India and the Afghan Imbroglio
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Issue Vol. 26.4 Oct-Dec 2011 | Date : 23 Nov , 2011

India’s Security Concerns

The Indian policy establishment is understandably wary of the power vacuum that could engulf war-torn Afghanistan in the wake of US withdrawal if and when it actually takes place. There are apprehensions and for good reason, that the ensuing power struggle triggered by power vacuum might unleash a new wave of conflict in an ethnically diverse society and plunge the nation into prolonged instability. Policy makers in India believe that turmoil in the region could spill over with serious security implications for India.

The Indian policy establishment is understandably wary of the power vacuum that could engulf war-torn Afghanistan in the wake of US withdrawal if and when it actually takes place.

There are apprehensions that there could be a surge in the level of terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir as also in other parts of India. The question that agitates the collective mind of policy makers is whether India can afford to remain passive and a mute spectator to the developments in the region or as expected of an emerging regional power, ought to play a proactive role including military intervention to safeguard her security interests? What then are the options before India?

The Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan

In an effort to decimate Al Qaeda and stabilise Afghanistan, US forces have been battling essentially the Taliban, for a decade. Ironically, it was the US working behind the scene that helped Pakistan create the Taliban whom they dislodged from power post 9/11 for perceived complicity with the Al Qaeda in the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. The ousted Taliban regime in Kabul was replaced by Hamid Karzai who was an American choice. A Pashtun of the Popalzai tribe from the Kandahar region, Hamid Karzai, believed to have been close to the CIA, lived mostly in Pakistan after completing college education in India.

After induction of the Taliban into Kandahar in 1994, its ranks swelled rapidly to 40,000 on account of the large number of jobless but armed Pashtun Mujahideen skilled only in the art of pulling the trigger, jumping on to the bandwagon.

At the outset, it would be necessary to understand the origin of Taliban in Afghanistan and briefly recapitulate the events that have led to the current situation before proceeding further. It would also be pertinent to mention that the Taliban in Afghanistan should not be confused with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which is an entirely Pakistan-based entity that unlike the Afghan Taliban, emerged spontaneously in 2007 to pose a serious challenge to the authority of the Government of Pakistan. The TTP also referred to as Pakistan Taliban, has its own independent agenda and despite commonality in name, has no overt linkage with the Afghan Taliban.

Now back to the Afghan Taliban. In the power struggle that ensued after the fall of Russia-supported Najibullah government in April 1992, the non-Pashtun (Persian speaking) Mujahedeen groups also referred to as the Northern Alliance or the Afghan United Front, headed by Burhanuddin Rabbani duly supported by his nephew Ahmad Shah Massoud and the renowned Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum, captured power in Kabul. This was the second instance in the history of Afghanistan that a non-Pashtun government usurped power in Kabul. The first time the Pashtuns were out of power was for nine months in 1929. With a non-Pashtun government firmly in the saddle in Kabul by the second half of 1992, Pakistan not only suffered erosion of its influence in Afghanistan but also was denied unimpeded access to the Central Asian Republics, something it needed badly for economic reasons. A non-Pashtun government in the seat of power in Kabul was therefore not acceptable to Pakistan as it did not in any way serve her political, strategic or economic interests. However, all efforts by her to inspire the Pashtun Mujahideen to dislodge the Rabbani government from power, proved to be futile as they were no match for the powerful Northern Alliance.

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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.

About the Author

Air Marshal BK Pandey

Former AOC-in-C Training Command, IAF.

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