Let us wind our clocks back a few years. India was quick to react after the terror attack on the Parliament leading to a military stand-off between the two nuclear powers as the world looked with bated breath. After the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai, the US envoy publicly remarked that in case of another terror attack emanating from Pakistan, India would be justified in retaliating with a war. Yet two days after the German Bakery blast, India was found inviting Pakistan for talks and now we have talk of Saudis interlocuting for us.
This has much to do with recently changing dynamics in the Afghanistan checkerboard. It seems, Pakistan's dangerous game of running with the hare and hunting with the hound has finally paid off. Post 9/11, Pakistan was forced by the US to act against the Taliban and it did so to some extent but it is quite likely that the US and allies overlooked its continued support to Islamist militants that it had fostered as instruments of its proxy war against India. That would explain why so many Taliban leaders escaped to safe sanctuaries in Pakistan. Not very long back,the situation in Pakistan looked very bleak,its future uncertain.
However, all of a sudden things have changed and global media seems to indicate that strategically Pakistan is in an enviable position. Obama seems determined to quit Afghanistan by 2011-2012 and has indicated willingness to negotiate with "moderate" elements within the Taliban. For the hawks in the Pakistani establishment, especially, those in military and in intelligence, it is a vindication of their stand that a relatively cooperative regime could be installed without purging Pakistan of all Islamist militants including those operating against India. It is quite apparent that the "good" Taliban can only refer to those extremist militants who are willing to stop attacking Pakistan, US and its allies but not necessarily give up violence. I could be very wrong regarding the new policy undermining India's security concerns but it is a fact that the US and allies' new strategy on Afghanistan can alter the geo-dynamics of the South-Asia.
The London Conference on Afghanistan has been the real game-changer in this regional chessboard. India was effectively sidelined when its concern that any power-sharing arrangement with Taliban would make the region more volatile, was completely disregarded. In fact, India's diplomacy failure was already apparent when Turkey in deference to Pakistan refrained from inviting India to the Istanbul Conference on Afghanistan, held just prior to the London Conference. Pakistan's campaign to marginalize Indian presence in Afghanistan seems to be on the verge of success but it has come along with a major change in the approach towards securing stability in Afghanistan. The initial strategy to bring long-term security and stability in Afghanistan envisaged active roles by regional powers including Pakistan,China, India, Iran and Russia along with the US and UK. However, somewhere down the line the actors were substituted and Saudi Arabia, Turkey and a few Central Asian Republics came to play more significant roles.
The conference did recognize Pakistan as the key player in getting Taliban leaders to the negotiation table, given the fact that Pakistani military and intelligence continue to have channel of communication with the fugitive warlords open. Ironically, this is what India and a few other nations have been alleging all along- that elements within the Pakistani establishment continued to harbor relationship with the militants. However, the US and its NATO allies seem to be focusing only an honorable exit from Afghanistan, even if it means handing it over to Pakistan on a golden platter.
This has been a major diplomatic failure for India but there is still time to initiate damage control exercise. It must renew its ties with Russia and particularly with Iran which too is a strategic stake-holder in the region and has already expressed unwillingness to agree to power-sharing arrangements with the Taliban. Obama may have hyphenated Afghanistan with Pakistan but the fact is they are two different nations and even have territorial dispute. Further, many Afghans might remember that the poor condition of their has state has been largely because of US-Pakistan's geo-strategic games starting from the time of the Soviet occupation. India should try reaching out to them through its hard as well as soft-power