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Neighboring countries wary of thaw in Afghan-Pakistan relations

豆瓣ing 2010-07-26
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Sunday, July 25, 2010

NEW DELHI -- Recent moves by Afghanistan and Pakistan to improve their once-frosty relationship have prompted deep concern in other countries in the region and led some to consider strengthening ties to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's political rivals.

The U.S. government considers the Afghan-Pakistan overtures essential to combating insurgencies racking both nations. But India, Iran and Afghanistan's northern neighbors fear that they are a step toward fulfilling Karzai's desire to negotiate with Taliban leaders and possibly welcome some of them into the government.

These nations think that Karzai's plans could compromise their security and interests by lessening the influence of Afghanistan's Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara ethnic minorities, with whom they have cultivated close links, diplomats and government officials say.

The apprehension, voiced pointedly by senior Indian officials in recent interviews, has emerged as yet another challenge for the U.S. government...
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Sunday, July 25, 2010

NEW DELHI -- Recent moves by Afghanistan and Pakistan to improve their once-frosty relationship have prompted deep concern in other countries in the region and led some to consider strengthening ties to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's political rivals.

The U.S. government considers the Afghan-Pakistan overtures essential to combating insurgencies racking both nations. But India, Iran and Afghanistan's northern neighbors fear that they are a step toward fulfilling Karzai's desire to negotiate with Taliban leaders and possibly welcome some of them into the government.

These nations think that Karzai's plans could compromise their security and interests by lessening the influence of Afghanistan's Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara ethnic minorities, with whom they have cultivated close links, diplomats and government officials say.

The apprehension, voiced pointedly by senior Indian officials in recent interviews, has emerged as yet another challenge for the U.S. government, which seeks to encourage new initiatives to stabilize Afghanistan while minimizing fallout on the already tense relationship between India and Pakistan.

Holbrooke and Mullen


In an attempt to assuage those concerns, the Obama administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke, traveled here last week to meet with India's national security adviser and foreign secretary. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, arrived Thursday for two days of meetings with top military and civilian leaders.

India has been riled by recent meetings involving Karzai and Pakistan's top two security officials: Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the army chief, and Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the intelligence director. Afghanistan and Pakistan have signed a trade agreement that allows Afghan trucks to drive through Pakistan to the Indian border.

Indian officials had wanted to send their trucks through Pakistan to Afghanistan, but the Pakistani government insisted they not be included in the negotiations. U.S. officials hailed the deal as a major step forward in the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan and a vital development for Afghanistan's economy.

Heightened influence

Of greater concern to the Indians is Karzai's interest in reconciling with elements of the Taliban leadership. Because of the Taliban's historic ties to Pakistan's intelligence agency, Indian officials think that such a move would give Pakistan new influence in Afghanistan.

Allowing the Taliban, which is dominated by ethnic Pashtuns, to have a role in the Afghan government is something "we don't think is a very good idea," a senior Indian government official said. "It's not that there are two equal political factions, with equal legitimacy, that have a right to political power. Karzai is the elected president. Not the Taliban. It should not be a question of negotiating a place at the table for them."

The Indian government, the official said, disputes "suggestions that come from the Pakistanis that the Taliban is legitimate, they represent the Pashtuns and therefore you need to deal with them and negotiate with them. That's the difference. We don't think they represent the Pashtuns."

Compounding India's pique is the fact that it believed it had cultivated close ties with Karzai. India has opened four consulates in Afghanistan, even though relatively few Indian citizens live there, and invested $1.3 billion in development projects -- far more than Pakistan has.

"The Indians are shell-shocked," said a Western diplomat involved in Afghanistan policy. "They went in with more than a billion dollars, and now Pakistan is eating their lunch."

U.S. officials are trying to persuade the Indians to abandon their traditional zero-sum logic that what's good for Pakistan must be bad for them. "You cannot stabilize Afghanistan without the participation of Pakistan as a legitimate concerned party," Holbrooke said at a meeting with Indian journalists here.

Speaking to reporters on his flight here, Mullen said that "the whole region has a role to play" in Afghan reconciliation but that the Kabul government must take the lead.

In his meetings, Mullen sought to assure Indian officials that the U.S.-led counterinsurgency strategy was on track and that the United States has a long-term commitment to assist Afghanistan. "India, perhaps more than any outside country, has the greatest stake in our success in Afghanistan," one U.S. official said.

The United States, Mullen told reporters, is not "looking for the door out of Afghanistan or out of this region."

But Indian officials remain deeply mistrustful of Pakistan's motivations in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis, officials here contend, have deftly capitalized on Karzai's fears of abandonment by the United States -- fueled in part by his misinterpretation of President Obama's pledge to begin drawing down forces by July 2011 -- by offering to help forge a deal with an insurgency that his army, and NATO forces, have been unable to defeat.

"Pakistan wants to be able to control the sequence of events in Afghanistan," a second senior Indian official said. "We don't want a situation that would entail a revision to pre-2001, with backward-looking people taking the reins of power in Kabul."

Iran, which is predominantly Shiite Muslim, is also worried about any greater political role for leaders of the almost exclusively Sunni Taliban. Diplomats in New Delhi say Iran has encouraged India to send more of its assistance to provinces in northern and western Afghanistan that are under the control of people who were part of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. The diplomats said India has not shifted its efforts.

Whether the Taliban is genuinely interested in reconciliation is questionable. CIA Director Leon Panetta said last month that he saw no clear indications that insurgent leaders wanted to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government.

Mullen echoed that assessment, saying he does not believe reconciliation is imminent. "We've got to be in a position of strength," he said. "We're just not there yet."


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