Creeping Talibanisation

Pakistan has become the homeland of transnational fundamentalist terrorism, with its epicentre on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border astride the Durand Line. While Mullah Omar's Taliban has extended its hold over most of rural Afghanistan with help from the al Qaeda, Baitullah Mehsud's Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Maulana Fazalullah's Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) have gained control over large swathes of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), including the picturesque Swat Valley. On behalf of Maulana Fazlullah, Maulana Sufi Muhammad has signed an agreement with the NWFP government for the implementation of Sharia. Peshawar appears to be the next stop and people have begun to flee the frontier town.
Almost inevitably, the Pakistan army is losing control over its Af-Pak backyard. It faces large-scale internal dissension -- troops are unwilling to fight fellow Sunni Muslims and Pashtuns and have been deserting in large numbers. It is also professionally inexperienced in the nuances of the tactics, techniques and procedures of counter-insurgency operations and has either resorted to massive artillery and air strikes, which have proved to be counter-productive, or sought to buy off the terrorist organisations through several failed peace deals.
The Obama administration is asking Pakistan to do more to deny sanctuary to the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists. The political instability caused by the unending feud between President Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is also distracting army chief General Kayani and talk of a military takeover is once again in the air. Consequently, the writ of the terrorist organisations runs virtually unfettered in the country's north-west and Talibanisation is creeping towards Punjab.
In the short-term, it is in India's interest to ensure that the epicentre of radical extremism remains confined to the NWFP-FATA area. In the long-term, it is in India's interest as well as that of the international community to eliminate the scourge of terrorism from Af-Pak.
Despite the deployment of 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan ordered by President Obama, the NATO-ISAF coalition will remain unequal to the task of eliminating the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists who now control most of the country. The area is too large for operations to be meaningfully sustained over a long period of time. The international community should increase its scope of sourcing counter-insurgency forces to include the Southern Asian region. India has a well-trained professional army with a distinguished counter-insurgency record spanning over 50 years.
A peaceful and stable Afghanistan is of vital national interest for India. It is a country with which India has traditionally enjoyed warm and friendly relations. Since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001-02, India has contributed only soft power to the international reconstruction effort in Afghanistan. It has spent over US $1 billion in building the Delaram-Zaranj highway, building and running schools and hospitals and in training the fledgling Afghan administration. As an aspiring though reluctant regional power, India must overcome its fear of overseas military interventions -- occasioned by the ill-advised and unsuccessful foray into Sri Lanka in the 1980s -- and stand up and be counted as a genuine rising power that is willing to discharge legitimate regional responsibilities.
Should India agree to send its troops to Afghanistan, it will do so only under a United Nations flag and a fresh UN Security Council mandate will be necessary under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Pakistan will be extremely reluctant to accept Indian troops being positioned in the Jalalabad-Ghazni-Kandahar areas, which are the worst affected, as it will see such presence as a direct threat. It will be more prudent to send Indian troops to either Mazar-e-Sharif in the north or Herat in the west. It could start gradually and step up the force level when a fully functional logistics system is in place -- either from the south through Chabahar Port (Iran)-Zaranj-Delaram-Garland Highway or from the north through Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan. Both the routes will present formidable challenges for logistics, but none that cannot be overcome with methodical planning.
The situation in the Af-Pak region has reached a strategic stalemate. The situation calls for the infusion of more professionally competent military personnel than NATO-ISAF are capable of mustering. The aim should be to close in with and fight the Taliban and the al Qaeda on the ground, rather than seeking to bomb them from the air. The Indian army and air force can help to turn the tide. It is time the international community stopped playing politics and called on the regional powers to play their rightful role.
The writer is director Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.