India: Modern Mahabharat & The Chakravyuha-II, The flood gates open
In my article I have attempted to address the potential trouble surrounding us, it is aimed at sensitizing minds in order to get contingency thinking going. Now the flood gates have opened, so what’s new?
While the Strategists were busy thinking, the Taliban made their move!
Mulling over the recent developments in Afghanistan, the swift take over by Taliban, escape by the President to perhaps UAE (in the midst of allegations for embezzling money?). The resolve by the Vice President to fight the Taliban, arrival of the Taliban leaders and the urgent meetings, also involving Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, to come to a conclusion for the formation of a government are in focus of the world community.
And the coalition looks on at the face saving statements from Blinken and President Biden,the UN powerless because Russia and China support the Taliban – not that the UN had any ‘Teeth’.Do we feel that the worst of our expectations have come true? Or is there an opportunity in all the fog and uncertainty?
The Chinese, Russians and Pakistanis appear happy, as they gloat over the ‘defeat’ suffered by the US and NATO Coalition partners. What Pakistan seems to forget is that the Taliban were born there, funded by them, supported by the ISI and a befuddled America. Can there ever be peace on either side of the Durand Line? Would Pakistan be able to blame India for increased attacks against them? (Tehrik-e – Taliban and Baluch).
Evacuation of Americans, Indians and other nationals reflects a knee jerk and unplanned ‘withdrawal’ as though they had no warning, no one read the writing on the wall, the corruption amongst both ;Afghan National Army who as per reports inflated bills by ‘Shadow Soldiers’ as well as American Contractors as well as Arms Industry.
Afghan Nationals are being granted asylum into various other countries including America , Canada and UK amongst others, while Islamic nations like Turkey amongst others have refused to accept Afghan refugees. Is there a message there somewhere? Remember the trouble in Europe because of immigrants/refugees?
Mixed signals emanating out of Afghanistan, Taliban, Pakistan, China and Russia leave one wondering what next?
The backlash of warped policies like those of regime change in Iraq, the Vietnam war are all likely to explode in the face of the US Administration, much to the advantage of Russia, China and their allies. This is invariably going to absorb much time and energy of the US administration in damage control, both internally and at the international front. Twenty years is too long a time and was bound to recoil on them as the burden of losses both in terms of human lives, wounded and killed mounted as did the financial costs. The pressure back home would have mounted and thus the announcement of withdrawal was made by Donald Trump.
The area of contest had shifted towards China, South China Sea, new Allies and efforts on the economic as well as military front had be found, strengthened and supported. The savings from Afghanistan perhaps could be put to better use elsewhere?
The cost in Afghanistan:-
- Lives: US Troops estimated at 2448, Contractors 3846, Afghan Police 66000, Allied Troops 1144,Afghan civilians 47245,Taliban fighters 51191,Aid workers 444,Journalists 72.
- Dollars:US $ 27,30,00,000/day for 20 years( US $ 2 trillion) Source The AP
One often wonders whether a country like America could be so naïve as to go into a war torn area like Afghanistan which was sensibly vacated by Soviet Union and then make a hurried exit like they have without any alternate strategic options? . Did they have no aim/objective? Did they learn no lessons from past experience in Vietnam/Iraq? And last but most importantly could they not see through the façade of Pakistan and ISI who used American aid to fund the Taliban as has now been clearly brought out by Author Adrian Levy in his book on Spy stories as confirmed by him in an interview on NDTV calling it the biggest Political and Military mistake ever.
Reading various messages emerging out of America and Afghanistan, one cannot help but get the feeling that the Americans knew what was coming, were caught off guard by the speed of events, the scrambling to board aircrafts, leaving their posts in a scorched earth policy, gifting Taliban with a huge amount of weapons, ammunition and equipment ? The book titled ‘The Afghan Papers: A Secret History of the War’ excerpts by Craig Whitlock in the Washington Post of 10 August 2021, for a clearer insight and insider view.
The US are likely to be portrayed as an unreliable ally , an economy in receding mode and a country which revels in meddling in internal affairs of other countries. Perhaps this may lead to change in policy as far as deploying the military in other countries. However, President Joe Biden has been very clear in his stand and does make sense. One may just argue that it is the Afghan people and the Taliban who have let each other down not the US? It is honestly ‘Time to rebuild the American Image’.
Possible Options: If reports emanating from Afghanistan are true( there is no reason for not believing them), then a civil war has already begun, despite the bloodless capture of Kabul and Taliban are better armed/equipped than before with captured US/Coalition weapons and equipment, but perhaps, soon going to be short of funds. So what could the possible options for the US be? A few thoughts:-
- Allow China to stretch herself into Afghanistan and commit funds in development projects being looked into by America earlier. This would cause an invariable dent in the Chinese exchequer, however China would get what they long wanted, access to CAR, Port and the BRI. Yet they risk a religious backlash. Question remains, will the Taliban fall for the Chinese Debt Trap? They can see Pakistan as an example!
- Strengthen relations with India on both economic and military issues.
- Continue to support development projects in Afghanistan via the India route, thus keeping doors of communication open.
- Strike at the Taliban with ‘Over the Horizon’ weapons and technology .The statements by the American President and others clearly point at strong retaliation and use of such technology.Already there are reports of demonstrations against the Taliban by Pro Afghan groups, such groups are likely to receive support.
- Impose sanctions and freeze Afghan Assets .The Biden administration on Sunday froze Afghan government reserves held in U.S. bank accounts, blocking the Taliban from accessing billions of dollars held in U.S. institutionsThe Washington Post
- Finally impose stringent sanctions on Pakistan for its role in the messy affair of supporting Terrorism/Taliban.Likely to be offset by support from China and Russia.
- Heighten presence in South China Sea forcing China to look along two fronts.
- Exploit the Chinese sensitivity at Taiwan, Tibet and other areas of contest. Dwell on and highlight the Uyghur Muslim and other human rights issues.
- Continue to exert pressure on the economic front and bad mouth China for the ‘corona virus’ to strengthen world opinion.
- Strengthen military presence in the String of Islands along with QUAD members.
- All of the above.
With the drop in Joe Biden’s popularity consequent to his ‘withdrawal’ from Afghanistan, leaving things in a mess, America is short of time to rebuild its image as a world leader.
The Emerging Second front
Russia, China, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan appear to be a block of land mass with opportunities which revolve around economics, investments, markets, strategic reach and the creation of a block which could challenge the US leadership.Russia ,Iran and China have already indicated strong possibilities toe recognize the new regime.
The spokesperson for Europe went on record to state that Europe must accept reality and to that extent recognize that they need to deal with the Taliban Government.However, the formal announcement suggests that Europe will not recognize the Taliban Government, Canada, UK and others have followed suit.
Where does that leave India? Having failed to sufficiently isolate Pakistan, unable to negotiate effectively with the Taliban and faced with Chinese aggression on her land borders while depending on a nebulous QUAD in her ocean neighborhood ( South China Sea and Indian Ocean)
Taliban gained control of Kabul in a bloodless transition, the Afghan National Army collapsed, the Afghan President left the country, the fall of the palace and the public appeal by Taliban leadership announcing that the Afghan people could return to normal routine as the ‘War has ended’, assuring the people and women that they are safe are issues which will go down in history to mark the failure of America, leaving the world stunned . A new government is to be announced shortly. A popular leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has already flown in and been greeted , it is expected that he may soon be declared the President and form a Government Mixed signals from Taliban leaders suggesting that India’s interests would be unharmed and also advising India not to go the military way suggest that the Taliban are open to continue efforts at creating good will with India?Russia it seems has constantly kept Indian hopes alive by including India in peace talks .India has very rightly observed that the actions , formation of new government , its structure, freedom to women and other issues will be studied before a formal decision is taken.One might conclude that India needs to keep her options for constructive dialogue open. Also read into the fact that Indians were evacuated under supervision by the Taliban, along with the announcement at the first press conference held by Taliban suggesting :-
- Total amnesty for all.
- Softer rules and inclusivity for women( as permitted under Sharia Law?)
- Return to work and normalcy.
- There will be no revenge.
- Private media may continue to work from Afghanistan , however, there should be no anti government reporting.
- Afghan soil shall not be used by any nation to attack others(?).
- A drug free Afghanistan(Is this even possible in the face of a financial crunch?).
These amongst other issues need to be watched with care since the final picture is yet to unfold, announcements need to be examined with ground realities. .
It would appear that there is going to be a lull before the storm! Possibilities are nebulous:-
- Once the focus and euphoria of US withdrawal settles down and Taliban go to business as usual, the lesser groups under Taliban umbrella will want their pound of flesh so to say, one can then expect violence to erupt all over and the worst fears of a civil war just might come true.
- Can the Taliban in all honesty be expected to jettison those who fought alongside them against the NATO and ANA forces?
- To expect that atrocities will cease is like wishing for the moon. Focus on statements to the effect that ‘India’ is next!
- Deobani-Haqaani network cannot be ignored and will invariably have their say.
- Russia-China-Iran-Pakistan and India will invariably be most affected.
- The possibility of Taliban settling with Tehrik e Taliban( TTT) and Baluch fighters?
- At the same time, the pro government elements will attempt tp regroup, perhaps supported by the US clandestinely to carry the fight forward, perhaps discouraging direct involvement by Russia as well as China.
- Afghan leadership and representatives abroad have gone on record to suggest that they will unite to continue to oppose and fight the Taliban.
- Clamor of Sanctions or at least the demand thereof against Pakistan is much on the cards, one will have to see how this unfolds.
Welcoming the chance to deepen ties with Afghanistan, a country that has for generations been coveted for its geo-strategic importance by bigger powers. “The Taliban have repeatedly expressed their hope to develop good relations with China, and that they look forward to China’s participation in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.“We welcome this. China respects the right of the Afghan people to independently determine their own destiny and is willing to continue to develop… friendly and cooperative relations with Afghanistan.”Hua called on the Taliban to “ensure a smooth transition” of power and keep its promises to negotiate the establishment of an “open and inclusive Islamic government” and ensure the safety of Afghans and foreign citizens.
China’s Uyghur Challenge.China shares a rugged 76-kilometre (47-mile) border with Afghanistan. Beijing has long feared Afghanistan could become a staging point for minority Uyghur separatists in the sensitive region of Xinjiang, which shares its borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK), besides Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
- A top-level Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the probable new Afghan president, met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin last month, promising that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for militants.
- According to a recent UN report, hundreds of militants of East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which is affiliated to Al Qaeda terror outfit, are converging in Afghanistan amid the military advances made by the Taliban in the country.
What Taliban Gets Out of a Friendly China.
- In exchange for the promise to “deal resolutely” with the ETIM, China offered economic support and investment for Afghanistan’s reconstruction.
- Further, the Islamist group is looking to a future where international legitimacy and assistance would be key for it to accomplish the task of reconstruction in Afghanistan. China has already said that it is happy to let the Afghan people sort out their internal matters and wants only to extend the help that they seek from it.
- “When a major Asian power like China shows it recognizes Taliban’s political legitimacy by meeting them so openly, it is giving the Taliban a big diplomatic win,” said Lin Minwang, a South Asia expert with Shanghai’s Fudan University.
Geo-strategic Significance: Stability and Business.
- China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: The Taliban’s takeover opens a strategic door to China laden with both risk and opportunity. Maintaining stability after decades of war in its western neighbour and ridding it of US/Coalition Forces will be Beijing’s main consideration, as it seeks to secure its borders and strategic infrastructure investments in neighbouring Pakistan, home to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
- Belt and Road Initiative: For Beijing, a stable and cooperative administration in Kabul would pave the way for an expansion of its Belt and Road Initiative into Afghanistan and through the Central Asian republics, analysts say.
- Chinese Investment in Afghanistan: The Taliban, meanwhile, may consider China a crucial source of investment and economic support, either directly or via Pakistan -– the insurgents’ chief regional patron and a close Beijing ally.
- State media published analytical stories highlighting that Afghanistan had been the “graveyard of empires” and cautioning China not to be mired in the “Great Game”, reinforcing a message that China harbours neither the intentions of sending troops into Afghanistan nor the illusion that it can fill the power vacuum left by the United States.
China’s Opposition to Religious Extremism and ‘Policy of Non-interference’Paradoxical?
The Taliban’s momentum as US forces withdraw is awkward for China, which has blamed religious extremism as a destabilising force in its western Xinjiang region and has long worried that Taliban-controlled territory would be used to harbour separatist forces. But China also hews to a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
It has also drastically tightened security in Xinjiang, hardening its borders and putting what UN experts and rights groups estimate were at least a million ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims in detention centres that China describes as vocational training facilities to help stamp out Islamist extremism and separatism.
After last month’s meeting in Tianjin Wang said he hoped Afghanistan can have a “moderate Islamist policy”.
“Isn’t this the same Taliban that blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan in front of world media? Shouldn’t we have a bottom line?” a Chinese netizen commented on the Twitter-like Weibo below a news clip showing Wang standing next to a Taliban official.
China’s Response to Previous Taliban Regime:
In dealing with the Taliban, an increasingly powerful China may be able to leverage the fact that, unlike Russia or the United States, it has never fought them.
When the Taliban were last in power between 1996-2001, China had already suspended relations with Afghanistan, having pulled out its diplomats in 1993 following the outbreak of civil war. However, will Afghans fall for the Chinese ‘Debt Trap’.
What it Means for India? With US out of the picture and the Taliban in control, China could gain a strategic corridor allowing it and long-time ally Pakistan to bring further pressure against common rival
Effect on India
Opening of communications with Taliban appears to have been of help in the evacuation of Indians, therefore, channels need to be kept open. 150 diplomatic staff stuck and under the watch of gun wielding Taliban ,have returned to India.
Impact on development projects causing them to slow down or halt?This would hurt the Afghans who look upon India as a trusted friend and soft power. India is viewed as a people centric and people friendly country by Afghans. The 400 odd projects could add to our leaverage. However, reports of the closure of Trade via Pakistan are issues to consider.
Afghan Population in India, students, military trainees, businesses need to be re assured or their safety and gainfully explored to curry favor with the new Afghan Government . The security and safety of their families back home would certainly figure on the EAM to do list.
Threat of an increased terrorist activity along our Northwestern Borders via Pakistan? This aspect could perhaps be negotiated with the Taliban as has been done by China in the Uyghur case? Secondly, pressure for sanctions against Pakistan needs to be lobbied for in the UN and with USA.
Threat of losing the plot in Gilgit, Baltistan, Baluchistan, POK to Pakistan through a combined effort of both Pakistan and China given the removal of borders with China/Afghanistan along POK too. Dialogue with the leadership in these areas, the UN and simultaneous preparations to extend support must be undertaken both at the Political as well as Military levels, perhaps the NSA and CIA are best equipped for this?
Continued tension and its escalation on Western, Northern and Eastern Land borders and the Ocean region by Chinese Navy and Army, thus we need to prepare for this in right earnest.
Possible intervention and encouragement to Naga, Assam, Insurgents and Naxals affecting internal security.
India is thus likely to exercise her options with care, however, there appears no option but to keep communications open with the new government. Exploring the good will with Russians as well as Americans to remain in play as a country that needs to be counted upon in such troubled times is a challenge to be dealt with by the EAM.
What the Taliban Gain from Good relations with India. Seeking a changed world view, Taliban 2.0 as they are being referred to as brought out in my earlier writeup need to engage with India and be visibly seen to have softened up in order to gain:-
- Greater political and diplomatic legitimacy.( something which they may get via China, Russia and Pakistan) .
- Continued efforts in the economic and infrastructure development without the ‘Debt Trap’ of the Chinese.
- Further diversifies international linkages, India being better placed than China in world view.
- Foster the organization’s independence and make it less reliant on Pakistan’s support or demands.
- India may get to use this to reduce the acts of terror against her(wishful thinking) amongst other gains which could put New Delhi in a better position to convey and negotiate its goals and interests in Afghanistan. An option likely to be opposed by Pakistan and China our adversaries and competitors?
“The US and its western allies are located far away , but with the Terrorist take over of Afghanistan, India is being encircled by the China-Pakistan strategic nexus. Infact, the Taliban conquest of Afghanistan will facilitate an even stronger China-Pakistan axis against India.Yet India remains mired as ever in petty domestic politics. With its plummeting journalistic standards,the Indian media not only reflects but also drives the trivialization of serious issues. There is no National Discourse on the long term aspects of any challenge India faces.” Brahma Chellany via tweet.
“ Christine Fair lauds New Delhi’s generosity in offering emergency and free visas to those stranded in Kabul,showing itself as a global leader,even as European nations have abdicated their responsibilities. India is the worst loser in the Taliban take over of Afghanistan, with Pakistan and China as the Principal gainers. It’s a kind of ‘Gharwapsi for Talibs to their JeM and TTP” She said. Adding further that “India will be left with the least favourable options as Russia and China are sure to recognize Taliban” Ranjit Bhusan in Money Control 18 August 2021.
The Collapse of an Afghan National Army who were larger, better equipped and trained than the so called ‘rag tag Taliban’, what then caused the sudden collapse? As stories emerge from Afghanistan it is becoming clear that Moral of soldiers, Character , Motivation are of paramount relevance. The Afghan National Army clearly lacked all of these which combined with the desire of Self Preservation acted as a compulsion for laying down their arms, thus allowing Taliban to take over Kabul and other areas without firing a shot! Concurrently the coalition army were fighting on foreign soil, had been over stretched for 20 years, suffered casualties and had lost their ‘Aim ‘. The announcement of a withdrawal added further to lower their will to fight. Contractors were there for the money as the paramount attraction.
The key takeaways to my mind as I write this are as follows:-
- Motivation and a sense of belongingness for the war fighting machine’Men’ far outweighs technology.
- Character as opposed to corruption makes men stand tall and fight for the Nation.
- Fighting on foreign soil , especially over prolonged periods leads to a drop in interest and motivation.
- All deployment needs to be done with a specific ‘Aim’ and troops pulled out soon after it is achieved.
- A Nation needs to look at its defence forces including Veterans as assets and not a liability. Money spent on the Armed forces and men goes a long way in keeping the National Flag and Image flying high.
America has paid the price for shifting focus and goal posts, losing sight of her Objective and permitting the perpetrators of Terror to raise their flag, in so doing they have also lost ground to China.
It appears that no matter what option India adopts , it cannot shy away from the fact that the need for a strong military force is inescapable, an approach based on detailed evaluation and war gaming is called for between the Defense Forces, MEA and our Economic advisers . The need for strengthening our Air force, Navy and Army is unavoidable if we have to prepare for Out of Area Operational reach while also stand firm along our borders including the oceanic borders with China and Pakistan. A balance between technology , deterrent ground holding force and the ability to strike hard creating irreparable damage is a must. Self reliance is desirable in the shortest possible time.