If General Rawat can talk to Talibs, why not to Kashmiris
My first visit to Afghanistan in 1996 was full of stark images. The country’s Soviet-backed president, Mohammad Najibullah, was pulled out of the United Nations compound and strung to a pole. His body was left hanging for a few days. The Taliban had just marched into Kabul and seized power. Heady with success, the Talibs were decorating their Kalashnikovs with roses. Women were wrenched out of offices, assaulted and forced into burqas.
Afghanistan changed overnight as the Taliban sought to rule through brute force, torturing women and literally stoning men to death in football fields. The same spectre looms, more than two decades on, despite America’s global war against terror, initiated after its twin towers were downed in New York by pilots on a suicide mission.
In 1996, the Indian diplomats had simply locked the embassy gates and run for dear life. Twenty-seven years later, India appears to be revising its policy vis a vis the Taliban, even though it has steadfastly maintained that there is no such thing as the “good Taliban” or “bad Taliban”. Apart from sending two retired diplomats to participate in the peace discussions hosted by Russia in November last year as unofficial members, the army chief, General Bipin Rawat, in a surprising statement, has advocated “unconditional” talks with the Taliban, whose ideology remains unaltered.
General Rawat’s logic is that India “can’t be left out of the bandwagon” because India has “interests in Afghanistan”. He is right. Why should India not find a place at the table when major powers of the world, including the United States, China and Russia, are willing to talk to the Taliban? India has invested in war-torn Afghanistan long and hard and it is in its interest to not shun the militant group that looks set to play a role in the not too distant future.
Doors for dialogue must always be kept open.
The problem, however, is that General Rawat’s largesse for the Taliban does not apply to his own people in Kashmir. Clarifying that the “Taliban analogy” cannot be applied in Jammu and Kashmir, General Rawat rejects unconditional talks with separatists and militants, asserting that any talks in the valley will be “on our terms”.
That is plain hypocrisy.
Shun the gun and stop taking directions from the western neighbour (Pakistan) are the conditions laid down by the army chief, who, not long ago, also threatened to kill “jehadi supporters” who tried to disrupt security operations in the state. The army has been a crucial part of the counter-insurgency grid in the nearly three decades that the state has been in the grip of violence. How much longer is the State going to maim, blind and kill its own people? Where is the basic recognition of this plain, commonsensical fact: the women who rush to encounter sites or the young Kashmiris who are unafraid of dying are tired of living wretched lives in a militarised zone?
Can the might of the State bludgeon an entire community into weary acceptance of its prowess? The answer is there for those willing to listen. The General should be nudging the government towards a political resolution of the quagmire that is Kashmir, instead of seeking to draw a line in which he says talks will be “on our own terms”. If ever there was a need for an outreach, it is now when the local young people are finding militancy more attractive than the comfort of classrooms. The new age militant is more motivated than he is militarily-trained. And unlike in the 1990s, he is not seeking to cross over into Pakistan for weapons or training.
General Rawat is missing a basic point. If several world capitals are today looking at ways of accommodating the Taliban, it is because Washington, Beijing and Moscow have understood that they need to work out a political framework to try and stop the strife in Afghanistan.
Delhi needs to understand that as well. General Rawat, an important part of South Block, most certainly does. If he does, he would truly be serving the country’s national interest.