No disputing an Afghan spring
Writen by : G. Parthasarathy
I had just arrived from Kabul on September 5 when I was told that Sushmita Banerjee had been murdered. The incident once again revealed the medieval character of the Taliban with whom the US is almost desperately seeking “reconciliation”.
What I found in the course of a five-day visit to Afghanistan was that it is a country with unlimited opportunities for development and democracy. Pakistan is an object of hate and derision across the country and Pakistani visitors to Kabul’s bazaars often prefer to describe themselves as “Hindustani”.
In just over a decade after the ouster of the Taliban, Afghanistan has seen remarkable political and social transformation. The country has developed a robust political system. The media is free and lively. Shah Rukh Khan and his Chennai Express have received rave reviews.
While schools were virtually defunct and women denied the right to education and work, there are now 10.5 million students in educational institutions. Universities flourish in Kabul, Nangarhar, Khost, Herat and Balkh. Some 48 per cent of all doctors and 60 per cent of teachers are women, who now are also well represented in the legislature, the army and the police force.
Afghanistan is now preparing for presidential elections scheduled for April 2014. With President Hamid Karzai constitutionally ineligible for a third consecutive term, the race has commenced for who should succeed him. Powerful regional leaders with significant armed cadres, such as Atta Muhammad Nur in Mazar-e-Sharif and Ismail Khan in Herat, will have a major say in any outcome.
Karzai deserves high praise for the way in which Afghan democratic institutions have been nurtured, ethnic, sectarian and religious pluralism respected and state and educational institutions developed, in his 11 years as president. Even the miniscule Sikh and Hindu communities are now represented in the Afghan parliament.
Understandable suspicion: There are understandable suspicions in Afghanistan about the future American role after they end their combat operations in December 2014. Afghans realise they will have to conclude a security pact with the Americans — give them six air bases — if they are to secure economic and military assistance for themselves. It will require at least 10 years of relative peace for the Afghans to become economically self-reliant by developing their agricultural and mineral potential.
What is most worrying is the American policy of supplying the Afghan armed forces weapons with only limited firepower while denying them artillery, tanks other heavy weaponry. This is a source of anger and anguish as Afghanistan’s ill-equipped armed forces have been suffering huge casualties in their confrontations with the Pakistan-backed Taliban. American policies are widely perceived as a deliberate ploy to force the Afghans to “reconcile” with the Pakistan-backed Taliban and the Haqqani network.
While the Afghans seek a good neighbourly relationship with Pakistan, the overwhelming view is that there will be no change in Pakistan’s attitude.
In contrast, there is huge admiration and affection for India, with 74 per cent of Afghans indicating in an opinion poll that India is the most highly regarded country there. According to the poll, 91 per cent have an “unfavourable” view of Pakistan, and 58 per cent regard the Taliban as the “biggest danger” to their country.
Time to review: It is time for India to review its approach of dovetailing policies almost totally with those of the US and worrying needlessly about Pakistani reactions to them. New Delhi must shed its pusillanimity on relations with Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should personally get (Russian) President Vladimir Putin’s concurrence for transferring military equipment of Soviet origin like India’s older T62/T55 tanks and MiG 21/23 fighters to Afghanistan. It is shocking that while India has supplied 105 mm field guns and howitzers to Myanmar, it is seeking every conceivable excuse to refrain from doing the same for Afghanistan.
Arms transfers have to be complemented by institutionalised tripartite India-Russia-Afghanistan talks on security issues. There is also need to reach out to Iran, activating the India-Iran-Afghanistan dialogue on the development of the Chabahar port and road communications between Iran and Afghanistan.
Indians visiting Afghanistan cannot but be proud of the sterling role of our diplomats who live barricaded, under heavy security cover.
Particular tribute needs to be paid to the ambassadors — Vivek Katju, Rakesh Sood, Jayant Prasad, Gautam Mukhopadhyay, Amar Sinha — and their diplomatic colleagues, military staff and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. Likewise, the work done by our diplomats in the challenging environments of Kandahar, Jalalabad, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif deserves high praise, as also Indian engineers, doctors and construction workers who do the country proud in Afghanistan.
They lead Spartan lives away from their families, soldiering on bravely in the face of terrorist threats. Their selflessness should spur others to join the effort to make our neighbourhood free from the scourge of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.
The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan
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