Anatol Lieven: Making peace with the Taliban is the best-case scenario

Kunal Majumder
New Delhi

ANATOL LIEVEN is a British author, journalist and policy analyst. He is the Chair of International Relations and Terrorism Studies at King’s College, London. Lieven’s latest book is called Pakistan: A Hard Country. Excerpts from an interview

Anatol Lieven, author and policy analyst

Your book comes out at an interesting time in South Asia. How do you read Pakistan’s recent troubles?
Clearly, they will worsen relations between the US and Pakistan. But the ties were already in deep trouble. However, the people in power on both sides realise it is necessary to keep this relationship on track. I don’t see this leading to a catastrophic deterioration in relations unless there were to be another terror attack on the US.

Do you think the ISI knew about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts?
The ISI, or a group within it, probably did know, but I can’t say that for sure, of course.

After Osama’s death, Pakistan’s service chiefs along with the ISI boss were hauled up in Parliament. Does this indicate an assertion by the democratic leadership of Pakistan or is it mere eyewash?
It is a small step forward. On the other hand, it’s absolutely obvious that if Pakistan is going to use the excuse of incompetence for not being able to identify where Osama was, then the ISI chief ought to have taken responsibility and resigned. But there seems no or very little chance that he will do that. So, even if this is a step forward, I must say it is a pretty small step forward.

Has the US crossed the line by taking unilateral action against Osama?
Osama was the highest priority target in the world as far as the Americans were concerned. As a one-off, I think this will be tolerated. If India thinks it could imitate the US in this regard then the chances of a disastrous clash would be tremendously high.

What should India absolutely not do in Pakistan and Afghanistan?
In Pakistan, India will have to weigh its military options carefully. Certainly, India should not be contemplating any kind of raids of its own. I understand why India feels it has to do it. It seems to me that demands for the extradition of Hafiz Saeed and others are pointless because there is no way that the Pakistani State or military would agree to that.

On Afghanistan, both India and Pakistan need to recognise that they will not get their maximum objectives in Afghanistan. India will not get a united democratic effective Afghan State ruling over the whole of its territory and if both the countries recognise that they won’t get everything they want, there might be a possibility of a limited deal, which in turn could form the basis of an Afghan peace settlement.

What is the best possible solution?
In Afghanistan, the best-case scenario would be a settlement with the Taliban whereby they would control the south of the country and parts of the east. They would exclude al Qaeda and all international terrorists, including anti-Indian, anti-Chinese and anti-Russian. Then, you would have a weak power-sharing government in Kabul. The price of that would be a Taliban share in the government and the complete withdrawal of western forces. The formula will be the complete withdrawal of all armed non-Afghan forces, that means both al Qaeda and US forces.

But will America pull out of Afghanistan?
If it won’t, the war will continue.

What power shift do you see after that?
A key question is going to be how far China gets involved, whether it strengthens its role in the region. If so, whether it gives unconditional backing to Pakistan or it has some agenda of its own. Now, it does seem to be swinging towards Pakistan’s view of an Afghan peace settlement.

Kunal Majumder is a Correspondent with Tehelka.


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