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Delhi sees Pak tilt in US stand on Kabul

New Delhi, Oct. 10: The US is once again preparing to sub-contract its Afghanistan policy to Pakistan, many in the Indian establishment believe.

Reports that the most senior Taliban leader in the custody of the US forces in Afghanistan, Mulla Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, may either have been released or is in the process of being freed has upset the Indian establishment. Sources in the government claimed that this means that America is once again committing a mistake in Afghanistan by being guided by its short-term interests.

Muttawakil was the foreign minister of the ousted Taliban regime and was being held by the US forces in Afghanistan at their headquarters at Bagram outside Kabul.

Over the last two days, reports from Afghanistan have claimed that Muttawakil has been released by the Americans after he arranged talks between the US forces and some Taliban leaders — notably former interior minister Mulla Abdul Razzak — at Kandahar. There have been suggestions that Muttawakil was no longer in American custody and has been handed over to the Afghan authorities.

Sources in the government said: “If this is true, then it would indicate that the Americans are once again trying to accommodate the so-called moderate Taliban in the power structure. It shows American desperation. After the obvious failure of their policy in Iraq, they desperately need to show some success as they go into their Presidential election of November 2004.”

These sources see in this US approach a success of the policy followed by General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. They argue that by giving limited and selective cooperation to the Americans on al Qaida, Musharraf was not only able to buy time and space for himself, he also managed to allow the Taliban to regroup.

There have been reports in the international media about more attacks by the Taliban across the border than in the past few months and in larger numbers — showing a great degree of preparation. About 2,500 Taliban fighters have been reported to be waiting in Baluchistan, preparing to cross the border on motorcycles.

The increased frequency and intensity of Taliban attacks, according to one Indian strategic analyst, “convey a perception of failure of the efforts of the past two years in Afghanistan, and the Americans, therefore, are once again desperate to wean away a section of the Taliban”.

Such a strategy would appease Pakistan by including some Taliban in the power structure. At the same time, it would serve the US goal of weakening the Northern Alliance and the United Front consisting of several independent parties with pockets of regional influence led, most notably, by Islamel Khan, Ahmad Rasheed Dostum, and Burhanuddin Rabbani.

The Americans know that President Hamid Karzai and other Pashtun leaders who have come back from the Afghan diaspora in the West do not have any strength on the ground in Afghanistan and are totally dependent on them.

However, elements of the Northern Alliance and the United Front are not dependent on the US, and the Americans know this. They not only enjoy ground-level support in their respective areas of influence but have also had traditional links with neighbouring countries like Iran, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

In desperation, the US, Indian government sources believe, is buying the Pakistani argument that there is a need to bring more Pashtuns into the government as Karzai does not represent the Pashtuns. And they are seeking to do this by preparing to bring in the so-called “moderate Taliban”. Indian sources, however, claimed that there was no such entity as “moderate Taliban”.

They said: “Pakistan will once again get an instrument to interfere in Afghan affairs directly. The situation may begin to look a little bit better in the short run but eventually it would lead to the unraveling of the entire arrangement put together by the international community in Afghanistan.”

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