Listen to article
Pakistan is euphoric about the victory of the Taliban and the fall of Kabul. It is her fulfilment of the four-decades-old desire of achieving strategic depth westward. This country has been feeling nervous about the vulnerability of her eastern border after the loss of Bangladesh in the 1971 war with India. What added to her anxiety was the cordial relationship between India and Afghanistan. Why Muslim Afghanistan developed a cordial relationship with the infidel India and did not warm up to big Islamic neighbour has remained an unresolved enigma for the rulers of Pakistan.
The British created Pakistan based on religion. Hence Pakistani rulers felt no compulsion to visualise the importance of secular politics for a modern state. An understanding of the dynamics of inter-state relationships would have shown that there are areas other than religion that become a priority for a welfare state if it desires to grow and develop.
Now that the Ghani government in Kabul is no more in place, and that Taliban gunmen are ruling the roost, Pakistan is frantically trying to determine her status in the new structure coming up in Kabul. What does Pakistan expect in return for her secret and clandestine military support to the Taliban against the US trained forces? Ironically, America has been privy to Pakistan’s misdeeds.
Pakistan has drafted thousands of trained Islamist freebooters drawn from banned terrorist organizations to join the Taliban and fight against the nationalist forces of Afghanistan. This is besides weapons, ammunition, war material, strategy and tactics provided to the Taliban over time? Though the fleeing Americans abandoned huge stores of war material, Pakistan is not going to ask for her share of spoils. Her priorities are different.
Pakistan expects the Taliban to curtail and finally rip the cord of friendship between Afghanistan and India. Pakistan will insist upon the Taliban to pull down the India-made structures of schools, hospitals, bridges, cinema halls, the Parliament house and even the Salma Dam –– on Harirud River in Herat also called Afghanistan-India Friendship Dam — without considering that these facilities raised at a cost of a couple of billion dollars were not meant for any particular segment of Afghan society but for all Afghans irrespective of their affiliations. It is a rare example of the goodwill of the people of India towards the people of Afghanistan. Pakistan will want the Taliban to efface even the slightest trace of the Indian presence in Afghanistan. In short, Pakistan will want the Taliban to carry forward the agenda of Pakistani terrorist organizations like LeT, JeM, HM, etc., some of them banned by the UN.
On the prompting of Pakistan, the Taliban have ordered a ban on import/export trade with India. In violation of the provisos of the Geneva Convention, they have forcibly entered the premises of the Indian embassy in Kabul, seized files, documents and records, and also confiscated the vehicles of the embassy. It is a hostile act and the world knows who the motivators are.
This act of vandalism against the Indian mission in Kabul belies the statement of the Taliban spokesman who said in his first press conference that the Taliban of 2021 would desist from interfering in the affairs of the diplomatic missions as well as with the lives of the civilians. They also promised amnesty to all including those who might have collaborated with the American and NATO forces in their operations against the Taliban.
The inference is that the Taliban of 2021 have not failed to repeat the brutalities they committed in the years 1996-2001 to spread awe and fear, and the innocent people, women and youth of Afghanistan have not revised their opinion about them. The proof is the miserable scenes at Kabul airport where thousands of Afghans are trying to flee the country.
The Americans have fled, leaving behind their belongings, weapons, sophisticated communication gear, vehicles, helicopters, field guns, uniforms and tons of war equipment all of which has fallen in the hands of the Taliban.
Russia, China and Pakistan were waiting in the wings to fill the vacuum caused by American departure. One common objective binds the trio together and that is how to lay hands on the resources of Afghanistan and disallow others access to these. Implied is their strategic interest in a region that is emerging as an important hub of Asian politics.
However the interest of Pakistan is to carry out a double strategy. The first goal is to oust India from Afghanistan lock, stock and barrel; and the second is to utilise the well-equipped and well-motivated Taliban for supporting her aspiration of deepening strategic space eastward. In the process, the Taliban could be induced to reinforce the ISI-sponsored Jihad for Kashmir spearheaded by Pakistan-based and UN-designated terrorist organizations. Islamabad will wait for the right time when the situation for implementing the plan becomes feasible.
By feasibility, we mean the preparedness of Kashmiri separatists and secessionists to muster courage and announce a government in exile under the aegis of the United Jihad Front Government in Muzaffarabad. Besides Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Afghanistan, China and some African countries, various organizations like the OIC and NGOs affiliated to ECOSOC would be tempted to accord recognition to the government-in-exile.
The time is propitious for them to gang up against India because the political opposition parties led by the Congress chief have called a meeting where they will be demanding revival of statehood of J&K, restoration of Article 370 and 35-A. In simpler words, the opposition says that they do not accept the concept of a majority vote in any parliamentary discussion.
In all probability, the Sino-Pak combine will also consider raking up the border issue between India and China in the Eastern Ladakh sector. The tactics would be to weaken India’s power of resistance by forcing her to open not one but several fronts along the LoC as well as LAC.
When can this situation come up is the question that will be asked by political as well as military circles in our country. The planners of these schemes will wait for the time when the Taliban feel securely settled and in control of the entire Afghanistan.
How will India respond to this situation? This should be discussed by the media extensively. India must understand that in case of a double attack — from the east and west —- no world power will come to her rescue. Except for lip service, they will have nothing to offer. Therefore, India has to fight it out single-handed. In the wake of an armed clash with Pakistan and China, Russia might maintain a Sphinx-like silence. She has no compulsion to jump into the fray. America is still the greatest world power but with dwindling credibility. The way Washington has succumbed to Taliban pressure has put a serious question mark on the validity and viability of Quad.
Before a volatile situation begins to develop against India in what is called the “Khurasan” region by the “Ansars”, New Delhi must take the call. It must begin with the presumption that there are chances of retrieving the situation provided the correct vision is there. New Delhi must not waste an hour in contacting a vast community of pro-Indian Afghans in and out of Afghanistan. Many of them are still in a position of convincing Taliban leadership to remain neutral regarding the Kashmir issue and relations with India. Leaders like Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, Stanikzai and many others have been students at various Indian educational institutes and are well informed on how much importance India has been giving to Afghanistan as a friend. They can make the Taliban understand the misleading role Pakistan is playing in this game. India would be willing to continue to work on the unfinished projects in Afghanistan given a conducive environment.
India must find sensible and secure ways and means of supporting the resistance movement shaping in Afghanistan. There have been anti-Taliban and pro-nationalist demonstrations in Jalalabad, Asadabad and parts of Kabul. Resistance is likely to spread to many more provinces in days to come. India must get into touch with the leaders of the resistance movement now reborn in the Panjsheer valley of Northern Afghanistan. The First Vice President of the ousted government Amrullah Saleh, who is an ethnic Tajik and belongs to Panjsheer, asserted that after the resignation of Ashraf Ghani, he is the new President of Afghanistan. He has vowed to fight the Taliban till they are defeated. In close cooperation with Ahmad Mas’ud the son of the late Lion of the Panjsheer (Ahmad Shah Mas’ud) he is cobbling together a resistance force and they have raised the banner of revolt against the Taliban. The resistance force threw out the Taliban from a district in Panjsheer which had been taken over a week or ten days ago. Among the captured Taliban in this operation seven out of nine were Pakistanis. In all probability, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan both will extend support to the Panjsheer resistance and ensure that they do not enjoy sway over Northern areas.
Despite apparent camaraderie with the Taliban, Moscow and Dushanbe have together moved massive armour on the Tajik-Afghan border to resist any hostile move from Kabul. The combined troops and tanks have been conducting exercises all along the border to create a sense of security among the border dwellers.
The Hazaras on the north-western frontier of Afghanistan are mostly of Shia faith and have been targeted by the Sunni extremist Taliban. They have been subjected to persecution. During the first Taliban regime, thousands of Hazaras had crossed the border and sought protection in Iran. For them, the conditions are almost the same after this second takeover by the Taliban. However, while the Ayatollahs are happy that the Afghan Taliban have thrown out the Americans from the region, they distrust them but might be loath to participate in the overthrow of an Islamic ‘anti-western’ government.
India should also consider how the Baluch and Pukhtun opposition to a rule of terror can be consolidated and built an effective force capable of bringing pressure on Islamabad to give up its policy of making terror part of state policy and instigating the fanatics against the world’s largest democracy. The same is true about the demand for sovereignty by the Pukhtoons in the Af-Pak region. India has the moral duty of supporting the Pukhtoons who have raised their voice against foreign domination.
India has to be part of a moderating force that supports the peace process in Afghanistan and the human, political and other rights of people in Afghanistan, especially the genuine freedom for women and children of that country. The promulgation of sharia law or any other law to which the Afghans contribute out of their free will is an internal matter of that country, and India has nothing to do with that. But any scenario in Afghanistan, if intended to harm India’s interests or impinge on her security has to be met with strength. India would like to tell the Taliban that there will be no peace in the region unless Pakistan is crippled.