Kabul: It's India versus Pakistan on the future of Afghanistan with both External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and Pakistani Foreign Minister SM Qureshi attending the International Peace Conference which opened in Kabul on Tuesday, which is the biggest ever international conference in Afghanistan with over 60 countries to decide on the country's future. As the US gets ready to withdraw, Taliban's return and Pakistan's dominance over Afghanistan is a very likely prospect.
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's message to the US was plain and simple that Afghans must rule Afghanistan and no one can win the war in Afghanistan.
"Our goal is to transform the three organs of our national security forces into trusted national institutions dedicated to fulfilling their constitutional duty of ensuring the integrity and security of our country," said Karzai.
Karzai's words may not be his own. But is Afghan self rule going to mean dominance of Pakistan? Reports from Kabul indicate that Pakistani Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has convinced Karzai that US is failing and Pakistan can deliver.
General Kayani reportedly told Karzai that Pakistan can clinch a deal between Karzai and Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani network, have the Taliban become a part of the government and bring an end to the war.
The US has not opposed Pakistan's efforts to bring Haqqani and Taliban into the mainstream but insists that any deal must extract a commitment from Taliban to the Afghan Constitution, Taliban must lay down arms and give up terrorism completely.
"The July 2011 date captures both our since of urgency and the strength of our resolve. The transition process is too important to push off indefinitely, but this date is the start of a new phase, not the end of our involvement," said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
India's worries are more immediate as Haqqani network has been Pakistan's trusted anti-India asset. Haqqani's fighters have been used to target Indian assets inside Afghanistan. If Haqqqani comes to power it will help Islamabad achieve its plans to create a so-called 'strategic depth' against India in Afghanistan.
It is a goal that has majorly determined Pakistan's Afghanistan strategy in the last two decades and that is why India's message to Karzai in Kabul was clear.
"It is essential to ensure that support, sustenance and sanctuaries for terrorist organisations from outside Afghanistan are ended forthwith," said Krishna.
With memories of the 1999 Kandahar fiasco still fresh, India is anxious that it does not once again lose its only Islamic friend in the neighbourhood.