Red lines and guidelines
By opening back channels and indulging in secret talks with the Taliban, the US has sent clear signals to the terrorist organization that it is not...
By opening back channels and indulging in secret talks with the Taliban, the US has sent clear signals to the terrorist organization that it is not averse to cut a deal with it in future. All this has been happening in the full knowledge of Karzai government which has been seething with helpless anger
As the deadline for the US pullout from Afghanistan is approaching � December end, 2014 � the Obama administration appears more confused. It has handled over a decade of war on terror with brute force more adroitly than the ongoing efforts to establish peace in the war-torn country. It is evident from the way Washington has been handling the current situation arising out of its honeymoon with the Taliban. A week ago, last Tuesday, the US had officially announced that it was handing over security duties to Afghan forces across the country, thus washing its hands off law and order problems which, in recent months, have returned to haunt President Hamid Karzai's government. Ironically, as the deadline for US-led Nato troops' withdrawal is nearing, insurgents have upped their ante with bombing campaigns and attacks on government and civilian establishments. Their new vigor after years of relative lull is attributed to intensified American attempts to negotiate with the Taliban directly. They are not new. For over four years, US officials have been hinting at engaging 'good Taliban' fighters and evolving a permanent solution to the Afghan imbroglio. Even at the height of Allied Forces' aerial attacks on Taliban mountain hideouts, reports had emerged that American Army Generals were holding secret talks with local Taliban leaders in pursuance of a carrot-and-stick policy. As the war has started winding down, the Pentagon bosses have begun insisting that a permanent peace could not be won on the battlefield and the solution lies in integrating the 'bad guys' with 'good boys' after conceding some ground to their demands. By opening back channels and indulging in secret talks with the Taliban, the US has sent clear signals to the terrorist organization that it is not averse to cut a deal with it in future. All this has been happening in the full knowledge of Karzai government which has been seething with helpless anger. Little could it do because Afghanistan's survival and security are dependent upon American munificence. The turning point came last Tuesday when Taliban opened an office in Qatar capital Doha, with the blessings of the US, Pakistan, Britain and Germany and named it as the liaison centre for the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" and flew its own flag. What it means in diplomatic parlance is a de facto Taliban regime was set up and recognized by some powers. The move was vehemently opposed by the Karzai government which threatened to call off talks with Taliban leaders in Doha under American auspices. Though the sign was removed promptly, whatever damage it could do had already been done. Washington, trying to sail on two boats, has fallen in between as both Kabul and Taliban have accused it of playing a double game pitting one against the other. And, India which has strategic interests in that country is miffed with America's Afghan policy, particularly the kind of encouragement it is giving to the Taliban which supports and abets the activities of anti-Indian militant Haqqani group. To control the damage, the White House has clarified that the Doha talks were aimed at facilitating a peace dialogue between the civilian Karzai government and the Taliban and the US would have separate parleys with the militants to sort out a few issues. Nobody was convinced and India raised the point again during the US Secretary of State John Kerry's visit. He has gone to great lengths to ally Delhi's concerns � and fears�stressing that reaching out to the Taliban is only an attempt to bring the Afghan civilian government leaders and insurgents on to a stage to talk as the US feels a reconciliation process is necessary to promote peace in that country. But the fact remains that the US has been hobnobbing with Taliban since 2009 and no breakthrough has been achieved. And, it has not been able to convince the rebels to give up arms and join the mainstream. On the other hand, there is not even an iota of change in Taliban fighters' attitude towards the civilian government. Tuesday's brazen attack on the Presidential Palace in Kabul was proof enough that the outfit is hell bent upon destabilizing the country and retake it by hook or by crook. The opening of Doha office is an indication that the Taliban wants to use it to spread its wings carrying the political message to neighbouring Islamic and Arab countries in a bid to shed its outcast image. And, to that extent, the US is instrumental. In the process, Washington has forgotten the umbilical links between Taliban, Al Qaeda and other terrorist outfits in Af-Pak theatre as well as those operating from the occupied Kashmir. Once the Taliban office in Doha becomes functional, its operatives can arm-twist small Arab Sheikhdoms into accepting their legitimacy and extend financial and moral support. And, there is no guarantee that the Taliban will honour agreements which, for them, are no more than pieces of paper. Then is it just a gamble the US has deliberately taken, hoping it may or may not pay off? In an apparent bid to assuage the Indian feelings, Kerry said in New Delhi that Taliban have to fulfill some requirements before the US tangos with the militant outfit. These include 'red lines' � respect for the Afghan Constitution, no links with Al Qaeda and renouncing of violence � set by Washington and guidelines the international community expects the insurgents to follow before becoming part of Afghan milieu. The million dollar question is with lines drawn between the US, Afghanistan and Taliban, will the Islamic fighters honour them for the sake of political rehabilitation? Or, will they brush them off as untenable? Either way, options for the Karzai government are limited as it has to resign to the fact that once an enemy is not necessarily an enemy forever. The vacuum being left by the US after its pullout will be a void that has to be filled either by an efficient government or militants. Since the former is unlikely to happen in the near future, the scenario that emerges next year will be unpredictable. India has to keep its eyes open.