M Ziauddin

Thursday, May 28, 2015 – THE Afghan Taliban seem not have realized even after 15-long years of their futile pursuit of what is not possible and that there is no way they can re-take Kabul and with it the whole of Afghanistan (which they never had) by their hit-and-run strategy called terrorism. Their current spring terror offensive has reached as far as deep North. But this will only make the US postpone for a couple of years more the cut-off date for complete withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, even if it decides not send in more troops to assist the 350,000 strong Afghan Army in keeping the Taliban confined to their hit-and-run strategy as per the Bilateral Security Accord it had signed with the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani.

The Afghan Taliban leadership seem still to be living in the first decade of the current century when they had Pakistan securing their flanks and the Karzai government in Kabul terrorised enough for the picking. Things have undergone a sea-change since. Pakistan is no more interested in providing the Taliban sanctuary in its tribal belt and nor is it interested in letting them mount the hit-and-run campaigns from its soil.

The only way the Afghan Taliban can now have any significant presence in the Afghan politics is for them to wait for the nextgeneral elections and participate in it. But for that to happen they would have to first accept the Afghan Constitution and not insist on amending it to make it conform to their version of Sharia. It is only then that the US government will have the needed political space to sell to its Congress the idea of complete withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

In fact the US had wanted to leave Afghanistan as soon as it had taken care of Osama bin Laden who was wanted in the US for masterminding the 9/11 terror attacks and also for the bombing in 1998 of US embassies in a couple of African countries. Osama was captured and killed in May 2011. And soon enough, December 31, 2014 was fixed as the cut-off date for the complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. This was a clear signal for the Taliban to hold their hand and let the foreign troops leave Afghanistan because that was what they had wanted all along—withdrawal of occupying troops from their land. Instead, the Taliban took the announcement of the withdrawal of foreign troops as their victory and increased the pressure on the government in Kabul as well as on the occupying troops for the final kill so as to enter the Afghan capital victoriously. The US then retaliated with what is today known as the BSA which guaranteed the Kabul government that not only it would continue to receive substantial financial and economic assistance but the US troops would come to its help if threatened by internal and/or external forces.

Meanwhile Pakistan had given up its age-old ambition of acquiring the so-called strategic depth in the neighbouring Afghanistan. So, Islamabad no more needed to remain on the right side of the Afghan Taliban which the GHQ had thought necessary believing that in good time the US will abandon the region as it did in the late 1980s and the Talban would return to power in Afghanistan. The emergence of China on the scene had convinced Islamabad that it need not worry any more as well about India and Afghanistan teaming up at some future date and ganging up against Pakistan. In fact for the first time in recent history one witnessed China trying to play a mediatory role in an internal political dispute of another country as Beijing was seen encouraging Afghan Taliban to visit China for consultation on the its domestic reconciliation process.

And the fact that China was coming up with huge investments both inside Pakistan as well as in the Central Asian Republics plus Afghanistan indicated that China would like to see political rivalries of the regional countries to be over-shadowed by their respective commercial interests. Pakistan readily understood these signs very early. That is perhaps the reasons why Pakistan did not try to disrupt the general elections in Afghanistan in April 2014. Next, Pakistani leadership, both the civilian and the military made some quick visits to Afghanistan and welcomed the leaders from the neighbouring country with open arms when the newly elected President and the Chief Executive of Afghanistan visited Pakistan.

The only odd man out in this equation has been India which seemed to have been caught by surprise by these developments and before it could readjust its policies to meet the new challenges emerging with the new found interest of China in the region, things seemed to have virtually gone out of New Delhi’s hands. It is now up to Modi’s India whether it wants to join the region in the efforts to improve the economic well being of the region’s teeming millions or continue with its own selfish policies for achieving political predominance in the region.

While India can afford to take its own time choosing how to respond to the emerging situation, for the Afghan Taliban the game is almost over. So, it would be in their own interest to call it a day and let peace return to their war-torn country that has seen only death and destruction all these past 30 years.

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