Pakistan - Are we back from the brink?
Thursday, April 16, 2009
By Ikram Sehgal
The Asia Society was pessimistic in asking this rhetorical question in a commendable comprehensive review aimed at "Stabilising Afghanistan and Pakistan." The report has a basic flaw, India successfully arm-twisted the Obama administration into ignoring the major reason for the present instability in the region, Kashmir was repeatedly so stated by candidate Obama during his Presidential campaign. This core question can only be avoided at dire peril to policy initiatives aimed at successfully confronting terrorism.
Constructive engagement with moderate elements among the Taliban is necessary, political initiatives to isolate Al-Qaeda by bringing moderates back from the cold, giving them political space presently dominated either by the Northern Alliance or non-representative Pashtuns of their choice.
These include: (1) The US acting neutral in the emergence of a truly credible leadership through holding of representative jirgas. (2) Building on President Obama's stance that the US is not against Muslims, by vigorously exploiting the commonalities between Islam, Christianity and Judaism. (3) Making the operations more Afghan; (a) by the government and the army hierarchy being directly involved in the military decision-making process; and (b) by putting Afghan forces in the frontline; while (c) avoiding civilian collateral damage; (4) eliminating poppy cultivation, the "tax" imposed by the Taliban fuels the war. The entire poppy crop must be bought out while gradually substituting suitable alternative crops as means of livelihood. Predator strikes must target government supporters (read "Karzai"-owned refining laboratories). Despite taking major steps in eliminating money-laundering, Dubai remains a safe haven for drug-tainted money; and last but not the least. (5) Combat endemic corruption afflicting the broad spectrum of Afghan society. The Pashtun gut reaction against corruption and injustice during the first Northern (Tajik and Uzbek) Alliance misrule following the end of Soviet occupation was the reason the rise of the Taliban in the first place.
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