In this mess, India has only one real option – which is to support the Northern Alliance or whatever version of it emerges as a true force. There is no point in supporting Karzai if he is going to cave in (based on American demands) to the Taliban.
Even though India has, in good faith, supported the Karzai government, if it brings in the allegedly “good Taliban”, there is no question that it would hurt India’s interests.
India should be under no illusions about the intentions of the Taliban. Any such should have been extinguished as early as the Kandahar episode, with the sorry spectacle of a foreign minister escorting Taliban/Pakistani terrorists to freedom.
India looked downright foolish. Let us emphasise again: the Taliban are a Pakistani construct, a proxy to advance the ISI’s oft-repeated dream of gaining ‘strategic depth’ by annexing Afghanistan.
It is true that there are elements in these alliances that should cause everyone to pause. For instance, Gen Dostum has been known to merrily switch sides. If I remember right, at one point, he allied with Hekmatyar to attack Ahmed Shah Massoud’s troops in Kabul. But the point is that these people are definitely the lesser evil as compared to Taliban.
The real solution – the elephant in the living room that everybody tiptoes around – is the dissolution of the Durand Line that artificially divides Pashtuns, and the de jure (as opposed to the emerging de facto) partition of Afghanistan into a Pashtunistan and a Northern Territory that includes the Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks.
This has a rather unfortunate (from Pakistan’s point of view), but desirable (from the point of view of everybody else) consequence: it would mean the de facto collapse of Pakistan as well.
Once a Pashtunistan emerges, it will not be long before there will be a general unwinding of the rest of that country, as the simmering discontent in Baluchistan and Sind and the Northern Territories flares up. That will leave a rump Pakistani Punjab, which all the others in Pakistan heartily hate. They will all be busy fighting the Punjabis, leaving them with less energy to attack India.
The containment of the Taliban is of considerable interest to yet another party: Iran. The Shia Iranians are less than enamored of the Sunni fundamentalist Taliban: they also remember the massacres of the Shia Hazaras when the Taliban came to power.
There is another issue that India should look at seriously: the biggest hold that the Pakistanis have over the Americans is that the supply lines to Afghanistan are mostly through Pakistan.
The other possibility, Iran, is out of bounds because of American snippiness towards that country. Well, India has legitimate interests in Iran, including a port that has been built with Indian assistance, partly as a way of reaching out to Central Asia.
India could act as a honest intermediary to promote some kind of détente between Iran and the US. This would achieve at one stroke a couple of desirable things: first, it will bring Iran back into the normal discourse. It has been made a pariah, but it is too big a power to be treated as something the cat dragged in.
Second, that would instantly make Pakistan lose a great deal of its strategic geopolitical value. This would be highly desirable because the diminishing of Pakistan – its dismantling or its loss of relevance – would be a major blow to that other rogue nation in the neighborhood, China.
Rajeev Srinivasan is a management consultant and columnist.