Sunday, June 19, 2011

Implications of the 1267 Bifurcation

In a move that is riddled with multiple interpretations, the UN Security Council passed resolutions 1988 and 1989, creating two separate lists for sanctions on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, effectively bifurcating the original list created under UNSCR 1267.

On the face of it, this moves seems fairly logical - two different groups with different reach and scope deserve two different lists for sanctions. However, on the ground, this move lacks logic. While the leadership of Al Qaeda and the Taliban may be separate, operationally they have cooperated as though they are two wings of the same force.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban have successfully achieved a great deal of synergy in the Af-Pak region. But then, why the two lists? It's primarily the Western members of the UNSC who pushed for this and the reason is to serve as a bargaining chip. In Afghanistan, the US is looking for a respectable exit from combat despite public utterances of success. To that effect, negotiations have begun with the Taliban. Clearly, George Bush's cowboy dealings have been rejected by the Obama Administration.

But there is an additional subtext here: the US is also looking at maintaining a permanent military presence in Afghanistan, something which is absolutely unacceptable to the regional powers. Effectively, the US wants to cool the Taliban's heals by offering them a piece of the Afghan pie, while entrenching themselves in the Hindu Kush to exploit the nation's newly-discovered mineral wealth. It's an old formula.

But of course, the Taliban is not going to yield that easily. They do have the operational upper-hand in the south. They have been belligerent, asking for diplomatic recognition as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which no country to prepared to do. Hence the two lists: now, in one stroke, the Western powers can legitimise the Taliban by simply exterminating a list, instead of having two lists and having to consider each item case by case. This is nothing more than a bargaining chip: the Taliban, although stronger than it was in the months after 9/11, is stilled bogged down by the relentless ISAF attacks and would like some way to stop this. The US wants to ensure that it does not fight the Taliban, which does not have an explicit anti-American agenda (yet).

However, this move is dangerous and short-sighted. The Taliban and Al Qaeda's ideologies are very similar. It is foolish to assume that the Taliban can be controlled while Al Qaeda needs to be fought. The US will certainly face another major terrorist attack if it takes such a move. Furthermore, before the US, the regional powers will face terrorist attacks. Therefore, regional powers must come together on Afghanistan. The SCO Summit was an important landmark in this but much more needs to be done - and quickly.

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