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'Afghan poll results will impact fight against terrorism'

August 26, 2009 19:01 IST

Bruce Riedel, who spearheaded United States President Barack Obama's strategic review of Afghanistan and Pakistan, spoke on Tuesday about how the results of the Afghanistan elections will play a huge role in maintaining the credibility for the US, and that leaving the war against Taliban abruptly would mean victory for jihadism and a renewed nightmare for India.

On Afghan elections

Speaking at a conference on Tuesday on the prospects of Afghanistan's future, Riedel said: "The outcome of these elections and how they are managed, and whether they are credible or legitimate matters a lot inside of Afghanistan, but it also matters enormously in Pakistan."

He argued that "if these elections are seen in Pakistan -- especially the Pakistan army-- as having been fraud and producing an illegitimate Afghan government, will decide if the base for the Americans, and NATO operations in Afghanistan is gone".

Riedel, currently a Senior Fellow at the Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution, said such a situation would reinforce the belief that the US was going to "cut and run in Afghanistan" in the next few years. "And all they need to do is to wait us out and then their Taliban friends will be able to take over at least half of the country."

On changes expected:

Asked if he had seen any changes since he had co-chaired the Af-Pak strategic review, Riedel said: "President Obama inherited a disaster. A war, which has been under-resourced horribly for at least six of the last seven-and-a-half years and which has suffered as a consequence. The optimistic hope is that with sufficient forces we might be able to stabilise the situation in 12 to 18 months and show that the strategy of counter-insurgency offers the promise of getting to a better outcome."

"But anyone who is thinking that we are going to be near victory in 12-18 months is living in a fantasyland."

On the role played by US and NATO:

If the US and NATO decide to "cut and run", Riedel said it would mean "no more drone attacks on Al Qaeda targets... and also that the pressure we have on Al Qaeda today entirely from drone attacks will be gone."

"So, not only will they be able to move into Afghanistan -- their old launching place -- but also into their new launching place in Pakistan."

"Even larger than that, the triumph of jihadism, or the jihadism of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, in driving NATO out of Afghanistan will resonate throughout the Islamic world. This would be a victory on par with the defeat of the Soviet Union in the 1990s."

Consequently, he said, the moderates in the Islamic world who call for engagement would find themselves facing the jihadist contention that "we need to just kill them and we will drive them out."

"So, this has enormous stakes," he said.

"If the US leaves, that will be a victory not only for the Afghan Taliban, but in the end for the Pakistani Taliban."

"The Pakistan Taliban is under pressure today, but it is far from a defeated force. There will be a replacement for Baitullah Mehsud, and while what happened in the Swat and what happened with Mehsud are positives, we are a long way from seeing the end of the Pakistani Taliban," he said.

On ISI and Taliban:

Asked if the Pakistani military and the ISI would have the kind of leverage they had in the past with the Pakistani Taliban, Riedel said: "What you will see the army do now is to try to divide the Taliban and see which parts are from its standpoint truly incorrigible, and which it can make new deals with."

On the effects on India:

"If the Pakistani establishment sees that the US and NATO are leaving, they will see that the jihadist forces are on the march and what that means for Pakistan."

Riedel warned that such a scenario would be a nightmare for India because it would mean the return of Pakistan's erstwhile forays into Afghanistan and its involvement in Afghanistan to gain strategic depth against India, as directed by the Inter Services Intelligence.

"A jihadist Pakistan is India's worst nightmare," he asserted. "A truly jihadist Pakistan --not just one that flirts, but one that is controlled by jihadists is a strategic nightmare for India."

Aziz Haniffa