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The battle goes beyond Kabul

The recent attacks are a precursor to other attempts to undermine Karzai’s credibility.

india Updated: Apr 16, 2012 23:11 IST
Hindustan Times
kabul,afghanistan,hamid karzai

Only in Kabul is the arrival of spring marked by full scale battles in the downtown area. This weekend’s battle was the most prolonged and widespread in over a decade. Militarily, it was a disaster for the likely suspects, fighters of the Pakistan-based Haqqani network.

They lost over 30 of their own and killed one Afghan policeman in the 18-hour-long siege. If anything, the most recent round of streetfighting was notable for the speed with which the Afghan National Army was able to bring the situation under control. Politically, however, the attack was suitably laden with symbolism and carried an obvious message to the government of Hamid Karzai and his international supporters, which include India and the West.

The message: the Taliban and its allies are in a position to attack the physical heart of the Karzai government at will. Doubly important because of an expected steady US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan through this year and into the next. It has additional import because of the continuing and chaotic attempts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table and prepare a strong negotiating position if and when the talks actually begin.

So far it seems that the hard core of the Taliban, the Haqqani network included, is simply opposed to any negotiations of any kind. Attacking Kabul would help underline their argument that the US is on its way out, Karzai’s days are, thus, numbered and, therefore, the talks can only be about Kabul’s total capitulation. The Kabul attacks will probably be a precursor to other attempts to violently undermine the credibility of the Karzai government.

New Delhi has long opposed the return of a Taliban regime, remembering well its addiction to terrorism. However, geography and New Delhi’s aversion to risk make it difficult for India to play more than a marginal role in Afghanistan. Fortunately, many of India’s warnings regarding a militant takeover in Kabul have been showcased by the recent actions of the Taliban and the Inter-Ser-vices Intelligence agency of Pakistan. Both of them have worked hard to sabotage peace talks with the Taliban.

They will be even less inclined to give talks a chance at a time when Mr Karzai has lined up substantial support from the international community including $10 billion a year in committed funding and a US promise to build a quarter of a million strong Afghan security force. This is a battle not for Kabul, but for the political and military process which will follow the US’s withdrawal and, ultimately, the future of Afghanistan and possibly even Pakistan.

First Published: Apr 16, 2012 23:09 IST