Pakistan is sitting pretty looking at the crumbling of Ashraf Ghani’s government in Afghanistan. All the terrorists’ groups nurtured and trained in Pakistan against various countries like India, China, Afghanistan, Iran, the USA have all joined the Afghan Taliban in helping them to take over the country. After the US – Taliban deal in Feb 2020; it was to herald an Afghan Led, Afghan Controlled and Afghan Owned Dialogue between Taliban and Ghani Government to form an interim participatory government leading to a permanent political settlement. However, such dialogue happened only once in Sep 2020 brought out irreconcilable differences. Again, one more meeting took place last week which also ended inconclusively. Ray of Hope; if at all is that both sides have decided to meet again. Now, with the US forces having drawn out of Afghanistan; the Afghan Taliban are on warpath and have declared that 85 per cent of the country is under their control; though a more realistic figure could be 60 per cent. The country is back in turmoil. An explosion in a Girl’s School in May 2021 in Kabul killed 90 of them including some innocent girls in their teens. Indo-Afghan Friendship Dam in Herat has been attacked and taken over, many Afghan soldiers have been captured and killed, an announcement has been made; for girls above 15 years and widows below 45 should volunteer to be wives of Taliban soldiers. Taliban is already baring its teeth and the world is helplessly watching. What amazes me is the futility of raising Afghan National Security Forces of 300,000 strength and their inability to stand up against the Taliban. Many have taken refuge in neighbouring countries such as Tajikistan. It is not so much about training and weapons but I personally feel that they lack the will and purpose in their mission. Probably, they perceive that the Taliban as sanctioned by God; have a greater reason to rule the nation than them whose values are embedded in a western-style democracy.
A number of international initiated conferences has taken place such as the ‘Heart of Asia (Istanbul Process)’ conference in Mar 2021 that takes care of the funding of Afghan National Forces. A Russia led dialogue also took place again in Mar 2021, where even the Afghan Taliban were represented in addition to the Afghanistan National Government. However, nothing seems to have halted the offensive design of the Taliban, who are persistent in taking over the country and rule it by the force of religion, not by people’s mandate. It had happened in 1991 a temporary takeover by Mujahedeen and again from 1996 to 2001 when it was an Islamic Emirate under the very same, Taliban.
Ghani has appealed to Pakistan a number of times calling on the country to support his government as it was democratically elected and Pakistan has the clout to exert pressure on the Afghan Taliban, who are not only based in Pakistan but have also been given shelter and logistics for the last two decades. It was Pakistan that secretly nurtured the organisation kept it as a card up their sleeve to control Afghanistan. It would also probably realise their long-cherished dream to utilise the country as a strategic depth against India.
Taliban is itself sceptical of its mentor, Pakistan. In 1996, when the Taliban took over entire Afghanistan with the full support of Pakistan; the latter had changed its colours like a chameleon and had joined the US against them, after the 9/11. How can the Taliban trust such a country? However, Pakistan is in full glee as the Taliban is taking over Afghanistan. Recently, a Pakistan Army Spokesperson overwhelmed by irrepressible delight said that the Indian investments are sinking in Afghanistan and its initiative in the peace process is not gaining traction. There are also news items where ISI has asked the Afghan Taliban to attack and destroy assets made by and owned by the Indian Government. Incidentally, India has invested over $ 3 billion in Afghanistan in people-centric welfare schemes; in building dams, bringing electricity from Uzbekistan to Kabul, giving road connectivity from Delaram to Iran, medical centres operating in five cities, a parliamentary building, and a mid-day meal scheme for children, among many others activities. Whether the government recognises it or not; such initiatives are well embedded in the minds of Afghan people; which by itself is a long-term investment. How will a short-sighted Pakistan Army spokesperson ever understand it? Let me leave it at that as his exultation should not make our government stray away from people friendly investments; notwithstanding, who comes to power in Afghanistan.
What should Pakistan really worry about? Once the Taliban, if at all takes over Afghanistan; after consolidating, their next step would be throwing out the democratically elected government of Pakistan. Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is just waiting in wings to adopt a similar recipe in Pakistan as their counterparts are adopting in Afghanistan. The philosophy of the Taliban be it Pakistan or Afghanistan is identical; to establish an Islamic Emirates and enforce unadulterated Sharia laws. This philosophy is itself more dangerous than any force or weapon. Let me assure that all the Terrorist Organisations will join with TTP in such an endeavour. It will get direct help and assistance from the newly established Islamic Emirates in Afghanistan. It is in the interest of Pakistan that it should not be short-sighted to provide active support to the Afghan Taliban. The day, Taliban takes over in Afghanistan would be a death knell to Pakistan and the start of an endless war against its own people. It is in the interest of Pakistan to ensure that the Ghani Government prevails in Afghanistan. We all know as to how Pakistan used its might of Armed Forces; both Army and Airforce in ‘OP Zarb-e-Azb’ conducted in North Waziristan in NW Pakistan in 2014. It broke the back of TTP and other terrorist organisations; however, like a hydra, it has resurged with multiple heads in Afghanistan. If one is not aware; the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) is based in Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban is based across the borders in Pakistan. There is also ‘Haqqani Network’ that works against the US operates in the border region. The uncontrolled areas on either side of Durand Line are fertile areas for incubation, raising and nurturing of terrorist organisations; incidentally; even Tora Bora Caves are located in this belt; where Osama Laden had his base while planning and directing the 9/11 terrorist strike on the US.
To conclude, it is in the interest of all countries especially Pakistan, the US, India and even China that a democratically elected government survives in Afghanistan. If Afghanistan becomes an Islamic Emirates ruled by the Taliban; in no time the TTP will wage a war in Pakistan. The Taliban will also spill over to Xinjiang in collaboration with ETIM (Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement): China should really get worried as the internal discontent in Xinjiang is all-pervasive due to the incarceration of over a million people in re-education and labour camps. India also needs to watch as all attempts would be made to infiltrate into J&K to cause disruption. If one looks to the North even Russia would not want the spill over of Taliban Philosophy into CARs. The US has joined up with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan to form a ‘Quad Regional Support for Afghanistan-Peace Process and Post-Settlement’. Pakistan is adept in ‘running with the hare (Afghan Taliban) and hunting with the hounds (the US). Russia has also provided tacit support for it during Putin-Biden talks. Afghanistan has provided to the world a definite reason to unite together. It should pave way for further cooperation among big powers far from the current state of confrontations and geopolitical contradictions.
What is the way ahead? It is in the interest of all countries both regional and extra-regional to ensure that the Ghani government survives and democracy prevails in Afghanistan. However, the Taliban is here to stay and cannot be wished away. A political settlement has to be made so that the Taliban is able to share power in governance. Like in some countries as Indonesia, a certain number of seats in the parliament is allocated to the Armed Forces; a similar clause can be introduced in the Afghanistan Constitution to allocate a specified number of seats to the Taliban. It will ensure that the Taliban’s presence in governing the country becomes a permanent fixture. I am sure constitutional experts can give wings to this idea and suitably incorporate it into the constitution. Half a century of wars and turmoil have devasted two generations of its people and plunged them into pain and insecurity. People of Afghanistan are in dire need of peace, progress and development. The world can help if all nations unite together and enable Afghanistan to find a solution for themselves.