Suggestions are being injected through media that Hamdullah Mohib, National Security of Afghanistan during his recent visit to New Delhi “privately” requested that India deploy a Brigade or a Division to Afghanistan in peacekeeping role prior to a peace deal with Taliban which would likely lead to withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
There is news of US President Donald Trump having given a conditional green signal for a peace deal with Taliban; that is if the Taliban agree to reduce violence. The talks between the US and Taliban have been ongoing in Doha, Qatar but without participation by the Afghan Government. The US stance is that if the Taliban agree to reduce violence then US withdrawal could be discussed.
What the Taliban has reportedly offered is a 10-day ceasefire, which is naturally not acceptable to the Afghan Government. Latter have also been irked with the US holding talks with the Taliban without incorporating the Afghan Government. The Afghan government has demanded a complete ceasefire as a way forward for peace.
Afghan Presidential spokesman told media that the government rejects the proposed reduction in violence by the Taliban as the ambiguous term has no legal or military parameters. Reuters quoting an un-named Taliban commander reports that once an agreement (with the US) for ceasefire is in place, Taliban and the Afghan Government could meet in Germany.
Why Germany has not been specified though if true it is a change from erstwhile Taliban stance of not talking to the Afghan Government at all. A date for the signing of the agreement with the American side has not been set, but the Taliban commander said he expected it to be very soon, as per Al Jazeera.
It is well known that the US wants to cut losses from Afghanistan and pull out, especially with Trump’s pre-election promises to end America’s longest war. Trump would naturally want to accomplish this in the run up to the next presidential election on November 3, 2020.
As it is, another presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has been criticizing Trump for going to war with Iran. Trump perhaps is also under pressure from the disclosure that 109 US troops suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBI) due to the Iranian missile attacks on US bases in Iraq while Trump had announced, “All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases”. Later, he waived off the TBI casualties by saying, “I heard that they had headaches, and a couple of other things, but I would say, and I can report, it’s not very serious.” There is news of US troops withdrawing from some 15 bases in Iraq though the scale of withdrawal is unclear.
The Taliban continue to follow their characteristic style of mixing talks with violence. In a recent incident, two US soldiers were killed and six others wounded when an individual in an Afghan army uniform opened fire on them with a machinegun in eastern Afghanistan.
The green zone of US troops in Kabul has also been subjected to rocket attacks in the past. Contrary to the perception building, Taliban is in no hurry for any truce since their influence has been on the rise. Their demands from day one have included: will not lay down arms, do not believe in democracy; do not respect the Afghan Constitution; want rule of Sharia and an Islamic Caliphate, and; want all foreign troops out from Afghan soil.
The bit about wanting all troops out, however, should be taken with a pinch of salt as Taliban has allowed Pakistani regulars and Mujahids operating covertly in Afghanistan as part of Pakistani assistance. They don’t attack the Chinese either who have been mining and drilling oil commercially in Afghanistan since 2012 – reasons for which are obvious.
Getting back to the request by Afghan NSA’s made privately for an Indian Brigade/Division, if the request was in private who briefed the media? In a sense this question itself would appear absurd when a classified document pertaining to the Rafael was found on the streets of Delhi in 2010 and on March 6, 2019 a national daily published an article giving details of the documents including the crucial decision-making minute sheet on for the Rafael procurement.
Naturally, no action can be taken against those holding the keys to the skeletons. But let us assume that Hamdullah Mohib did make a request for foreign troops. But on whose behest did he so request – Afghan Government and/or sponsored by the US. US would certainly want that, which has been hinted in the past since it would help pullout of US troops.
Technically, Indian troops can be deployed anywhere in the world if ordered by the government but those so recommending (apparently on western behest) appear to be totally out of synch with the ground situation in Afghanistan, the geostrategic dynamics of the region, the tasks for such a forces and what it would involve in deploying and maintaining such a force in Afghanistan.
Such recommendations lack strategic sense similar to the perception building on foreign behest that India vacate the Saltoro Range in the Siachen Glacier area without any thought where the next line of defence would be, at what cost and at what strategic disadvantage. For starters, what will be the task of this Brigade/Brigade Group or Division in Afghanistan, how will they be maintained, at what costs and who will bear the costs with successive defence budgets negative in actual terms, and defence allocation for next fiscal the lowest ever?
Are we aware what quantum of troops for the IPKF being sent to Sri Lanka was initially planned, how we ended up eventually inducting four infantry divisions, how the deployment for holding elections in the disturbed provinces got stretched to two years fighting the LTTE, and how towards the end the Sri Lankan Government was helping LTTE inflict losses on the IPKF?
Are we not aware what happened to the Soviets in Afghanistan and what is happening to the Americans now. Yet there are suggestions to send at least a Brigade Group to Afghanistan that too possibly on immediate basis since the deployment is supposedly requested before the US rigs a temporary ceasefire with Taliban telling them Indians are here, talk to the Afghan Government and hold your fire till we pullout.
As mentioned above, Taliban want all foreign troops out of Afghanistan. The suggestion of peacekeeping role notwithstanding, our troops may end up fighting with the Taliban right from the beginning with little air and artillery support. Beijing and Islamabad would simply love that. The Brigade Group may end up defending itself.
Next is the question of sustaining the force, Pakistan would deny any air and land access. Use of Iranian airspace would be disrupted time and again with Trump’s designs on Iran. Only limited air maintenance would be possible and Taliban has been downing US aircraft and drones though these are attributed to technical failures by the US. Incidentally, calls raised for Indian military deployment in Afghanistan have been raised since 2014.
But recall when Pakistan had last permitted resumption of NATO supplies via Pakistan, there were reports that Pakistan would be paid $1500-1800 per truck, totaling more than $1 million per day, plus port fees. There were also reports of hundreds of containers gone missing in Pakistan and wares sold in local markets. Under pressure from US public, Hillary Clinton denied paying any passage money but simultaneously an additional military aid of $1 billion was granted to Pakistan.
Pressure for Indian Military deployment in Afghanistan would likely mount with Trump visiting India on February 24. It would be an added feather in his cap if he can extract a yes from India, in addition to the multi-billion dollar arms and oil deals and the tumultuous welcome that awaits him in the Kem Cho Trump event at Ahmedabad. But sending a Brigade/Division to Afghanistan would be ludicrous even if it facilitates US troop pullout.
The question remains whether India can never place hard power on the ground in Afghanistan? It can. In fact India should have put Special Forces in covert role in Afghanistan even before the US invasion. This can be done even now in concert the Afghan Government. Contrary to the belief, Pakistanis are not really considered friends by the Taliban.
It has been a marriage of convenience but the strains are evident with the Pakistani army bearing down on the Pashtuns. There is opportunity to help the Pashtuns, Baluchis and in turn Gilgit-Baltistan. Question is does government have the will?