The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Sunday, 8 August 2010


So according to Wikileaks, Pakistan is apparently supporting the Taliban. Grateful as we all are for that particular revelation, it seems to have kicked off a renewed round of discussion on the regional dimension to the conflict in Afghanistan, such as this article in the Washington Post which argues that the real problem in Afghanistan is Kashmir.

Many have made this argument before - Robert Fisk for example - and there is undoubtedly a degree of truth in the image of Afghanistan as a regional chessboard but there is a tendency to take that line of thought too far, as in the WP article.
"Fighting terrorists or fighting the Taliban -- or indeed, fighting in Afghanistan at all -- addresses symptoms rather than the disease in South Asia: the horrific, wasteful, tragic and dangerous six-decade confrontation between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

This confrontation ravages Afghanistan, where the Northern Alliance, which was organized to fight the Taliban, is backed by money and weapons from India, and militant groups among the southern Pashtuns are backed by Pakistan. It is a big part of why peace eludes the country, even though the Soviets left a generation ago
That line of thought mirrors the current debate in the United States between those who argue that American presence needs only to be properly mobilised to bring about a decisive end to the conflict and those who argue that the American presence is the whole problem. Abu Muqawama recently addressed that particular debate and, to my mind, made a rather strong case against attaching excessive importance to the actions of external actors.

By that same token, is it realistic to think that improved relations between New Delhi and Islamabad - on that subject, see this interview with Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao - would lead to an exponential improvement in the security situation in Afghanistan?

The quote above would have us believe that the various sides in the Afghan civil war of the 1990s were nothing more than Indian and Pakistani proxies. That conflict saw greater destruction (notably of Kabul) and more horrific massacres than have been seen under both the Soviets and ISAF... and yet, taken to its logical conclusion, that overly simplistic rationale would have us believe that if the regional and global powers who have a stake in the Afghan conflict can come to an agreement, then we can all pack our bags and go home.

Just one question - has anyone asked the Taliban, or the Afghan people in general for that matter, what they think about all this?

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