This is one question that is tormenting our government; should we or should we not recognise the Taliban? If we have to recognise it then when should we do it? The present thought process is that we will recognise when the western democracies do it. This idea proclaims our incapability to conceptualise an independent policy in pursuit of our national interest. For Western Powers, Afghanistan is far and distant and their actions are governed by the herd mentality of Western Powers with possibly the US, as the lead sheep. For India it is different; it is a neighbouring country. Badakhshan Province including the whole of Wakhan Corridor borders POK. Any spill over of terrorism directly affects sur security and hence we need to have an independent policy on Afghanistan that would take care of our national interest.
How much, we can trust the Taliban? Even the provisions of the Doha Agreement between the US and Taliban of Feb 2020 have been betrayed partially by the Taliban as per its convenience. The US is in an intractable situation. They have to support the Taliban as greater evils like the Al Qaida and IS (Khorasan) are already popping their heads in the turgid milieu of Afghanistan. The Panjshir Valley is holding out and the information is that Al Qaida has joined the Taliban to overcome the last resistance by the indefatigable Ahmad Masood and Amrullah Saleh. There are also news reports that Pakistan Army is fighting alongside Taliban and Al Qaida? A Pakistan Army Identity card has been recovered from one of the dead. It cannot be discounted as Pakistan has a history of sending its soldiers to war incognito; like the so-called Raiders in the First J&K War, infiltrators in OP Gibraltar in 1965, and Kargil in 1999. There is a strong possibility that Pakistan has sent troops to assist the Taliban on quid pro quo that the latter will help the former in their operations in J&K. Already, a Pakistani delegation led by the ISI Chief is in Kabul apparently to assist in Government formation?
Even during the run-up to the US evacuation, the Taliban was not a monolith. It was a conglomerate of multiple terrorist organisations such as Haqqani Network, TTP, LeT, JeM, ETIF, Harkat ul Ansar and other multifarious entities operating in the badlands astride the Durand Line and in POK. Now each of these outfits would be asking for their pound of flesh in return for the assistance provided to the Taliban in taking over Afghanistan. Plans are afoot to make Afghanistan the nucleus for a greater dream of a Caliphate as was envisaged and attempted by Abu Bakr Baghdadi in Syria.
Presently, the Taliban is making all the right noises to woo India. It is basically to get recognition so that India can continue to carry out the people-driven programs which have earned it goodwill from the common people of Afghanistan. India has invested 3 billion dollars in people’s welfare, unlike China that is only looking forward to exploiting the country of its mineral wealth. The entire Mes Ayank Copper and Hajigak Iron ore Mines have been taken over by China. China and Pakistan are the two countries that are overtly collaborating with the Taliban. Taliban has already designated China as its principal partner and expects it to bankroll the country’s development. Russia is in a covert truck with the Taliban, and Iran has declared that it will not recognise the Taliban in its present form and has asked for an election. The US, unfortunately, has little alternative but to hobnob with them as it has fettered itself with limited strategic options.
What is the litmus test for the Taliban to profess its future good intentions? When the Taliban starts neutralising Al Qaida and IS (Khorasan) from its soil, only then we can be sure that the Taliban is Afghanistan-centric. To my mind, it would never happen as the Pan Islamic Ideology in all its manifestation culminate in support to a ‘World Caliphate’.
One more aspect is; do we consider the Taliban, a terrorist organisation or not? If not; do we support any militant outfit that takes over a country by the use of force without the mandate from its people? Both the concepts are incongruous to the values enshrined in our constitution and the ethos of our country. How do we reconcile our national values in recognising a militant outfit that has taken over a country by the use of force? Or; do we accept the reality that the Afghans have never adopted Democracy as an instrument in governance? How can we impose our values on an alien country and should we not accept a system that is compatible with its people? When the world is accepting China’s totalitarian system as a method of governance; why are we imposing an alien system on Afghanistan?
Considering the reality in the Afghanistan context; we should not rely on the Taliban. Its statements are opportunistic. Already they have made contradictory statements on India: First, that they are Afghanistan Centric and they would not allow terrorist activities against India from its soil. Now, we see that it has taken the support of Al Qaeda for an offensive against Panjshir Valley. After the withdrawal of Americans on 31 Aug 2021, Al Qaeda has proclaimed ‘Global Jihad’. In their statement, they have excluded Chechnya and Xinjiang but have included Kashmir as a future ground for Global Jihad. The Taliban too has followed up with a statement that they have a right to raise the Kashmir issue. If that is the case; we do have a right to deny recognition to the Taliban: Let it be clear and unambiguous.
Lastly, we should not go hyper and feel threatened if Al Qaida wants to wage a war in Kashmir. Even if they are joined by the Taliban and IS Khorasan; so be it! They are welcome and the Indian Army and other security forces are prepared to take them on. This should be our stand. A couple of years back when newspapers were reporting of infiltration by Al Qaida in J&K; the statement of the Army was classic and laconic: There are already a number of terrorist organisations which are attempting infiltration into J&K. Al Qaida will be one more on the list (Or words to that effect). Taliban and IS Khorasan should they come; it will be two more in the list.
It also does not mean that we do nothing about it. A renewed plan has to be put in place to destroy anyone who tries to infiltrate our country across LOC or LAC. I request the PM to get directly involved with the CDS and three Service Chiefs. The ‘through me’ procedure with RM and NSA is not going to work as they both have little understanding of the complexities of the evolving geo the strategic environment in our neighbourhood. The PM has the earthly wisdom to understand and empower the Armed Forces. He should have monthly meetings with them and discuss the ground situation and support their responses. Look at the tragedy that I had mentioned in my earlier article; the CCS meetings held in the aftermath of the Afghanistan fiasco, the CDS, and three Service Chiefs were not invited. I wonder what was the PM discussing with naïve bureaucrats and politicians? Even after the grand failure of our intelligence assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, we still have not learned our lesson. We continue to nurture collective bonhomie that overlooks if not encourages incompetency among our officials. We need to make all the concerned officials of our intelligence machinery accountable and dispense retribution on defaulters.
Suggested Road Map
India should continue to carry out its people-centric activities in Afghanistan as hitherto before irrespective of our recognition to the Taliban regime. It enables us to have our presence on its soil and invest in the goodwill of its people which will come handy in future scenarios. I appreciate that the situation in Afghanistan will be fluid for a considerable period of time and our investment in Afghans will pay us dividends in a later time frame.
In order to continue our goodwill operations, we should maintain Liaison Offices in the premises of our Embassy building in Kabul and in Consulate buildings at Jalalabad, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif and Kandahar. It was wholly short-sighted on the part of our MEA to vacate lock stock and barrel.
Keep our minds open and see the reality of the Afghan Situation. Keenly watch the developments in Panjshir Province and keep in touch with Amrulla Saleh and Ahmad Masood.
Look out for the formation of an inclusive government that is not composed only of the Taliban. It should include Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks preferably with proportional representation.
On the formation of an inclusive Government in Afghanistan it should assure India the following: –
- The soil of Afghanistan will not be used for terrorist activities against India.
- Endorse that J&K is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan.
- Afghanistan should not allow its soil to be used by Pakistan in a conflict against India.
- Afghanistan should eliminate Al Qaida and IS in Khorasan from its soil. Active and persistent operations need to be launched by the Afghan Government to eliminate the two organisations including their new variants as and when they emerge. A verifiable clause to this effect has to be included in the agreement.
On fulfilling all the above requirements India should recognise the new Government so formed as the legal government of Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, our MEA has acted in haste and were more concerned in up sticking and racing against time, competing with the Western Powers in its bid to evacuate. It was a flock mentality as our country does not have a concrete political aim to pursue an independent foreign policy. The ransacking of our consulates at Herat and Kandahar by the Taliban is being paraded as justification for having vacated the entire embassy and consulates in time. They were ransacked as they were all empty. Had we continued to function normally with ITBP guards the Taliban would have left us alone. There has been no ransacking of consulates at Mazar-e- Sharif or at Jalalabad. Embassies of China, Russia and Pakistan continue to function normally as these nations have large stakes in Afghanistan. The only country in the neighbourhood that has high stakes in Afghanistan that has vacated post haste is our country? Whose bright idea it was? Please own up!