As General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani heads to Kabul on Monday to ratchet up pressure on President Hamid Karzai to share power with extremist Pashtun groups nurtured by the Pakistan Army,India will soon have to demonstrate its relevance to Afghanistans rapidly evolving political dynamic.
On his trip to Kabul,Kayani will be accompanied by the chief of Pakistans Inter-Services Intelligence,Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha. The two generals,who dominate the conception and conduct of Pakistans national security policy,have been making frequent visits to Kabul in the past couple of months.
Diplomatic observers here say there is no reason for Delhi to press the panic buttons at Kayanis shuttle diplomacy. But they wonder if India has the political resolve to help its Afghan partners cope with Pakistans efforts to change the balance of power within and across Afghanistan.
Sensing the growing confusion in Washington about its political objectives and military methods in Afghanistan,and the popular exhaustion in the West with a war that many see as unwinnable,Kayani has moved quickly to seek the diplomatic upper hand for Pakistan.
Delhi is certainly aware that geography and demography make Pakistan a critical factor in any scheme to stabilise Afghanistan. With an open border that runs 2,500 km and millions of Pashtuns straddling across the Durand Line that notionally divides the territories of Pakistan and Afghanistan,there is no way Delhi can wish away Rawalpindis influence in Kabul.
Yet Delhi cannot ignore the long-term negative consequences of Rawalpindi re-establishing its dominance over Kabul through its extremist proxies. Nor can India turn a blind eye to the immediate pressures from Kayani on Karzai to replace key personnel in Kabuls intelligence,internal security and defence sectors that Rawalpindi does not like.
What Indias Afghan friends and international interlocutors want to know is where Delhi stands in the strategic flux that is beginning to envelop Kabul. Doing nothing,however,may not be an option for Delhi.
While Washington appears to have been surprised by Kayanis Kabul forays,the various political formations in Afghanistan have begun to debate the implications of a political deal between Kabul and the dissident Pashtun groups under the tutelage of the Pakistan army.
Afghanistans ethnic minorities the Tajiks,Uzbeks,and Hazara who cant forget their brutalisation under the Taliban rule during the 1990s,are bound to resist any arrangement that restores Pashtun domination over Kabul.
Kayanis offer to the United States and NATO at the beginning of this year to facilitate negotiations with the Afghan Taliban and other Pashtun groups as part of a political settlement in Afghanistan seemed no more than a general offer. But there is nothing abstract about the current shuttle diplomacy that Kayani and Pasha have launched in recent weeks between Rawalpindi,where the Pak Army headquarters are located,and Kabul,where Karzai has chosen to strike out on its own amidst growing tensions with US President Barack Obama.
Although Obama has ended the public attack on Karzai and promised to work with the elected leaders in Kabul,Karzai appears to be losing faith in the American ability to decisively defeat the Taliban insurgency that has gathered momentum across Afghanistan.
As Karzai looked to diversify his internal and external support base,Kayani and Pasha have stepped in. For one they offered to broker deals with key elements of the Pashtun opposition,especially the Haqqani network. Led by Sirajuddin Haqqani and his brothers,the network is based in Pakistans North Waziristan and has been a long standing partner of both the ISI and the al Qaeda.
Having resisted American pressures all these years to mount a military offensive in North Waziristan,Kayani is now pressing both Kabul and Washington to accept the Haqqani faction as part of the future power structure in Kabul. The Haqqani faction,it may be recalled,was used by the ISI for repeated attacks on Indian targets during the last few years.
Pakistans establishment-friendly media is hailing Kayanis shuttle diplomacy as a new beginning for Afghanistan. For Delhi,it is the biggest political challenge in Afghanistan since the Taliban was ousted from Kabul at the end of 2001.
Karzai had secret meet with Haqqani: Report
ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has met al-Qaeda-linked militant commander Sirajuddin Haqqani,who was accompanied by Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI boss Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha,for face-to-face talks,Al-Jazeera channel reported on Sunday. The channel quoted its sources as saying that the meeting took place in Kabul a few days ago.
Afghan media too had reported that such secret meetings were taking place and that Karzai is actively trying to hammer out a deal with groups opposed to his government,Al-Jazeera said. The Haqqani network is among the pro-Pakistan militant groups based in North Waziristan and Islamabad has been reluctant to launch military operations in the region despite pressure from Washington.
Karzais office denied any such meeting. Pakistan military spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas also denied it.