Washington: Are there reasons beyond the local for the recent exchange of fire along the Line of Control on the India-Pakistan border that revealed the brutality that sometimes creeps in maintaining the ceasefire?
Some in India believe that the Pakistan army is flexing its muscles with India thanks to a renewed sense of indispensability in brokering peace in Afghanistan with apparent blessings from Washington.
American officials insist that it is not the case. Pakistan is not going to play "a dominant proxy" role in the five-phase peace process currently being discussed. Neither is the United States. It "has to be an Afghan-owned and led process" but for which Pakistan’s support is required.
During the visit of President Hamid Karzai, President Barack Obama said that success in Afghanistan would require "constructive support from across the region, including Pakistan” and “more than simply military actions.” He added that Islamabad was showing “greater awareness” of the need to reduce extremism. The United States “obviously” has an interest in “facilitating and participating in cooperation between the two sovereign countries.”
Washington is trying hard to tell New Delhi that the AfPak peace plan is not a plot against it. It seems the plan was actually worked out by the British, leaving the US in an awkward position of not being able to publicly distance itself. Old allies had to hang together in public. So the Americans took the next best route -- they went along. Indian officials have interpreted this as Americans signing on to a process that gives Pakistan primacy in a post-2014 Afghanistan.
While India can’t really be faulted for the interpretation, it doesn’t have to see a nefarious plot behind it and read the current border temperature as a result of American design. The Americans are frantically messaging India and Pakistan to “put a lid” on the situation before the exchange of fire gets any louder and bursts into a broader confrontation. They are a bit dismayed that New Delhi told them the firing was essentially Pakistan giving “cover” for infiltrators trying to get into Jammu and Kashmir.
The real reasons behind the current cycle of fire have since come out in a key report by Praveen Swami in The Hindu. Another report by Saikat Dutta in the DNA newspaper also provides crucial details. These reports besides giving the context may also reflect ongoing differences between Indian intelligence agencies and the army on border monitoring and management.
If transparency and trust have to grow between India and the US, a more honest exchange of views is necessary. The US needs to keep India informed in detail about its plans, intentions, and predictions for Afghanistan, which hasn’t always been the case. Nervousness in India is growing about the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan because no matter which way you assemble the pieces, it doesn’t spell comfort. India has no reason to feel sanguine about the Taliban— good or bad versions.
Whatever genius the Pakistani military may bring to the table, the problems of negotiating with the Taliban are legion. Michael Semple, an Irish expert who has lived in Afghanistan and Pakistan for 25 years and speaks Dari, provides a sober reminder here for those in Washington who have once again put faith in the Taliban. But the Taliban don't accept Karzai or the Afghan constitution. Or women's rights for that matter.
So what Pakistan is trying is something too clever by half -- get the Quetta Shura to be part of a future political equation in Afghanistan to limit India's role and also keep a check on the Taliban by immersing them in politics. The question is how can the US have any presence in Afghanistan when the Taliban wants no foreign forces? Besides, why should the Taliban even negotiate seriously on anything when they can wait it out.
The answer one gets from experts and officials is that the Taliban realize it is much harder to take over Afghanistan today than it was in the 1990s. So they are depending on Pakistan to deliver the south and east Afghanistan to them through the peace process. Why would other stakeholders in the process accept this proposition which on the face of it is a lose-lose situation.
Pakistan for its part claims it has already lowered its "expectations" from having a "friendly" government in Kabul with no affinity to India to trying for a "stable border" with Afghanistan controlled by elements it can influence. Since limiting India's influence remains a major obsession, Pakistan wants to have the perfect balance of forces caught permanently in an intermediate situation which checks both India and the Taliban.
None of this may turn out the way Pakistani generals expect, throwing the careful calibration and justifications out of the window. But that doesn't mean India will have satisfaction.
India is in a horrendous situation – it lives close to the hub of terrorism but can’t decisively act because of a host of reasons. It didn't write the symphony but must face the music. Meanwhile, Obama is in a hurry to leave Afghanistan after 10 years of a debilitating war, blood and treasure and unspectacular gains. Domestic tolerance is near zero, and he appears to have decided to call it quits no matter what. What is difficult for India to accept is that he has to depend on the same country for an “exit” from Afghanistan that provided the brains and brawn for 9/11 and the Mumbai attacks.