Af-Pak: A Strategic Opportunity for South Asia?
In the post-Afghan elections scenario, the US is contemplating another ‘surge’ and a rethink on its counter-insurgency strategy. Though the US is determined to stay the course, it may have to switch from a militarily dominant to a politically dominant strategy, in which case, reaching out to the Taliban will be possible. In case the Taliban were to abandon its al Qaeda connection and moderate its extremist religious stance as part of a negotiated deal, the feasibility of such a political approach is not impossible to envisage. The ‘surge’ could position the US favourably by enabling it reach a position of military strength, thereby facilitating the negotiations. The underside of this strategy is that it could result in an escalation of war with the Pakistani Taliban resorting to an expansion of the theatre of war into Pakistani Punjab, thereby, destabilizing the nuclear armed state. This paper argues that to prevent such an eventuality, the political prong of the Af-Pak strategy must go beyond the ‘moderate’ Taliban to also reach out to the hardcore Taliban. It calls for an ‘engage and moderate’ strategy. The paper makes the case that attempting to defeat the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban combine will place the stability of Pakistan at great risk. Therefore, accommodating it, in return for moderation, may be preferable. This however, could be taken to mean an undesirable ‘appeasement’, especially if the Taliban is seen as an expansionist force, incapable of reforming itself. The paper debates this and arrives at the position that the Taliban can be tamed without the undue risk that predominantly military action entails. It recommends a proactive role for India in bringing about a ‘political first’ strategy for the international community