reprocess U.S.-originated nuclear material under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards which in itself is a symbolic concession, according to the Washington Post. It said that the Indians were a bit concerned about the idea of American officials running around their nuclear reactors , a sort of “a symbolic, sovereignty issue” as a source in the U.S. nuclear industry said. They would rather submit to oversight by the IAEA, which thus far is a model the United States has only followed for nuclear collaboration with Europe and Japan.
If the news reports are true, India’s willingness to talk to the Taliban would represent a seismic shift in strategy for New Delhi and underlines the concern that the Congress-led government has over Pakistan’s influence in any Afghan end game.
India has always publicly opposed any attempts at talks by the Western powers with the Taliban to bring them into any stability plan for Afghanistan — chiding the idea there was such a thing as a “soft side” to the insurgents.