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Chaos and confusion overtook Afghan polity after the joint Pak-American operations successfully forced the withdrawal of the Soviet incursion. An important aspect of this success was the induction in and mixing up of the religious element with the resistance movement. For the first time in their history, the intrepid Afghan fighters were sensitised to the dual character of their battle, fierce nationalism and a new-found religious stimulant. The architect of the new personality was President Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan who drew strength from thousands of seminaries in Pakistan all tasked to radicalize the Afghan fighters into Islamic legions.
The Americans were not really interested in controlling or guiding the ruling elements that emerged in Afghanistan in post-Soviet withdrawal and left things to the Afghans as well as the Pakistanis.
In a state of lawlessness where caravans were looted by armed brigands and the security of the civilian population was endangered, the Pakistani ISI cobbled together a force out of the mujahedeen legions to form a new government guided by the Islamic moral authority. The Taliban came into existence in Kandahar and soon managed to capture power by decimating resisting warlords driven by self-aggrandizement. It is not true that the US administration or the CIA were instrumental in raising the force though, of course, the CIA and ISI worked in close collaboration to engineer the ouster of the Soviets and raise the genii of Islamic fanaticism.
But once in the seat of power in Kabul, the Taliban began thinking about themselves as the global centre of radical and puritanical Islam based on fourteen centuries old sharia law. They considered their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan an entity outside the world order and world institutions. Only three countries recognized the Taliban in their first stint. The world came to know with horror what a State based on sharia law looked like through the prism of the Taliban in Kabul.
Giving shelter to Al Qaeda meant doom for the Taliban and it came soon within a month after 9/11. The Taliban had to fight the US and NATO for no fewer than two decades to return to power. Yes, the Taliban of 2021 have learnt much, reformed much and become wiser than they were in 2001. They cannot lose sight of the fact that they had to fight the foreign forces for two decades and make huge sacrifices in terms of men and material.
A huge task awaits the Taliban to accomplish and their resources are negligible. The newly formed temporary government of the Taliban in Kabul is talking more of development, of alleviating the suffering and deprivation of the people, and above all ironing out differences among the factions to consolidate the gains of a revolution.
Two international conferences on Afghanistan have been held last week one after another. One is the Third Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan held on 10 November 2021 in New Delhi in which Russia, Iran and five Central Asian states participated under the chairmanship of India’s Security Adviser to the Prime Minister. India had invited Pakistan and China also to the conference but both declined.
The significance of this meet lies in the fact that it was attended by the countries geographically close to Afghanistan. In particular, Iran and five Central Asian States were conspicuously interested in the deliberations at Delhi because these countries have security concerns about the future behaviour of Afghanistan under the Taliban. Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have borders with Afghanistan. India has friendly relations with these countries and also trade relations with them. Their security is a matter of priority for India. Afghanistan is in dire need of good and friendly relations with its neighbours to boost its economy and seek cooperation in rebuilding the war-ravaged country.
A day later, on 11 November, the Troika + meaning Russia, China, the US plus Pakistan also held a meeting on Afghanistan. It carried significance on two counts. One was that all the three are members of the Security Council and have a say in that powerful institution. Secondly, Pakistan had succeeded in inviting the Taliban foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi to the conference to introduce Muttaqi to the big three and to legitimize the deliberations.
It shows that India and Pakistan, the two sub-continental powers, with a stake in Afghanistan, want to approach the world community to create a better understanding of the Afghan problem from their respective standpoints and shape a more pragmatic response by the international community.
As far as the reaction of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to these two conferences is concerned, we have noted that the Afghan foreign minister has responded in a befitting diplomatic manner to various questions put to him by the media persons. For example, he has made it clear in unambiguous words that Afghanistan will neither encourage any violent group to use its soil for perpetrating terror in a neighbouring or a foreign country nor will it harbour any ill will against any country. Regarding India, he emphatically said that his government considered friendly relations with India of great importance adding that the representatives of the two countries had interacted satisfactorily in Moscow. Almost identical words had been expressed earlier by the Deputy Prime Minister of Afghanistan.
There should be no reason for Indian policy planners to assume that the regime of the Taliban does not recognize the valuable contribution of India in the developmental enterprises of Afghanistan. In the same way, there is no dearth of positive Indian interest when the subject of providing humanitarian support to Afghanistan in her hour of need is taken up. India has announced it would export 50,000 metric tons of wheat to Afghanistan to overcome the food crisis. Pakistan would not allow overland transhipment of the grains but the Afghan foreign minister may have broached the matter with the Pakistani authorities and a thaw is expected.
Foreign minister Muttaqi has disclosed that his government played a role in bringing about a one-month long ceasefire in the Tehrik Taleban Pakistan vs Pak government conflict. This is a positive sign because wanton destruction of human life is highly painful. It also shows that the Taliban have a good understanding of a phenomenon in which its sympathisers on both sides, meaning the Pakistan government and the TTP leadership are involved. One could go to the length of saying that India, after making good progress in her relations with the Taliban, can find a strong and effective platform to raise even ticklish problems for sane and sensible discussion with the Taliban. India has to remember that her role in Afghanistan has not come to a dead end. No, India is to play a still larger role in Afghanistan once an affable dialogue begins.
A close look at the resolutions passed in the two successive conferences on Afghanistan shows that by and large the aspirations and expectations of both India and Pakistan are adequately reflected. Taliban have already expressed their satisfaction with the clauses of these resolutions and even said that some of the stipulations have been already met. Both resolutions state that Afghan land should not be allowed to be used for the proliferation of terrorism in other, and especially in neighbouring countries. Both resolutions call for the UN Resolutions on Afghanistan to be respected. Both resolutions demand that the rights of women and children should be protected. One resolution contains 15 clauses and the other has 12 clauses and through most of these runs a common thread.
The difference is in one particular aspect. Pakistan is strongly advocating the international recognition of the Taliban regime in Kabul whereas India, along with most other countries would wait for a while to ensure that the Taliban regime is stabilized along the right course, which means abiding by the norms of international code of conduct. Perhaps the Taliban are to be given time to prove that they will administer the country with a changed mind. Secondly, it has to be remembered that Afghanistan is a tribal society whose traditions and practices are deeply rooted. It takes time and patience to make a shift and we should not be impatient with the Taliban but rather provide them with the opportunity of preparing their people for change.
Finally, two demands or requirements of the Taliban will have to be conceded. One is that humanitarian aid in the shape of food grains, medicines, nutrition etc. should be provided immediately to save the people from famine. Second, the frozen assets of Afghanistan should be released at least partially so that the regime finds it easier to improve the quality of governance. The Taliban are in control of the entire country. A few pockets here or there may be resenting their rule but that does not matter.