Washington: Arguing that some tactical successes will not defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, a top US thing tank has sought opening of talks with the militant group but said India should not be included in any such parleys as it would antagonise Pakistan, in particular its Army.
"The negotiating framework should be determined during a secret contact phase mediated by the Pakistani Army prior to the strictly diplomatic phase conducted under UN auspices," the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said in a report yesterday.
"The Pakistani Army has continuously supported the Taliban against the coalition (forces based in Afghanistan), and there are good arguments against rewarding this duplicity," it said.
However, the arrest of Mullah Baradar and other members of the Taliban leadership indicates that the Pakistani military has the means to stop any Taliban attempt to negotiate directly with the Hamid Karzai government or with the coalition in Afghanistan.
A real negotiation process is difficult to organise without Pakistan, nor can security be "Afghanised" by a government that lacks legitimacy and is irreparably unpopular in the war-torn country, the report said.
It said only the US, Pakistan, Afghan government and Taliban should be part of the talks and specifically recommended that India should not be included in any such dialogue as it would antagonise Islamabad, the Pakistani army in particular.
"Why should the coalition trust Pakistan, when that country is supporting the coalition`s enemies? Pakistan`s Afghan policy can be seen as totally conditioned by the (probably irrational) perception of an Indian threat," it said.
"The Pakistani military wants to be part of a political agreement in Afghanistan to avoid a repeat of the 1990s, when the Taliban were quickly marginalised by the international community. The Pakistani government has a real long-term interest in fighting al Qaeda, which has relentlessly targeted the Pakistani Army," the report said.
Noting that selection of participants will largely determine the success of the negotiations, and must be based on effectiveness, it said the potential spoilers must be included.
"Excluding Pakistan from the 2001 talks in Bonn helped lead to the failure of the Bonn agreement."
Observing that not all regional powers can be part of the negotiations dealing with political balances in Afghanistan, the report said the opening of direct talks with the Taliban and the de facto recognition of Pakistan`s influence is an important shift in the regional situation, and the states that are left out - mainly India - would oppose it.
"Yet Pakistan is the only country that can truly act as a spoiler. India, and to a lesser degree Iran, might feel uncomfortable with the inclusion of the Pakistani Army (which could consider its inclusion a victory) but they probably do not have the means to sabotage an agreement. And without an agreement, the future would be even worse for Indian and Iranian interests," the report said.
"For these reasons, initial negotiations must include only the essential actors: the Karzai government, Pakistan, the Taliban, and the United States (representing the coalition). This quartet could negotiate an agreement that includes the redefinition of Afghan political balances and international guarantees," it said.
The Carnegie said the most complex point in the negotiations is the articulation of two types of demands: a new political contract with the Taliban and the other political forces and, at the same time, a system of guarantees to ensure that radical groups do not make Afghanistan their base for striking India and the West.
"These two aspects must be negotiated concurrently, for Afghanistan`s domestic equilibrium is the key to a reasonable guarantee with respect to neutralising radical groups," it said.
The think tank said there are solid reasons for believing that the Taliban might accept at least preliminary contacts and possibly real negotiations.
"Pakistan`s influence might turn out to be decisive. The Pakistani Army does not want to see a situation like that of the 1990s when the Taliban regime was ostracised by the international community, largely reducing the strategic benefit Pakistan hoped to reap from its victory," it said.
"Pakistan wants a diplomatic solution in which its role as a regional power is recognised and India is supplanted. The Taliban might also derive tactical advantages from an agreement," the report said.
Contending that negotiations with Taliban leaders can be undertaken only if the Pakistani army agrees to act as a broker, it said without Pakistan, there will be no solution in Afghanistan.
"Yet at least since the 2005 nuclear agreements between India and the United States, India has been the United States` preferred regional partner. This has reinforced the Pakistani Army`s fear and, indirectly, its support for the Taliban. The opening of negotiations would initiate a new phase in US relations with Pakistan," the report said.