The big Afghan question
Padam Ahlawat

The Afghan War and its Geopolitical Implications for India
edited by Salman Haidar.
Manohar, New Delhi.
Pages 197. Rs 425.

The Afghan War and its Geopolitical Implications for IndiaThe Iraq War has pushed out events in Afghanistan from the public view. The Afghan situation, however, remains pivotal to the fight against terrorism. Afghanistan had been sponsoring terrorism, acting as a training ground for terrorists and a refuge for the likes of Osama-bin-Laden.

The US has removed the Taliban and destroyed the terror training camps. Hundreds of terrorists have been killed, while others have been driven into hiding in Afghanistan and tribal areas of Pakistan. The Pakistan army has been hunting them down, despite opposition from sections of Pakistani society.

Hamid Karzai faces a daunting task in wielding a divided society into one nation. Afghanistan is an ethnic mosaic with the Pashtuns constituting 38 per cent of the population, the Tajiks 25, the Hazaras 19 and the Uzbeks 5. These tribes are led by their own warlords, who control large territories and collect all revenue. Refusal to hand over any part of this revenue to the national government at Kabul reveals its political and economic weakness. The US aid is keeping the Kabul Government going and the tribal council, Loya Jirga, has approved a constitution for the country. The US is helping Karzai build a national army and police. However, the real test of authority will come when the national government is able to subordinate the warlords.

How did a fierce and independent people fall prey to a government engaged in coercion, thuggery and international terrorism? Several contributors have traced Afghanistanís history to the present situation.

Shri Prakash traces the history of Afghanistan. Afghanistan remained neutral under the monarchy, with good relations with the US and the USSR, but reforms were slow. It led to the 1973 overthrow of monarchy. Daudís moderate course was not liked by the Soviet-trained Afghan army and the Peoples Democratic Party. Russian backed coup in 1978, putting an end to Afghan neutrality. Land reforms, education and womenís rights were resented by the Muslim clergy and tribal leaders.

Fierce fighting brought in Russian troops, to oppose which the US backed Pakistan to train and send in the Mujahideen. These new warlords evicted the Russians and into this chaos stepped in the Taliban. Afghanistan became a centre for world terrorism and India, too, faced the brunt.

However, after September 11, Pakistan opted to help the US. Kanti Bajpai and V. P. Dutt explore this question. Pakistan for its strategic location and Taliban ties proved to be more useful for the fight against terrorism. India has gained, as the terror network has been drastically weakened.

Several writers, including Nimmi Kurian, contend that the US interest in Central Asia goes beyond terrorism. The vast oil reserve of the region and the routes of the pipelines are big economic questions. However, these economic interests of the US would have received economic solutions if September 11 had not happened. The US went into Afghanistan against terrorism, though oil strategy is also very important to it.

Hari Vasudevan looks at Putinís cooperative stance to the US war and stationing of troops in former Russian states of Central Asia. Russia backs the existing pipeline through its territory to carry oil from the Caspian and Central Asia. Iran favours the route through its territory, while some US oil interests favour the pipeline through Afghanistan and Pakistan. Despite conflicting oil and strategic interests, Putin has decided to back the US war on terrorism in Afghanistan.

Terrorism in Kashmir and the larger Kashmir issue are linked to the outcome in Afghanistan. It seems India erred in its coercive diplomacy against Pakistan. The contributors have brought out all aspects clearly and forcefully.