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Afghanistan: The Outpost of Central Asia
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KN Pandita | Date:17 Nov , 2021 1 Comment
KN Pandita
Former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

Situated on the crossroad to the Indian sub-continent, Afghanistan is a rugged land of warriors living in many tribes, passionately faithful to their tribal chiefs and often spending the entire life in feuds among them. Tribes like the Ghilzais, Sadozais, Durranis, Abdalis and many others have a mixed history of bravery as well as treachery, of winning and losing battles, of looting the enemy when victorious or fleeing the battlefields when beaten back.

After the fall of the Mughal Empire in India, the Afghans raised their kingdom almost after the pattern of the Khanates of Bukhara in Central Asia though one or the other part of the kingdom was often rebellious and had to be suppressed usually through force of arms rather than negotiations. When the Bolshevik revolution of AD 1917 succeeded in Russia, and the revolutionary forces continued the traditional policy of the imperial Russia towards Turkestan (now called Central Asia), the British Indian government became watchful and began to draw plans to counter the southward move of the communist ideology. Thus began the British intrusion into the trans-Himalayan and Badakhshan region. Afghanistan came under their radar. It was easier to implement the policy of divide and rule because the Afghan society was not a homogenous lot and one tribe could easily be provoked against the other.

This was the purpose why the British colonialists included Afghanistan into a loose geographical swath called “South Asia”. It served the interests of the colonialist. They went further and drew a demarcation line called Duran Line across the North-West Frontier Province which divided millions of Pushtun ethnic population living in what we call today Af-Pak region. In the north also the line divided the Tajik ethnic population living in Afghanistan and what is now the Southern Tajikistan. However, the artificial border formed by the Durand Line did not really divide the Tajiks in the Badakhshan region as it has not divided the Pushtuns in Af-Pak region.

Keeping the chequered history of Afghanistan in mind, it has to be made clear that Afghanistan is in no way part of classical entity called “South Asia”. It never has been. In terms of geography, topography, climate, flora and fauna, race, language, culture, life style and overall composition, the Afghans are very different from the people of the subcontinent. Of course, they find their co-religionists in Central Asia, Iran and the sub-continent but their religious practices are dissimilar from those in the subcontinent.

In ancient times down to the early modern times, the Afghan people interacted more with the Central Asians than with those in the Indian sub-continent. A fugitive commander, prince or ruler from Afghanistan often sought shelter in Bukhara rather than in Delhi. In ancient times Afghanistan remained connected to the Silk Rad through Merv in Turkmenistan and also through Kolab with Tashkent and Khiva or Khwarazm. These trade routes were used until recent times when Central Asia passed into the control of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union has imploded. All that has remained is the memory of how the Afghans, including its Tajik population in the north fought valiantly against the invader and finally drove him out. But the history of post-Soviet exit in 1990-91 down to present day has a harsh and rather unsavoury lesson for the Afghans in general and the brave warriors of Panjsheer in particular. The question asked is this: Was it right and in the larger interests of the people of Afghanistan to take on the incoming Soviet forces or was it right to cooperate with them? In other words, were not those Afghan leaders patriotic who had sought the support of the Soviet Union in their struggle for transforming the Afghan society from medievalism to modernity? At the same time, looking at  the scenario unfolding today, the question will be asked whether the Afghan Taliban are right in inviting the Pakistani army/ISI/terrorist organizations and Al Qaeda etc. to support them? Are they asking for modernization or back to Stone Age era?

The Taliban have ousted an elected government and imposed a government to be run under sharia law. Atrocities on women, media persons, non-violent protestors and artists etc. are back in force. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Afghans have fled their native land. Why? They want a life of freedom.

In this situation of grave threat, no country in the world has come out boldly to defend the innocent people of Afghanistan against the brutalities unleashed against them. No NGO, the so-called upholders of human rights has opened its mouth to say a word of sympathy or protest. What do the hapless Afghans expect from them? Nothing.

But in this stark darkness, a dim light is shining across the northern border in the adjoining fraternal people of Tajikistan. The bold and great humanist, Imomali Rahmon, the President of a small mountainous country often called as the “underbelly” of the erstwhile Soviet Union, has taken courage and bluntly announced that he will never recognize the rule of Taliban in Kabul. Imagine none of the US, the UK, China, India big powers of the world could pick up courage and come out boldly and say the same thing what President Rahman said.  The leaders of world powers – Russia, the US, the UK, China, and India — all said that they will watch how the Taliban perform so that they can decide about recognizing them. This is hypocrisy. Have they never heard the saying which a school boy is taught to learn – “a wolf may lose its teeth but it will not lose its nature”.

Strangely, while the big powers are hiding behind ambiguity and a political shield, the Islamic countries, generally vociferous in the sessions of the OIC against democratic and secular India,  have adopted Sphinx-like attitude on the atrocities perpetrated by the Taliban and the ISIS on the Muslims in Afghanistan in the name of Islam.

The six post-Soviet Central Asian States belonging to the Commonwealth of Independent States — Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – have signed the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in 1992.  In accordance with Article 3 of the CSTO Charter, the objectives of the Organization are the strengthening of peace, international and regional security and stability, the protection on a collective basis of the independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the member states. The Republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the two CARs with borders contiguous to Afghanistan have invoked the objectives of this treaty and sought the support of Moscow for security against any attempt by the Taliban regime to disrupt peace in the region as was done by the Taliban in their first stint of power.  The CARs are concerned that the Taliban and their Theo-fascist collaborators like Al-Qaeda and Daesh may make an effort to enforce their Ghazvatul Khurasan plan and thus pose very serious existential threat to their societies. These CARs supported by Russian armour are already positioned along the border with Northern Afghanistan. Air dropping of essential goods and some war material by Tajik aircrafts has been made and this exercise is likely to be intensified in near future. We are sanguine that New Delhi is fully aware of the implications of meaningless wait in playing its role in defending and strengthening the resistance movement in Panjsheer valley. If the Ainy airbase near Dushanbe does not serve our interests in this hour of crisis of Afghan nationalist forces, what then is the purpose of having our presence the re, small or big?

Lastly, India has made considerable investment in raising the essential infrastructure in Afghanistan keeping in view our age-old good relations with the people of Afghanistan. Afghans have always had very good and warm relationship with us and we have been supporters of their welfare and development. We cannot let all this evaporate in thin air. We cannot allow the broad majority of Afghans – men, women, old and young —suffer at the hands of violators of their human and civic rights. We must raise our voice in support of their cause. In doing so, we must make a common cause with the Central Asian Republics, especially Tajikistan and Uzbekistan because these two republics have seen what havoc Theo-fascism has wrought on their peace loving societies. Uzbekistan had a long and tough time to liquidate the IMU which had established relations with Al Qaeda and Pakistan-based terrorist groups. Tajikistan was dragged to a six-year-long civil war by the fundamentalists based in the Garm region and in collaboration with Kulabi insurgents.  The Central Asian Republics, supported by Russia and India, must use their influence and pressure on the world community to take steps of bringing democratic and all inclusive governing structure in Kabul and also take effective steps in neutralising the fangs of the monster of terrorism in the region.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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