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M.L. Sondhi

The Firmest Bond

India's Afghanistan policy under the Congress regime throughout the decade of the 1980's has been exposed as a futile exercise in duplicity, paranoia and timidity. Afghanistan is embroiled in a terrible civil war, and India is not only marginalised as a player in the Central Asian arena but has proven herself incompetent to take care of the interests of the Hindu and Sikh citizens of Afghanistan, who are now fleeing that country.

Till the end of the 1970s India and Afghanistan enjoyed the most friendly and cordial of relationships, stretching back to the days of King Amanullah's support to the Indian national movement. But Indian support to Soviet interventionism in Afghanistan turned the affection of the Afghan population into hatred for India, and this calculated risk on the part of our decision makers could only have been the result of a colossal mistake in judgement, that superpowers can invincibly grind local nationalisms into dust.

One can only presume that the Indian foreign intelligence branch went to town, having developed by this time a self-justifying institutional rationality coupled with all the irresponsibility that goes with unaccountable power.

The assault on the Hindu and Sikh Afghans under the Mujahideen regime is directly the result of another avoidable mistake of the part of the then Indian ambassador in Kabul, who began, for the first time in history, to use the Hindus and Sikhs in the Indian fight for the Puppet regime. Not a military, but a political fight. These poor misled non-Muslim Afghan citizens are now paying the price for a policy on which adequate warning was given to the Indian powers-that-be by Afghan refugee well-wishers in New Delhi.

Except for a few notable exceptions in the foreign policy and external intelligence communities, most decision-makers continue to brandish the spectre of fundamentalism to impede a thorough investigation into the weaknesses and distortions of India's Afghan fixations.

Any discussion of India's links with the new Afghanistan must take into account our close relations with the Pashtuns who have always been opinion leaders in Afghanistan. If we had not allowed the Soviets to dictate their agenda to us, the Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line would have continued to maintain a symbiotic relationship with New Delhi. An open and unqualified apology to the people of Afghanistan even at this stage will produce a shift towards more mature views about India among the Pashtuns. A sensible way for promoting peace in Afghanistan would require that India favour a more stable equilibrium between the various factions seeking to control Kabul. We should stop the behind-the-scenes jockeying with the Tajik-Uzbek combine Massoud and Dostum against Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami. As of today there are no signs that the Pashtuns will forgive India for its pro-Soviet initiatives, but there are ambiguous tendencies following Islamabad's 'betrayal' of the Pashtuns dominated Hezb-e-Islami and India should focus on policies which can accommodate ongoing developments towards a new order of Pashtun unity which may surface as the political landscape changes.

India policy-makers would do well to bear in mind three aspects of the situation in Afghanistan for a constructive role by which its credibility as a reliable actor can be restored. The first is that it is absurd to consider the solution to the aggressive forms of ethnic violence in terms of the exclusion of the Pashto speaking people and in the name of moderation, unity and stability to entrench in power minorities like Tajiks and Uzbeks. In the eyes of his countrymen, Hekmatyar is not only a fundamentalist; he is above all a Pashtun.

The second aspect is that the transition of the Presidency from Sibghtullah Mujaddidi to Burhanuddin Rabbani has not facilitated the progress towards national reconciliation. Specifically some of the most important actors like Pir Sayed Ahmed Shah Gallani and Younus Khalis have not backed the new Government. India needs to engender a feeling of partnership among all groups Pashtun and non-Pashtun and among both Shia and Sunni. Their representatives are located in New Delhi among the Afghan-community-in-exile who have considerably more influence than is recognized by South Block.

The third aspect is that Afghanistan is more important in terms of the changes underway in Asia from India's point of view…. that the former soviet Central Asian Republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan where New Delhi is applying its maximum diplomatic energy. There are persons who are espousing the notion of the partition of Afghanistan between Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and pro-Iranian Shias. Such a development would be wrong and unjust and against India's security interests.

A major component of India's new strategy should be to work in a dedicated manner for a Loya Jirga under the auspices of the U.N. Prime Minister Rao should initiate a process of compromise and conciliation with all the major Afghan groups. The new policy cannot however be developed without a frank acknowledgement that the old strategy was a Himalayan blunder.

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