Why India came back to the negotiating table

ISLAMABAD: Renewed international pressure and growing realisation in New Delhi that the rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan could deprive it of its strategic leverage in the region has forced the sudden change of heart in India regarding ties with Pakistan, according to diplomats and analysts.

“It was being increasingly felt by strategists in New Delhi that after recent conferences on Afghanistan that endorsed President Hamid Karzai’s plan for reintegrating Taliban, India was being left out and Pakistan might take the centre stage,” a diplomat told Dawn when asked about the Indian proposal for resumption of bilateral talks.

It all started with Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s call to her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir, almost a week ago, inviting him to Delhi in February for talks on wide-ranging issues that have been constraining the bilateral ties, particularly in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

She expressed Indian government’s willingness to discuss issues besides terrorism which would remain the focus of the parleys.

Ms Rao went to the extent of offering negotiations on contentious issues like the water dispute, but stayed short of suggesting resumption of the Composite Dialogue.

India’s eagerness for resuming talks was evident from Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s belated admission that there was also a local Indian link to Mumbai attacks for which New Delhi had earlier been blaming Pakistan-based terror groups only.

Things afterwards started moving at a rapid pace towards detente. Pakistan sought clarifications and on Friday High Commissioner Shahid Malik met Ms Rao in New Delhi to discuss the agenda and possible dates for the meeting.

Although Pakistan is insisting on accepting nothing short of Composite Dialogue, there is realisation in the Foreign Office that sticking to revival of peace talks may jeopardise the opportunity for normalisation of strained ties.

The thinking is that the offer of initial contacts should be availed and subsequently taken forward to full resumption of Composite Dialogue.

“The attempt is to keep talking about the issues which are of concern to us,” Mr Malik said.

Although analysts and diplomats believe there are a number of factors that triggered the rethinking in India, the primary reason remains the changing scenario in Afghanistan coupled with the impending reintegration of Taliban in Afghan society. Read more of this post

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Chaotic Kabul

Afghan security forces gather at the scene of attack in central Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Jan. 18, 2010. Taliban militants struck the heart of the Afghan government in Kabul on Monday, prompting fierce gunbattles after a suicide bomber blew himself up near the presidential palace. (Ahmad Massoud/AP Photo)

It is quite obvious from yesterday’s incidents that the huge US-led ISAF force of over 100,000, has failed even to secure the Afghan Capital Kabul against attacks from the resistance. All they have done during the past eight years or so in the country is to cause widespread havoc, kill people by the tens of thousands, lay waste vast tracts of land and pulverise mountains.

Characteristic of guerrilla tactics, fighters of the Afghan resistance suddenly emerged from nowhere to strike at principal official buildings in Kabul on Monday, after they had reportedly quietly slipped into the Capital. There were explosions near the southern gate of the Presidency and a huge pall of smoke circled overhead. Smoke was also seen near the Central Bank and the Justice and Finance Ministries, and Kabul’s only four-star hotel Serena and two shopping centres were on fire. There were chaotic scenes, as the people ran away from the directions from where the noises of exploding rockets and grenades and gunshots were being heard. NATO and international forces, working with the Afghan security, were busy trying to secure the area, as the Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid warned that as many as 20 of his men were engaged in the fighting that, latest reports suggest, has left 10 dead and many more injured. Officials maintain that among the dead are four suicide bombers.

To be exact, the resistance fighters did not have to come from anywhere; they are the ordinary Afghan citizens, who are determined to drive out the occupation forces, and might as well be living in the city. To cloud this reality, however, they are called Taliban – terrorists in the US and allies’ terminology.

And if the world had thought that the freezing winter of the country would dampen their fighting spirit, it was badly mistaken. In fact, by the time summer sets in, the 37,000-odd US and NATO surge that would most probably be in place by then to augment the strength, would find a revitalised resistance ready to face the new challenge.

The solution clearly is not the surge but withdrawal without further delay. The resentment caused by the presence of foreign forces in the country has been swelling the ranks of resistance fighters. One hopes that the Americans intend living up to their declarations, as repeated by Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, that negotiations should be held with the Taliban. They must acknowledge the fact that there is little distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban when it comes to the urge for independence. The only right course for them is to leave Afghanistan and let the people work out a system of governance that reflects the country’s ethnic mix and suits them best, and for Pakistan to stop fighting its own people and settle differences through negotiations.(The Nation)

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