Washington, July 18 : Is Afghanistan on its way back to its past, heading towards being caught once again in a web of intrigues and suspicions? Not according to two former US diplomats with expertise on South and Central Asia.
According to Karl F. Inderfurth, former Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs and now the John O. Rankin Professor of the Practice of International Affairs and Director, Graduate Program in International Affairs at George Washington University, and Wendy Chamberlin, veteran diplomat and President of the Middle East Institute, the stakes are just too high to replay old rivalries.
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan said that Pakistan's intelligence service, known as the ISI, was behind the Indian Embassy bombing. Indian officials claim the attack is intended to send a stark message to India: Get out of Afghanistan, but according to both Inderfurth and Chamberlin, retaliation of any kind should be ruled out. Rather, efforts should be directed at reducing antagonisms between Afghanistan and Pakistan on a top priority basis.
While admitting that Afghanistan has legitimate concerns and faces many challenges, especially in the context of the resurgence of the Taliban and their use of Pakistani territory as a safe haven, both Inderfurth and Chamberlin, in an article for the International Herald Tribune, say finger pointing by either Kabul or Islamabad is not a solution
"The truth is that both Kabul and Islamabad share the same enemies. Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISI-supported terrorist groups that operated in Kashmir, and even the old militant groups that the United States once supported to fight against the Soviets now stage attacks on Pakistani, Afghan, U.S. and NATO forces. A mutual effort to counter the common threat would be a more productive approach," they say.
They further state that Pakistan and India also should build on their positive diplomatic developments over the past several years to tackle the very sensitive issue of Afghanistan, and add that the approaching talks in New Delhi between the foreign ministers of the two countries provide an excellent opportunity to do this.
But they admit that this won't be easy, given that India will claim it has legitimate interests in Afghanistan and that it is a major donor in the international effort to rebuild that country.
Pakistan, on the other hand, will charge India of running operations out of its many consulates in Afghanistan to stir trouble across the border.
"The need for India and Pakistan to look beyond their traditional rivalries and agree on a joint strategy to confront the extremists operating along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border," Inderfurth and Chamberlin say.
They believe that direct talks present an opportunity for both India and Pakistan to address the one issue that has bedevilled their relations - the dispute over Kashmir.
Today's common security interests of India and Pakistan should drive the two countries toward finding a settlement over Kashmir, they conclude.