Leadership Crisis in Afghan Taliban: Can India Exploit the Situation?
The sudden revelation by Afghan intelligence of death of Mullah Omar the revered and mythical leader of Afghan Taliban two years back has soured the Pakistani ball game of controlling Afghanistan by installing Afghan Taliban in a decision making mode in Afghan regime if not actually taking over the reins of power in Afghanistan. There is now an intense power struggle on in Afghan Taliban for the throne of the new leader. India which was more or less sidelined by the new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani from Afghan affairs in favour of Pakistan has now a chance to bounce back in this game. An opportunity which India must not lose.
The 14 year terror war against NATO troops operating in Afghanistan by the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network, both operating from safe sanctuaries in Pakistan had full backing of Pakistani army and ISI.
Last year, after the current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took over the reins of power from the India friendly ex President of Afghanistan Mr Hamid Karzai who ruled Afghanistan for almost three decades, there was a distinct change in Afghan policy in favour of Pakistan. Ashraf Ghani signed a military-intelligence sharing pact with Pakistan despite knowing the fact that it is Pakistan which has been sheltering Mullah Omar and his Afghan Taliban shura in Quetta safe houses of Pakistani intelligence agency ISI, after the mullah Omar regime was evicted from Afghanistan by American offensive of 2001.. The 14 year terror war against NATO troops operating in Afghanistan by the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network, both operating from safe sanctuaries in Pakistan had full backing of Pakistani army and ISI.
Ashraf Ghani had gambled on Pakistan in the hope that Pakistan will be able to pressurise Afghan Taliban to agree to a power sharing formula with Ashraf Ghani Government of Afghanistan as against full take over. To appease Pakistan, apart from isolating India from all peace talks Ashraf Ghani decided not to import Indian heavy armament for Afghan army. He signed military intelligence sharing agreement with Pakistan and started sending Afghan military officers, till now being trained in India, to Pakistan also. Recently he had sent an official delegation for peace talks with Afghan Taliban in Pakistani hill town of Murray under watch of America and China. All was going hunky dory for Pakistan as per their script till suddenly the Afghan intelligence agency revealed the fact that the revered leader of Afghan Taliban had died two years back in a Pakistani military hospital and it is the Pakistan friendly and the uncrowned leader of Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor a deputy of Mullah Omar who had been running the show since then.
This revelation has started an intense power struggle for leadership in Afghan Taliban. The second round of peace talks which was to be held in end July in China has been indefinitely postponed. In these two years when Pakistan and Mullah Mansoor kept the myth of mullah Omar being alive, Pakistan choreographed the Taliban stance in its political office at Qatar. It also used terror attacks to achieve dominance in Afghanistan a fact confirmed by ex head of Afghan intelligence Amarullah Saleh. In June this year there was a terror attack on Afghan parliament where the Afghan security forces saved its parliamentarians at the nick of time. Before this attack, Afghan Taliban had attacked two guest houses in Kabul. It was becoming increasingly clear since June this year that while Afghan security forces were holding their own in Kabul they were giving way to Afghan Taliban attacks in hinterland. May be all these happenings have forced Ashraf Ghani the Afghan president to rethink on his Pakistan appeasement policy. Recently he has given a public statement that it is Pakistan which is behind all these terror attacks in Afghanistan and he wants Pakistan to stop housing and supporting Afghan Taliban.
India must also try and convince Afghan president Ashraf Ghani that by being pro Pakistan he is ensuring his ouster by Taliban sooner than later.
After the death of Mullah Omar was declared recently, Afghan Taliban on prodding by Pakistani army and ISI quickly organised a conference in which Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was named its new head while the head of Haqquani network Jalaluddin Haqqani a Pakistani stooge operating from Pakistani tribal areas has been nominated as his deputy. Both these leaders are totally pro Pakistan, a fact which India can disregard only at its peril. However these appointments have been rejected by the family of Mullah Omar. Mullah Omar’s son Mullah Yakub wanted to be the new head of Afghan Taliban. Mullah Omar’s brother Mullah Abdullah Mannan also does not want Mullah Mansoor to be the head of Afghan Taliban. Meanwhile it is reported that Pakistan in connivance with Mullah Mansoor has got Mullah Yakub killed. This has resulted in the opposite party of Taliban declaring itself as Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Mullah Qayyum Zakir, the warlord of Helmund province of Afghanistanis also opposed to the leadership of Mullah Mansoor. Tayeb Agha the head of the political office of Taliban in Qatar has since resigned saying that he does not want to take sides.
All in all there is lot of churning going on in Afghan Taliban after the announcement of death of Mullah Omar. Agreed that Pakistan has a hold on these Taliban commanders because either they are residing in Pakistan or their families stay there. Still Pakistan can influence them only up to a point. This gives an opportunity to India which has invested two billion dollars in development of Afghanistan and enjoys lot of good will and soft power with the locals to have its play in this game. India must go all out to woo the opposing group of Afghan Taliban. Following the policy of enemy of the enemy is our friend it must also be in good terms with Tehrik-e- Taliban Pakistan which is fighting the Pakistani army itself. India must also try and convince Afghan president Ashraf Ghani that by being pro Pakistan he is ensuring his ouster by Taliban sooner than later. Finally India must also cosy up with Iran to re establish the erstwhile Northern Alliance composed of Hazara, Uzbek and Tajik tribes north of Kabul forming 42% of afghan population to continue its hold in Northern Afghanistan. Need of the hour is that we must be proactive.