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At a fork in the road

The fate of Afghanistan is being decided in Washington, not at conferences in Kabul.

india Updated: Jul 21, 2010 22:59 IST

Given that the 60-odd countries who attended the international conference in Afghanistan were seeking to endorse a compact between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his own people, it was appropriate that the meet was for the first time held in Kabul. The compact, largely drafted by the Karzai regime, is a wonderful document. It lays out roadmaps by which Kabul would enforce rights for women, ensure domestic law and order, seek to curb corruption and improve governance. In return, the international community pledged to not only provide aid but to see that more of it went directly to the Afghan government.

Unfortunately, the conference was little more than smoke and mirrors. Behind the diplomatic niceties seen in Kabul is an intractable conflict whose main protagonists are interested in pushing their interests at all costs. At the top of this list is Pakistan and its proxies among the Afghan Taliban. Islamabad is obsessed with the idea that Afghanistan is another theatre for its rivalry with New Delhi. Even an independent Afghan government is seen as unacceptable. Pakistan believes it can only be secure if its Taliban allies are present in Kabul. Today, Islamabad smells victory. The US, whose military presence is the primary bulwark against the Taliban, seems uncertain about its commitment to the war. One fallout: Karzai has begun to seek a compromise solution with Islamabad. This, in effect, would mean the Taliban coming to power in some form or another.

Such a development would be disastrous for the people of Afghanistan and for the security interests of India. Pakistan’s talk of being caught between an Afghan-Indian nutcracker is an armchair fantasy. But New Delhi’s concerns that a Taliban regime will provide a haven for militants who will target India is based on the experiences of the 1990s. Afghanistan is at a fork in a road. Which path Kabul takes will not be decided by aid projects or international conferences. It will be decided by the decision that Washington makes about its Afghan strategy. India, which has more at stake in this decision than most, should also be clear what this means: that its own Afghan strategy is best advanced in trying to help the sole superpower clarify in its mind what the stakes in the New Great Game are and what policy alternatives it should be considering.