February 11, 2013

AFGHAN PEACE PROCESS ROADMAP TO 2015: INTERNAL SECURITY NIGHTMARE FOR INDIA?




 
A four page document titled the 'Peace Process Roadmap to 2015' seems to be scripting events and future developments in AfPak. Reportedly drafted by the Afghan President Karzai and his inner circle, the document's western 'tone and tenor' has led some analyst to suspect a foreign linkage. The 'roadmap to 2015' on the letter head of the Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) and datelined November 2012 enumerates a five step process; each step with its objectives and superimposed on a timeline. The plan was presented to Pakistan and the US during visits in November 2012 by the HPC Chairman Salauddin Rabbani. The roadmap 2015 is not without its grey areas, and opens itself to varying interpretations and implications. 
 
The Afghan peace process envisions that "by 2015, Taliban and other armed groups will have given up armed opposition, transformed from military entities into political parties…and participated in national elections." And more significantly "NATO/ISAF forces will have departed from Afghanistan, leaving the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) as the only legitimate armed forces…" The roadmap, however, seeks to preserve Afghanistan as a parliamentary democracy, denying the militants the Islamic rule. 
 
The first step of the process includes an end to cross-border shelling, the transfer of Taliban prisoners by Pakistan to Afghanistan or a third country, and pressure on the Taliban to sever ties with al-Qaeda. Step two (slotted for the first half of 2013) includes amongst other issues, agreement on the terms of direct peace talks. The third step slated for the second half of 2013, envisages a ceasefire. Recent events indicate that the first step of the roadmap has largely been implemented despite glitches such as the Taliban's refusal to talk directly to the Karzai government, seek changes to the Afghan constitution and insistence on withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan.
 
A key factor in the peace process has been how the US has 'reconciled' its objectives in AfPak. US now believes that the reason it is in Afghanistan is al-Qaeda; an objective that has either been met or is on the verge of being met substantially. The success of the drone campaign and killing of Osama bin Laden are supportive of the notion. The nation building efforts in Afghanistan and the conflict with the Taliban were only means to an end- eliminating al-Qaeda in the region, which paradoxically was mainly in Pakistan. Hence, further engagement of Taliban or nation building are not worthy of more efforts .The primary U.S. national security interests in the region are ( and have been) to quell terrorism against the US and this  will determine its future posture in the region including exercising a 'zero option' on residual force levels in Afghanistan post 2014. The 'zero option' incidentally is viewed by some analysts as supportive of the
'Roadmap to 2015' as it addresses a key Taliban demand.
 
The importance of Pakistan to the peace process comes from two aspects .One, Taliban's refusal to talk to the government in Kabul and two, the failure of the Afghan government to prevail on the Taliban and lead the peace talks. Of course, the third unstated reason is that Pakistan refuses to allow any initiative to proceed unless it has a major role in it. Therefore under the roadmap 2015, Pakistan gets to bring Taliban to the negotiating table and in turn leverage this position to garner whatever strategic advantage it can for itself.
 
A significant aspect of the roadmap is that (in the third step) it offers the Taliban non-elected positions at various levels in the government which when seen along with the elected positions virtually gives the Taliban complete control of the pashtun-dominated areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border after the elections in 2014. The roadmap, according to some observers, appears to back a two-state solution (or a variant of it) that splits the country into two blocs, a non-Pashtun north and west and the Pashtun south and east, under a weak central government in Kabul. This leaves Pakistan with an extended Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Or if the Taliban, instead of the ISI calls the shots in the region, there will be a talibanistan/pashtunistan straddling the Durand line. This region would hold the 'good' Taliban (Quetta Shura), 'bad' Taliban (TTP) and the 'ugly' Haqqanis, Uighurs and the IMU. The supersized FATA would hand
Pakistan its 'strategic depth', while in the latter case (Talibanistan) Pakistan will have a Tiger by its tail. Either way it is bad news for India. 
 
In accordance with the first step of the roadmap both Afghanistan and Pakistan have been releasing Taliban detainees in exchange for renouncing violence and coaxing Taliban into peace talks. The Afghan government has freed more than 250 Taliban prisoners formerly held by the U.S. and plans on releasing an additional 150 soon. Prisoners were released on January 4, 2013 from the Bagram military prison, north of Kabul, and other jails across the country. An Afghan Defense Ministry official, Jalaluddin Dehati said a total of 1,200 prisoners will be set free in the coming weeks. In neighboring Pakistan, 26 Taliban have been freed in recent months and there are reports that Kabul had presented a 40-man list of detainees to Islamabad. Pakistan's foreign secretary has recently said that Pakistan plans to release all Afghan Taliban prisoners still in its custody. 
 
Deputy Commander of the US Forces in Afghanistan, Lt Gen. James Terry,recently referred to an estimate of around 20,000 militants still operating along the Pak-Afghan border. With reports of as many as 5000 Taliban having relocated to Karachi and the recent attacks on the Pakistan army and the levy in the Khyber area, the ISI will have its task cut out. The convergence of interest of the ISI and the militants can be sensed by the fact that, coinciding with the Indo-Pak tension along the LoC, the TTP announced that it would cease attacking the Pakistan army and focus instead on the NATO forces. With some analysts already prophesying that the roadmap 2015 will lead to pre-9/11 situation in the region, one of the options with the ISI to engage the militants would be to present them with a fresh jihad- India.

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