Omar Waraich: Generals' ties to Taliban have played into India's hands

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The warm displays of bonhomie in Delhi yesterday will have given Pakistan's military establishment cause for anxiety. As Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Afghan counterpart President Hamid Karzai shook hands and traded smiles, back at the Pakistan army's HQ in Rawalpindi well-decorated generals will have been grimacing at their TV sets.

Fears of Indian influence have always coloured Pakistan's thinking about Afghanistan. The Taliban's five-year rule was seen as a source of "strategic depth" in this regional rivalry. Now, as the US prepares to leave the region, uppermost in the generals' minds are concerns over how to retain influence in Afghanistan once Western troops leave and, at the same time, deny India a foothold.

In private, the generals concede the odds are against them. A senior military official says: "There is no chance of the Taliban coming back into power." Scaling down its ambitions, army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has told Washington he is prepared to countenance an Indian role there, but one limited to trade and development.

The security agreements signed by Mr Singh and Mr Karzai will only heighten the Pakistan army's alarm. In recent years, General Kayani has determinedly resisted any Indian contact with Afghanistan's security forces. He has complained that the planned Afghan National Army will be too large, and too pricey, to maintain independently. He fears that it will be vulnerable to Indian influence.

General Kayani also demurred at its composition. Pakistan's favoured Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, are under-represented among the soldiery.

Similarly, Islamabad fears a postwar political settlement in Kabul will be dominated by ethnic Tajik, Uzbeks and Hazaras close to the Northern Alliance, and by extension, Delhi. To counter this prospect, Pakistan hopes to deliver the Afghan Taliban and its allies to the negotiating table.

But Pakistan's weakness for jihadist proxies is the very reason for its regional isolation today. The recent string of terror attacks in Kabul are said to have left a trail that leads back to Pakistan. The very militant groups Pakistan hoped would protect it against feared Indian encirclement may just have encouraged the prospect.

Pakistan is left in a tricky spot. Although a member of the "core group", Islamabad frets that it is being denied the role it covets in the Afghan endgame. At the same time, it is drifting towards pariahdom, as Kabul, Delhi and Washington unite to denounce its record of exporting terrorism in the region.