Holbrooke leaves South Asia intrigued

Pakistan's decision on SWAT may have taken the attention away from Holbrooke's deeply nuanced statement, but it has to be revisited to understand how events are going to unfold in the coming days

Sanjay Kapoor New Delhi, Hardnews

US President Barack Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard C Holbrooke, may not have got a great media coverage in New Delhi as its media was distracted by the Union Budget and how it can fix the economic slowdown-but he managed to get the Indian government to agree to his world view that the growing influence of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan constituted a threat to India.

His statement on Taliban is very significant and fraught with interesting possibilities. "For the first time in 60 years, your country, Pakistan and the US face an enemy (the Taliban) that poses direct threats to our leaderships, our capitals and our people", Holbrooke told the press in New Delhi. He got a stirring endorsement from India's officiating Prime Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, who dittoed it by saying: "In my assessment, Taliban is a danger to humanity and civilisation". He subsequently criticised the government's decision to strike a deal with Taliban in SWAT valley by allowing the Shariat law.

Pakistan's decision on SWAT may have taken the attention away from Holbrooke's deeply nuanced statement, but it has to be revisited to understand how events are going to unfold in the coming days. By asserting that Taliban posed direct threat to the leadership of all the three countries "our capitals and our people", Holbrooke firstly unhinged the Pakistani government or its agencies from any kind of involvement in sustaining the jehadi terror network that India keeps accusing of, secondly, and more significantly, he in some ways hints that the perpetrators of the atrocities in Mumbai last November, too, had Talibani origin. To reiterate, Holbrooke successfully peddles the idea in New Delhi that the "ungoverned spaces", as US Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, puts it between Pakistan and Afghanistan, are responsible for the rise in terror in this region. Holbrooke elegantly draws from some new interpretations of the history of this region when he says that it is "one theater of war straddling an ill-defined border. We have to think of it that way and not distinguish between the two."

Hardnews believes that the Indian government seems to have readily embraced this line of thinking as it signified some departure from an earlier thesis enthusiastically pushed by Pakistan that the turbulence in this region was due to the unresolved Kashmir issue. Quite evidently, the meeting that reportedly took place on the sidelines of the Munich conference on security between Holbrooke and Indian National Security Advisor, MK Narayanan, seemingly, cleared the decks for New Delhi's shift or trade off. Indian government's view is that if USA thinks that it is the Taliban, al-Qaida, FATA, NWFP and SWAT that are responsible for terror and not Kashmir- then so be it.

Indian government may draw some solace from Holbrooke not mentioning the Kashmir word during his visit to Delhi, but they are clearly worried by some of the events that have unfolded after he left the region. Pakistan government's decision to allow the imposition of Shariat law in the violence racked SWAT valley. "What did Holbrooke do in Pakistan? Ask the Pakistani government to allow Shariat law in SWAT? Either the Pakistani government is not bothered about US, which seems unlikely, or the decision has been taken at the behest of the Americans", claimed an intelligence source to Hardnews. What was also intriguing was the speed at which the Indian government chose to criticise Pakistan on how it handles its own internal affairs. In fact, India should be happy that Islamic fundamentalists are taking over Pakistan as it helps them to repeat all the horrible allegations about them being a ‘failed state'.

With India on the same page as the US on how the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan are the cradle of terror, it remains to be seen whether New Delhi is armtwisted to send troops there to allow the cash-strapped GIs to return to their foreclosed homes.