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'India should just shut up'

Last updated on: October 16, 2006 15:48 IST
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American author Sarah Chayes asserts that Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf is just not doing enough to stem the flow of the Taliban into neighbouring Afghanistan. But Chayes, the author of The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban, adds that Afghan President Hamid Karzai too "has people that he knows have close contacts with the Pakistan ISI in his government."

In the third part of this exclusive interview, she also told Rediff India Abroad Managing Editor Aziz Haniffa why the best thing that India could do under the prevailing circumstances was to "shut up," and not make any provocative moves in Afghanistan. Continuing our week-long series on Afghanistan.

Part I: 'Osama is not in Pakistan'

Part II: 'India is Pakistan's fundamental concern'

Is Afghan President Hamid Karzai's angry assertion that Musharraf is fomenting cross-border terrorism and meddling in the affairs of Afghanistan totally justifiable? Or is it a case, as Musharraf alleges, of his own inadequacies? Is Pakistan indeed fomenting all these resurgent problems that seem to have arisen in recent months with a vengeance within Afghanistan?

Absolutely. There is no doubt about it. I wouldn't be speaking to you the way I am if I weren't sure of this. Oh, my God! In Kandahar, it is so visible. I went to the border a year or so ago, and I just sat on the border to watch who is coming through the main border crossing. And there were at least half-a-dozen Taliban who came through in less than 10 minutes.

I have so many examples of people who cross into Pakistan and there are Talib. You can have a discussion with them in the taxicabs. It's not just that they have the turban on. They absolutely are the Talib, and even when they don't have the proper papers the frontier guards wave them through.

It is not like they are coming across mountain trails or anything like that. I mean, it is really, really clear. Not to mention a certain degree of other sorts of agitation, like some of the demonstrations that were definitely sparked in an organised fashion. Particularly the one about the Quran being flushed down the toilet in 2005, which was obviously sparked by Pakistanis in Afghan universities.

So Musharraf's argument that he can't help it despite all of his efforts to completely halt all infiltration across the border because its so porous,etc lacks credibility?

Absolutely. There is no credibility, not if you actually go down there and look at what is happening on the border. But let me back up on this question of Karzai accusing Pakistan of involvement and fomenting the resurgence of the Taliban and all that. The only problem I have with that is that President Karzai also has people that he knows have close contacts with the Pakistan ISI (Inter Services Intelligence agency) in his government.

So, although I completely approve of the statements that he's making, and they certainly have their basis in fact, I would love to see him be a little more vigorous in terms of cleaning Pakistani people out of his own government, in particular in certain provinces.

There are things he can do without Pakistan doing anything to reduce their level of influence on what happens inside Afghanistan, and he's been very squeamish about doing that, and I don't know why.

I don't know if he's afraid or what. But that's the only thing that makes me a little bit sceptical about these statements that he's making. He's making great statements, but he himself is not doing what he himself could do to improve the situation.

You have charged that the main reason behind this is fundamentally to acquire strategic depth vis-a-vis India. In this whole simmering and troubling scenario, does India have to play it very cautiously and tread very carefully?

You bet, very cautiously. You know what, the best thing for India to do is to just shut up. It's sort of like the United States and Iran. The United States should shut up about Iran and let the Iranian people get rid of the mullahs and then you can tackle the nuclear situation in a different context.

But if India says the least thing, that gives Pakistan an excuse to say, 'Well, India is meddling too.' That's what I got from a Pakistani taxi driver in Washington, when we got into some of this stuff. He said, 'Well, the Indian consul in Kandahar is arming the Baloch insurgents.' Well, I haven't seen any evidence of that at all.

I've seen evidence of the Pakistanis arming the Taliban, but I haven't seen any evidence of Indians assisting the Balochs. But it's very difficult to argue a negative. How can I prove to this guy that the Indian consul is not? But I would be extremely low-key. I would not even put very much money into Afghanistan, as much as I am grateful to the Indian government for what they have put into Afghanistan, for the buses, for the cold storage in Kandahar.

You know, I actually believe it's not all that appropriate that there be an Indian consul on the border with Pakistan. There's not a huge Indian community in Kandahar. So it's a little bit provocative, and so I would really stay the heck out of it if I were India.

So you are suggesting that New Delhi should have a presence in Kabul and that should be it?

Yes, exactly. For example, you can't fly directly from Kandahar to India. Anyone who wants to go to India has to go through Kabul anyway. I love the Indian consul in Kandahar. I've been friends with two in a row now, and it is certainly a great source of comradeship and good food. I am not sure I would close the consulate now, but if I had been the Indian government, I wouldn't have opened one in Kandahar. I think that's pretty provocative.

Next: 'The US is really stupid'

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