Author : Deepak Sinha

Originally Published 2014-06-11 07:03:42 Published on Jun 11, 2014
America's release of five Taliban leaders recently in exchange for one of its troopers has grave implications for not just Afghan security but also the India-Pakistan détente.
US read the script wrong
The release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, after nearly five years in Taliban custody, in exchange for five high-ranking Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, created few ripples among either the Government or the strategic community in India, apart from worries about its impact on the Afghan situation. Even in the United States the discourse is mainly restricted to either the exact status of Sergeant Bergdahl prior to his capture or as to whether the US did right thing by negotiating with terrorists. As for the Afghan people, they have every reason to be worried by this sudden capitulation by the US and what it means for the Taliban.

But we would be missing the wood for the trees if we only concerned ourselves with the fallout its impact on Afghanistan may have for us, because this action will undoubtedly impact the India-Pakistan détente. The five Taliban leaders released held important positions in the Taliban Government prior to the occupation of Afghanistan by the US and its allies. At that time, the Taliban was controlled and run by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence. Therefore, it is fair to assume that these five leaders owe their allegiance to the ISI. Also, the Taliban held the Sergeant captive within Pakistan and that there is every likelihood that the ISI was involved in the negotiations leading to his release.

This bodes ill for the relationship between Mr Nawaz Sharif's Government and the Pakistani Army; more so, since this relationship is already under immense strain over the treatment of General Pervez Musharraf and the more recent imbroglio over the Geo TV issue. It is fair to assume that with the strengthening of the ISI-Taliban nexus, Mr Sharif's room for manoeuvre, if he attempts to negotiate with the Modi Government, will be severely constrained. The Pakistani Army will have no intention of either letting the Kashmir issue be eclipsed by a focus on economic cooperation or being resolved to the benefit of all parties.

This brings us back to the manner in which the US takes unilateral actions for narrow self-interest without any thought for other stakeholders in the region. President Barack Obama will justify his actions by pointing to his country's unwavering commitment to not leaving any of its servicemen behind, apart from claiming to have opened channels for future negotiations with the Taliban. However, there is little realisation that such unilateral actions cause as much harm to the US in the long run as it does to others. For this we need look no further than how the events in Afghanistan evolved over the past few decades.

The rise of Al Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalism can be directly attributed to the manner in which the US and its allies first raised and supported these elements in their opposition to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and then abruptly cut off all financial assistance, the moment the Soviets withdrew. What is relatively little known is that the US completely misread Soviet intentions that led to the occupation of Afghanistan. It was undertaken neither to expand Soviet influence eastwards in search of warm water ports nor to gain control of the Persian Gulf or some other such esoteric reason, as was commonly believed, but simply to neutralise Islamist militants trying to undermine Soviet influence in the Central Asian republics that were then a part of the Soviet Union. The Soviets had, in fact, been battling Islamists in this region from 1925 onwards and had even fought a war against Afghan attempts to capture Tajikistan in 1929.

One can only speculate about how the US would have responded if it had not misread Soviet intentions? Would it still have provided assistance to those very forces that ultimately went on to cause it grievous harm? The US and its allies have been comprehensively defeated in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite whatever spin they may put on it. In hindsight, one would like to believe that the US would not have opted for confrontation and today we would not be looking down the barrel of a gun that the ISI is attempting to point at our collective heads.

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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Deepak Sinha

Deepak Sinha

Brig. Deepak Sinha (Retd.) was Visiting Fellow at ORF. Brig. Sinha is a second-generation paratrooper. During his service, he held varied command, staff and instructional appointments, ...

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