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India read Afghan wicket correctly

India read Afghan wicket correctly

Author: Chidanand Rajghatta
Publication: The Times of India
Date: December 8, 2001

Perhaps it has to do with the dicey pitches back home, but as the end game approaches in Afghanistan, India appears to have read the treacherous wicket there better than any other country and has come out on top of the political situation.

More than the selection of the Shimla-educated Hamid Karzai as the head of the interim set-up in. Kabul, New Delhi has reason to be pleased with the composition of the remaining 30 spots in the arrangement.

Eighteen of the posts have gone to the Northern Alliance or the United Front, 11 to the so-called Rome group, and only one to the Pakistan based Peshawar group.

The crucial portfolios of foreign affairs, defence and interior have all gone to the Northern Alliance, which New Delhi fully and consistently backed. Sima Samar, a prominent social worker and a Shia Hazara from central Afghanistan, has been named deputy Prime Minister in -charge of women's affairs, one of the two women named to the interim government.

In fact, reports suggest that the new set-up in Afghanistan could be making its first political contact abroad soon with a visit to India by interior minister Yusuf Qanooni.

Defence minister Gen. Mohammed Fahim is also a familiar figure in New Delhi, having visited the Indian capital before and having dealt with the Indian military and intelligence during the Alliance battle with the Taliban well before the September 11 events.

New Delhi has also been in close contact with foreign minister Dr Abdulla Abdulla.

All three are Tajiks from the Panjsher Valley and are legatees of the late Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was widely respected in New Delhi.

The intensely despised Pakistan backed Taliban, moderate or otherwise, has ended with cipher. Also missing from the power line-up are Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum who rules in northern Afghanistan, Pakistani hatchet man Gulbuddin Hekmatyar of the Hizb-e-Islami, and Saudi client Abdulrab Rasul Sayyaf of the Ittihad-i-Islami.

Expectedly, those who were excluded from the new arrangement have already begun making noises. But the western powers overseeing the Bonn treaty, expect the arrangement to hold. Even Pakistan, which has lost the most in the arrangement, has been forced to welcome it publicly.

With Hamid Karzai, a leader of the majority Pashtun tribe, leading the dispensation, India hopes that the ruling set-up will have the ethnic balance needed to carry forward the work towards providing a permanent political platform in a country ravaged by a decade of bigotry and strife. Karzai himself is ambivalent towards India, probably as a result of being denied a visa to pursue his doctorate in the 1980s and the subsequent loss of contact. The feeling is mutual, since India watched Karzai being groomed by the ISI.

But then there's no love lost between Karzai and Pakistan either. Islamabad had once asked him to leave Quetta, where he was organising anti-Taliban forces, at the height of its dalliance with the fundamentalist regime in Kabul.

However, he is known to be fiercely independent. Already, he has begun to show an autonomous, defying the US to strike a deal for the surrender of Kandahar with the routed Taliban forces.

For Pakistan, the composition of the interim set-up is bad news. Islamabad had just begun to make overtures to the incumbent president Burnahuddin Rabbani, but he has been jettisoned by the younger leadership of the Alliance, partly to overcome the stigma of his disastrous rule from 1992 to 1996.

Now Pakistan has expressed "delight" at the selection of Karzai, but the joy may be misplaced. Despite the academic mishap in India, Karzai, a secular and liberal Pashtun, in even more suspicious of Pakistan and holds Islamabad's Taliban proteges and their ISI masters responsible for the assassination of his father in 1999.

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