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Taliban Refurbished?

That old new ploy


With 'blessings' from the US and the UK, Pakistan is once again looking to prop up a refurbished Taliban

Asadullah Khalid, Afghanistan's security chief, was wounded by a Taliban suicide bomber early December. The operation had the distinctive Pakistani imprimatur. Khalid, a declared foe of the Pak-supported Afghan, was lucky. He survived and may be back at work.

In September 2011, the same Pakistansponsored Taliban bombers attacked and killed Burhanuddin Rabbani, then chief of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, who was trying to work out a reconciliation package with the Taliban. Karzai declared then that the tracks of the attack went back to Pakistan.

Last month, Rabbani's son, who is the new chief of the High Peace Council, visited Pakistan and returned with a five-point peace process roadmap. Flawlessly crafted, the plan envisages transforming the Taliban into just another regular political party and giving them a place in the government. This outfit also looks forward to "collaborating" with Pakistan to get to this desired state.

Now, you have to wonder at a large number of things. Hamid Karzai is perfectly aware of where such collaboration would lead to, he has travelled down this road and it does not lead to a happy place. The same goes for Rabbani Jr, who is no stranger to the games Pakistan plays with the Taliban in Afghanistan. In fact, in large parts of Afghanistan, mainly the non-Pashtun areas, but even in the Pashtun provinces, Pakistan has become a bad word, with trust levels at an abysmal low between them. This includes the Uzbeks, Hazaras, Turkmen, and even some Pashtuns. So a Faustian deal of this nature is bound to create internal trouble, not to speak of getting Iran, India, Russia, many Central Asian states, and maybe even China, on the other side.

It should be clear to anybody with passing knowledge of this region that the Taliban don't do power sharing. They are not in that game at all. If they get a toehold in Kabul, their extreme ideology will sweep all before it. Karzai - or his successor - will be toast, while Afghanistan could return to a pre-9 /11 state.

Most important, the Taliban have not severed ties with the al-Qaeda. They didn't do it when they were facing a US invasion in 2001. The documents recovered from Osama bin Laden's lair in 2011 confirmed that 10 years later the ties were just as strong. Therefore a return of the Taliban to Afghanistan would, reasonably, also see a return of the al-Qaeda. (Consider how in Nigeria, the al-Qaeda-affiliate, Boko Haram, is holed up in a fortress in Mali, while in Afghanistan the global terror giant would likely control the levers of government. )

The roadmap has obviously been "blessed" by the US and UK, both countries looking for a facesaving exit from a bruising war in Afghanistan. It's possible the crafting of this could have had greater British involvement.

The Americans, who have no reason to change their opinion of Pakistan and it's duplicity, which they discovered again in 2011, are clearly going along. Washington has released some $700m in military aid, in the latest tranche, to Pakistan and more is promised. Why, you may wonder? This is a road frequently travelled. The US and UK have tried this initiative before and come to grief. Why would they want to do this again? It's that withdrawal date of 2014, because of which the US cannot, by themselves, make a deal with the Taliban, whose bosses, ensconced in Quetta (in Pakistan) are prepared to wait them out. The US will continue to take out Taliban leaders like they did Mullah Nazir this week. But Pakistan and the Taliban will keep putting them back - another terror leader Bahawal Khan has just been appointed in his place.

Pakistan will continue to support the Taliban, holding out the carrot of "real reconciliation" with Mullah Omar and holding out the hope that the one-eyed wonder can agree to team up with Karzai in Kabul.

In return, Pakistan released some Afghan Taliban members, though they were careful to hold onto the big fish, like Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Those freed included Abdul Bari, former governor of Helmand, ex-justice minister Nooruddin Turabi, and Mullah Daud Jan, former governor of Kabul. General Ashfaq Kayani has to show some success to his people before he steps down, finally, in September 2013 - securing Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan is a good step. So Pakistan is likely to be more deeply invested in the Afghan peace process this time around.

From India's perspective, it's easy to point to the US' and Pakistan's respective hypocrisy and how they are leaving India in the lurch. But if we look at it realistically, Pakistan is actually heading into another Afghan quagmire. Pakistan's ability to manage the reconciliation is limited, and it is now a legitimate enemy for a large number of the Taliban as well as the other ethnic groups. It smells like a civil war in Afghanistan which may be spilling over into Pakistan.
That's not such a bad thing, now, is it?

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