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A proliferation of sticks now

The Afghan war is about a Pakistani mindset. But the world doesn’t know how to tackle it.

india Updated: Sep 28, 2010 23:46 IST

There is one consistent message India has told the world about the Afghanistan conflict: it will be won or lost in the corridors of Islamabad and not the ravines of Waziristan. In other words, so long as the Pakistani establishment believes it is in its national interest to put the Taliban back into power in Kabul, the Western forces in Afghanistan will be trapped in a war without end. The recent wave of attacks inside Pakistan’s territory by American aerial drones and, unusually, manned helicopters is an indication that even Washington has decided to ratchet up the pressure on Islamabad. The attacks sent a message to Pakistan that if it did not take action against Rawalpindi’s most-favoured Taliban group, the Haqqani network, America was prepared to carry its fight into Pakistan’s territory.

A number of books and reports about America’s Afghanistan strategy have underlined how single-mindedly obsessed Pakistan is with eradicating India’s presence, however limited, from Afghanistan. Islamabad has also tom-tommed that its security concerns regarding India can only be resolved if international pressure is once again applied to the Kashmir dispute. New Delhi has rightly

resisted such Pakistani objectives and critiqued such analyses. India’s presence in Afghanistan is marginal. The real issue is whether anyone can believe Pakistan’s claim that it will be able to ensure that a future Taliban regime does not become an exporter of terrorism. There is still a sizeable school of thought in the West that believes the path to an

Af-Pak solution lies through Srinagar. However, even this school accepts that a Kashmir settlement with Western fingerprints would be unsaleable to the Indian public.

The Af-Pak policy has thus degenerated into a crude process of America proffering carrots or applying sticks to get Pakistan to reluctantly take action against the Taliban.

At present, the sticks seem to be proliferating because Islamabad is so determined to protect the Haqqani network. The more fundamental struggle is to get the Pakistani system to come to understand that the Taliban card is a lethal joker rather than a winning trump. This educational step requires far more than bombs and missiles. It requires a degree of self-reflection by the Pakistani establishment about the future of their nation that, so far, there seems to be remarkably little evidence of. Not even a recognition that a South Asia pressure ploy is on, but it is being increasingly applied to Islamabad rather then New Delhi.