With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expected to go to Kabul soon, India hopes the removal of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden will accelerate the international community's efforts to untangle some of the “crossed wires” that are hampering a solution in Afghanistan.
Government sources did not expect an immediate scaling down of the West-dominated security deployment in Afghanistan and hoped for increasing involvement of neighbours, including Iran, Russia, Central Asia, China and India.
“The problem is there are multiple backchannels in Afghanistan, from the UAE to the U.S. As a result, there are crossed wires. We are trying to set them right in a formal manner,'' said official sources. With the death of Osama, al-Qaeda remnants in Afghanistan, diehard adherents to a solution through militancy, are expected to be further marginalised leaving the international community with fewer ideologically disparate forces to negotiate with.
This would help the international community translate intentions expressed at the first meet of the International Contact Group in Jeddah of focussing on a political solution while maintaining military pressure on militants. This gathering of 50 states will now meet in Kabul; it will be followed by a conference later this year.
From a purely national perspective, India will continue plugging away at developmental work in Afghanistan and develop economic opportunities in trade and mining. Trucks have already started rolling down an India-built highway. Its linkage with an Iranian port could give Indian access to Central Asian markets. Several Indian companies have been shortlisted for the Hajigak copper mine project along with companies from Turkey, China and the U.S. India has also pinned its hopes on meeting its energy demand on a gas pipeline running through Afghanistan.
But for this to happen, peace and stability must return to Afghanistan. The government sources did not expect a “precipitate withdrawal” of the foreign security detail in order to consolidate the work done and finish vital ones, including that of reconciliation. Suggesting an approach at reconciliation that was inclusive, transparent and within the red lines drawn at the London Conference on Afghanistan, the sources said India, Iran, Russia, the five Central Asian nations and China “obviously” had a stake in creating a climate of security. “None can disagree to this. Pakistan has been talking [recent trilateral meet with the U.S. and Afghanistan, besides talks with Central Asian countries]… can't exclude any of the neighbours.”
The sources drew a distinction between reintegration and reconciliation. The former concerned the foot soldiers in the resistance, while the second was more complicated and related to bringing the hardcore elements into the political mainstream. And even as this process was on, military pressure on the Taliban must be maintained.
“In discussions with the U.S., they understand that many of the groups are ideologically fused… This leads us to conclude that the fight is far from over,'' cautioned the sources.