Taliban

Taliban Frees US Navy Veteran Mark Frerichs After 2 Yrs

US Navy veteran Mark Frerichs, who was taken hostage in Afghanistan, was released by the Taliban after more than two years, according to media reports citing a spokesman.

Earlier in the year, the US had raised concerns over the release of Mark Frerichs.
Afghanistan’s acting Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi on Monday confirmed that the Taliban has freed an American prisoner in return for a Taliban leader in a prisoner swap between the two countries.

“Today, Mark Frerichs was handed over to the US and Haji Bashar was handed over to us at Kabul airport,” Muttaqi said while speaking to reporters in Kabul, as per Al Jazeera.

He said the exchange happened “after long negotiations”, adding that Frerichs was given to a US delegation.

The US navy veteran was working in Afghanistan as a civil engineer on construction projects when he was kidnapped, according to the US State Department. He was last seen in a video earlier this year, pleading for his release so that he can be reunited with his family, according to a recording posted by The New Yorker magazine at the time.

Meanwhile, Haji Bashir Noorzai a senior member of the Taliban arrived in Kabul today.

Noorzai contacted American troops in Afghanistan after 2001 and travelled to the US. While Noorzai was in New York in 2005 he was arrested, and sentenced to life in prison by a US court.

“Honorable Haji Bashir was released after two decades of imprisonment and arrived in Kabul today,” Mohammad Naeem, Islamic Emirate’s Qatar-based political office spokesman, said in a tweet.

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Taliban Decried Globally For Closing Paktia Girls’ Schools

The Taliban were publicly criticized globally for closing the girls’ schools in Paktia after a brief opening.

It sparked severe reactions inside and outside of Afghanistan. On Saturday, dozens of girls took to the streets in the centre of Paktia to protest the closing of their schools, reported Tolo News.
The videos of the protests went viral on social media and triggered strong reactions by the Afghan public as well as famous politicians and human rights defenders.

“The fight of Afghan girls/women for the right to education is important for the entire humanity because gender apartheid and contraction of freedom in one country can have fallout for the rest of humanity,” said Afrasiab Khattak, a former Pakistani senator and analyst of regional affairs.

Earlier, some girls’ schools above grade 6 in the province had been reopened due to a decision by tribal elders and local educational officials. Still, the schools were closed again, reported Tolo News.

“The fight of Afghan girls/women for the right to education is important for the entire humanity because gender apartheid and contraction of freedom in one country can have fallout for the rest of humanity,” said Afrasiab Khattak, a former Pakistani senator and analyst of regional affairs.

The founder and head of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), Mazoor Pastheen, said that Saturday’s protest for educational rights by the girls in Paktia is praiseworthy, reported Tolo News.

“In the 21st century, the Afghan girls are being deprived of education by force,” he said.

Nazar Mohammad Motmaeen, head of the Afghan National Olympic Committee, on Twitter criticized the closure of schools and said there has yet to be a decision about whether to close or reopen the schools for girls, reported Tolo News.

Heather Barr, director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch said on Twitter that the “Taliban just shut down girls’ schools in Paktia–after community members pushed for them to open. What will the HRC do? We want a much tougher UN action on accountability.”

Several human rights and education activists had urged world leaders in an open letter recently to mount diplomatic pressure on the Taliban to reopen secondary schools for girls in the war-torn country as the Taliban’s brutal regime in Afghanistan will soon complete a year in August.

Young girls and women have been compromising with their aspirations for almost 300 days since their development was distorted. The activists added that if this situation persists, their aims and hopes will suffer greatly, reported Khaama Press.

World leaders, regional allies, and international organizations were urged in the letter to take serious actions to fulfil their commitments in order to promote and protect Afghan girls’ rights, especially the right to education which was snatched away from them after the Taliban-led Afghan government banned the education for girls in classes 6 and above. (ANI)

How To Deal With A Stubborn Taliban

While the nearly one-year old Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) government trundles on in the absence of international recognition, financial support and faces international backlash on its mostly anti-women and minorities decisions, reminding one of its earlier harsh tenure, the IEA government has not given up on efforts to cajole the international community whilst trying to engage with its neighbours and regional powers at an equal level.

Loya Jirga

Last week a three-day assembly of Islamic clerics and tribal elders, called Loya Jirga, was held in the Afghan capital – Kabul. The assembly pledged support for the Taliban and called on the international community to recognise the country’s Taliban-led government and freeze its assets.

It is reported that some 70 personalities representing Afghan refugees in Pakistan and 30 others from Iran participated in the Jirga. According to the state-run Bakhtar news agency, about 3,500 religious scholars and elders from across Afghanistan were invited to attend the grand assembly.

Participants of the Jirga were expected to discuss a series of issues, including reopening schools for girls from 7th grade to 12th grade, the type of government, national flag and national anthem. 

However, the indications are that the overwhelming majority of attendees were Taliban officials and supporters, mostly Islamic clerics. Women were not allowed to attend, a practice that started during the U.S.-backed government in the past.

The Jirga issued an 11-point statement at the conclusion, urging countries in the region and the world, the United Nations, Islamic organisations and others to recognise the Taliban-led IEA, remove all sanctions imposed since the Taliban takeover and unfreeze Afghan assets abroad.

The United States has frozen nearly $9 billion of Afghanistan’s funds. Reportedly U.S. officials and Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mutaqqi held talks in Qatar last week to explore ways for the unfreezing of the money.

It also called for mutual respect and coexistence with neighbouring countries, in the region and the world at large, stressing that “the Afghan soil won’t be used against any country and Afghanistan also won’t allow anyone to interfere in its internal affairs.”

It also supported the administration’s ban on poppy plantation and drug production and its smuggling, noting that poppy cultivation, drug production and its trafficking are against Islamic teachings.

The participants also described Daesh or the rival Islamic State outfit as “insurgent, terrorist”, noting cooperation with the group is against Islamic laws. The statement further described them as “Kharijite group of this age that spreads corruption in our Islamic country. Any help or association with them is illegal. And that any armed opposition against the Islamic establishment is a breach of Islamic laws and regarded as rebellion.”

In a surprise development, the reclusive supreme leader and spiritual chief of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada reached Kabul from his base in southern Kandahar province and addressed the gathering on Friday 1 July.

ALSO READ: Taliban Pushing Itself Into A Corner

His appearance added symbolic heft to the gathering. In his hour-long speech carried by state radio, Akhundzada called the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan a “victory for the Muslim world.”

The Battle for Coal

Meanwhile, there are reports that the Taliban have increased the price of Afghan coal from $90 per tonne to $200 per tonne, and set custom duties at 30%, hours after Pakistan PM Shahbaz Sharif announced import plans for the same. The move is also aimed at rejecting allegations that it’s becoming a ‘puppet’ of Pakistan.

But now, members of the regime are seeking to alter the image of the Taliban’s relationship with the Pakistani government. On Wednesday, the spokesperson for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Petroleum and Minerals, Mufti Ismatullah Burhan, told The Independent Urdu that no coal trade agreement exists between the two countries, and that the Taliban will use coal as a “pressure point” for Pakistan.

Afghan newspaper Daily Hasht-e Subh also quoted warnings from expert Mirahmad Shakib that the real damage of any accelerated coal imports would not be to either country’s economies but to the environment in Afghanistan. “Pakistan is plundering Afghanistan’s resources in the absence of a responsible national government.” Shakib said.

Since it took over Afghanistan last year and the subsequent economic crisis, the Taliban government has been attempting to rely on natural resources for revenue as an answer to the country’s economic crisis.

The Way Forward

The Jirga opened in the absence of women representatives and concluded without hinting at reopening schools for girls above grade six and women’s right to work outside home.

In its reaction to the Jirga, Human Rights Watch has said that a decision-making body, such as a Jirga that excludes women and other groups is not legitimate. While human rights advocates claim they do not anticipate and expect significant improvements from the Taliban Jirga in Kabul, Heather Barr, co-director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, said no one in the Taliban’s Jirga could speak up and that the assembly did not reflected ethnic diversity.

Reportedly, the Taliban elders have been able to keep a complete lock on decision-making since taking over the country last August, and they touted the Jirga as a forum to hear a range of voices on issues facing Afghanistan.

Overall, it appears that Taliban are desperate for the international community to recognise the new Islamic Emirate at the earliest and unfreeze its assets, enabling it to plan for the future.

In its first budget presented in May earlier this year, the IEA government announced a deficit of 44 billion Afghanis ($501 million), the authorities didn’t elaborate or clarified how the gap between expected revenues and planned spending will be met.

The Taliban are under international pressure to be more inclusive as they struggle with Afghanistan’s humanitarian crises. The international community is determined to set its terms while the Taliban are adamant to dictate their own terms for any compromise, as they have been able to control the country for almost a year. It remains to be seen how it all will pan out as the Taliban are a very stubborn lot and instead of pressure, to find a common ground cajoling and being empathetic will be in favour of both the Afghan people and international community.

Taliban Pushing Itself Into A Corner

The latest international conference to discuss the evolving situation in Afghanistan and also review the response of the neighbouring and regional countries to the latest Taliban decisions, took place in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, last week.

National security advisors from Tajikistan, India, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan and China, with Pakistan abstaining – as it currently has no NSA, attended the Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan.

It is believed that all the NSAs highlighted the need to find constructive ways to ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan and combating risks from terrorism emanating from the region and particularly ensure that Afghanistan doesn’t become a terror hub again.

This has been a primary concern for India since the Taliban took over the country, besides the rights of Afghan citizens, especially women and minorities. India has already closed down its diplomatic missions in Afghanistan, which the Taliban keenly wants to be reopened.

The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) at the meeting said certain countries in the region and beyond are transferring Takfiri terrorists to Afghanistan, Ali Shamkhani said terrorism and extremism are among the main causes of insecurity in Afghanistan.

Talibani Diktats

However, what concerns the international community more is the series of Talibani diktats on social issues, targeting women and specific Muslim sects in particular.

On May 9, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) ordered women and older girls to cover their faces when in public. The order further said that punishments for violating the decree would be inflicted on their male family members. Taliban leaders responded to public outcry by insisting that the decree is not mandatory, but so far their own enforcement efforts contradict those statements.

Further, on May 21, the IEA’s Ministry of Vice and Virtue ordered all women television presenters to cover their faces, stating “the decision was final and that there was no room for discussion.”

Heather Barr of the Human Rights Watch described these new diktats as blatantly violating women’s rights to freedom of expression, as well as personal autonomy and religious belief.

ALSO READ: UN Envoy Calls Upon Taliban To Allow Girls’ Education

In response to the order, male presenters at several major news channels in Afghanistan started wearing face masks on air in solidarity with their female colleagues – an act that prompted the #FreeHerFace campaign on social media. As one women’s rights activist wrote, “Afghan men showing up for Afghan women is not just a gesture. It’s a turn in the story that will change everything. Brave brothers.”

This latest order is part of a steady flow of Taliban actions that have blocked girls’ secondary education, pushed women out of most employment, curtailed women’s freedom of movement, obstructed women’s access to health care, and abolished the system designed to protect women and girls from violence.

They have gradually imposed more restrictions on Afghan women and Shia community. After banning them from acquiring certain government jobs, getting education, and travelling alone outside their cities, they have now ordered them to wear the burqa or to cover themselves from head to toe in public.

Talibani Rationale

All these developments perplexes one to wonder as to why the Taliban-led IEA is hell-bent on imposing those restrictions, which were introduced in its earlier stint also and to which they had vowed not to revert again.

It seems that Taliban have no intentions of transforming them into a modern-day political entity and change their views. In fact they have slowly started implementing their real agenda, based on skewed political motives and controversial ideological beliefs.

Afghanistan of present might become a nation with contradictory notions of personal freedom as viewed by them in contrast to internationally recognised definition of personal freedom. They very well understand that international recognition will bind them to certain western norms and obligations, on human rights in particular, and as those would completely contradict their self-defined ideology or interpretation of Islam, they are ready to ignore it for the time being. 

They might have thought that they would be able to deceive the international community by making shallow promises regarding female education and introducing an inclusive political structure. With US unfreezing their sovereign funds and after some key Islamic states formally recognised them, they would go about enforcing their actual agenda.

The international observers’ hope was that the members of the Afghan Delegation based in Doha-Qatar might be able to influence their counterparts in Afghanistan, to follow the international demands. But in reality these moderate elements were sidelined in the new government and the hawks amongst them took control based on their ideological beliefs. Justifying their initial actions, some supporters pointed that their conservative mindset would take time to adjust to global realities. But the truth is that they have even failed to address the security concerns of their immediate neighbours.

So far they have even been unable to control the militant Islamic organisations like ISIS-Khorasan, which is present in some key Afghan provinces. This inaction on their behalf gives goose bumps to their immediate and regional neighbours, both. Similarly, they have been unable to reign-in Tehreek-i Taliban Pakistan, which in fact enjoys full support of the IEA regime.

The irony is that Taliban’s supporters, who were sincerely ready to offer them a second chance are dismayed by the double meaning actions or inactions by the IEA, as it puts the future of a vast majority of common Afghani on the block and does not bode well for the country’s future. Besides pushing those supporters into a tight corner.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)

American Heist, Afghanistan, JOe Biden

The American Heist In Afghanistan

US President Joe Biden last week signed an executive order, splitting $7 billion Afghan funds deposited with the Federal Reserve. Afghanistan will now only get $3.5 billion as part of the humanitarian aid while the remaining $3.5 billion will be given to 9/11 victim families in the US.

Afghanistan has about $9 billion in assets overseas, including the $7 billion in the United States. The rest is mostly in Germany, the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland banks. International funding was stopped and Afghan money was frozen after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan last August. The Taliban expectedly have expressed anger over United States’ move and have sought to unfreeze all funds.

Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said on Twitter that the theft and seizure of money held or frozen by the United States of the Afghan people represents the lowest level of human and moral decay of a country and a nation.

On Saturday last, the Afghan central bank — known as Da Afghanistan Bank — demanded in a statement that the Biden administration reverse its decision.

The move has also elicited angry responses from the Afghan public; there have been a series of angry demonstrations in Kabul, with common Afghani seething in anger over the US move.

Expert’s criticism

The decision has also drawn criticism from human rights groups, lawyers and financial experts who have warned that the move could gut the country’s central bank for years to come, crippling its ability to establish monetary policy and manage the country’s balance of payments.

Experts also said that the $3.5 billion set aside for humanitarian assistance would do little good unless the United States lifted restrictions on the Afghan banking system that have obstructed the flow of aid into the country.

John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that the decision would create a problematic precedent for commandeering sovereign wealth and do little to address underlying factors driving Afghanistan’s massive humanitarian crisis.

Torek Farhadi, a financial adviser to Afghanistan’s former US-backed government, questioned the UN managing Afghan Central Bank reserves. He said those funds are not meant for humanitarian aid but “to back up the country’s currency, help in monetary policy and manage the country’s balance of payment.” He also questioned the legality of Biden’s order and said that these reserves belong to the people of Afghanistan, not the Taliban … Biden’s decision is one-sided and does not match with international law, no other country on Earth makes such confiscation decisions about another country’s reserves.

ALSO READ: China Looks For A Toehold In Afghanistan

Some analysts also took to Twitter to question Biden’s order. Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Programme at the US-based Wilson Centre, criticised the scheme to divert funds from Afghanistan in a tweet.

Pakistan has also condemned the decision. Pak Foreign Office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar has called for the complete unfreezing of Afghanistan’s assets.

As reported by GeoTV, he said it is imperative for the international community to quickly act to address the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan and to help revive the Afghan economy, as the two are inextricably linked. And the utilisation of Afghan funds should be the sovereign decision of Afghanistan.

The Debt

The Taliban, after taking control of Afghanistan had immediately claimed a right to the money. But what complicates the matter further is that a group of relatives of victims of the September 11 attacks, one of several groups who had demanded compensation for those killed in 9/11, have sought to seize this money to pay off their debt.

This debt is based on a default judgement titled ‘Havish vs Laden’ of 2011, awarding $6bn to a group of 9/11 victim families, as per a federal judge in New York. The parties named in the case —the Taliban, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and Iran — never showed up (hence a default judgement). In its defence the Biden administration claims that this will open doors for expediting humanitarian aid to Afghan people, who are facing a lot of hardships.

The American media has lauded the decision, with Washington Post commenting in an article that though the issues, moral and legal, are extremely complex, with the ultimate disposition of the money up to a federal court in New York, the administration is surely right about one thing: Despite the desperate needs of the Afghan people, many of whom are at risk of starvation, it would be a mistake to put the money back at the disposal of Afghanistan’s central bank, with no strings attached — as the Taliban demands.

Pakistan’s Dawn in its editorial has commented that President Biden’s decision is simply appalling and lacks moral ground. It says further that for one, these assets belong to Afghanistan and not to the Taliban rulers. How can Washington justify inflicting collective punishment on the Afghans to penalise the Taliban? It raises a legal question as well. The money belongs to the Afghan central bank and therefore, should not be commandeered to pay the Taliban’s judgement debt. None of the 19 hijackers involved in the horrific terrorist attacks on that tragic day were Afghans. True, the plotters used Afghan soil and were under the Taliban’s protection, but to penalise the entire population implies that the attack had the sanction of the entire nation.

The decision compels one to compare this action to the colonial mind-set or colonial thievery of the past. The absurdity is that the richest country in human history is maltreating one of the poorest, for compensating the victims of and redressing a crime committed 20 years, in which the Afghan people had no role.

Further the Biden decision also gives birth to another quagmire, if it’s ready to transfer money to the Taliban administration, than doesn’t it means that it is tacitly recognising the Taliban government, leading other countries to engage with Taliban without its formal recognition?

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)

The ‘Good’, The ‘Bad’ & The ‘Deobandi’ Taliban

The seizure of Afghan capital, Kabul by the Taliban and their declaration to declare Afghanistan an Islamic Emirate has again raised the spectre of The Good, The Bad and The Deobandi Taliban.

The Good and Bad Taliban

I believe the distinction between the good and the bad Taliban, was first made by Shah Mahmood Qureshi during his first tenure as the Pakistani foreign minister from 208-2011. Interpreting his statement led to the fact that Pakistan believed that the Taliban aligned to Pakistan were the good Taliban and those opposed to its policies and intervention in Afghanistan are bad Taliban.

The western media took the categorisation step forward and even American politicians like Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton used the phrase to divide the Taliban into two different categories.

While delving into the psyche of the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ Taliban let’s be clear that the Taliban is not a monolithic organisation, it has various factions and tribal and clannish rivalries. In the background of the traditional Afghan society we have to understand that the smallest functioning unit is the village and the local village headman or the local Imam holds sway over the vast multitude of uneducated Afghans, thus the message which they get from the local leader is the final order for them, added to their loyalty to the local militia or the Taliban unit.  In addition, the local commanders wield a lot of clout and power. Moreover, when the uneducated rural folks are handed the latest automatic weapons, they become another power unit of their own, with no link to the tag with which they were attached.

More recently, before the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the chief of the US Central Command General Kenneth F. McKenzie called the Taliban “very pragmatic and very business like”. This sounded more like ‘good’ Taliban, as they were eager to gain legitimacy before the US withdrawal and were putting out their best behaviour.

This shift is happening in the Taliban ranks too, and as per the rules set by the west and Pakistan, the factions who align with them will be the ‘good’ Taliban. And those who are still committed to the old or stubborn Taliban are termed as ‘bad’ Taliban.

The Deobandi Taliban

But perhaps the most damaging sobriquet attached to Taliban is describing them as Deobandi. It shows that the people who describe them so have no clue about the great Indian seminary of Darul Uloom, Deoband and the role, which it played in tempering the Muslims sentiments on secular lines in addition to its immense contributions to the freedom struggle of India.

Barbara Daly Metcalf, an expert on the history of South Asia, especially the colonial period and the history of the Muslim population of India and Pakistan, in her book Islamic Revival in British India, Deoband 1860-1900 (February 2002) describes Deoband at the turn of the millennium emerging into public consciousness because of the association of the leadership of the Afghan Taliban regime with the Deobandi Ulema of Pakistan. 

She is of the view that many of the Taliban, whose very name described them as madrasa ‘students’, had studied in Deobandi seminaries in the Pakistan frontier provinces when, from the 1980s on, millions of Afghans had settled as refugees in that area. And based on this fact collectively calling all Taliban as Deobandi Taliban and casting aspersions on the Indian Deoband seminary is complete ignorance of Islam in the sub-continent.

The surge in the number of madrasas coincided with the influx of some three million Afghan refugees, for whose boys these madrasas provided the only available education. One school in particular, the Madrasa Haqqaniya, in Akora Khatak near Peshawar, trained many of the top Taliban leaders. These sometime students were shaped by many of the amended Deobandi reformist causes, all of which were further encouraged with Wahabi interpretation by Arab volunteers in Afghanistan.

These causes included rigorous concern with fulfilling rituals related to daily prayers and reciting the Holy Quran; opposition to custom laden ceremonies such as weddings and pilgrimage to shrines, along with practices associated with the Barelvi and Shi’a minority; and a focus on seclusion of women as a central symbol of a morally ordered society.

Theirs was, according to political analyst Ahmed Rashid, ‘an extreme form of Deobandism’, which was being preached by Pakistani Islamic parties in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. 

None of the Deobandi movements has a theoretical stance in relation to political life. They either expediently embrace the political culture of their time and place, or withdraw from politics completely. As happened in India after independence in 1947, when the leaders of Darul Uloom withdrew from the political scene completely and confined them to Deoband.

Barbara further asserts that the Deobandi madrasas on the Pakistani frontier closed periodically to allow their students to support Taliban efforts.  But the historical pattern launched by the Deobandi Ulema, had treated political life on a primarily secular basis, typically, de facto if not de jure, identifying religion with the private sphere, and in that sphere fostering Islamic teachings and interpretations that have proven widely influential.

British historian and academic specialising on the history of South Asia and Islam, Francis Robinson, in an essay on the first edition of Barbara’s book, described the Deobandi movement as ‘the most constructive and most important Islamic movement of the [nineteenth) century.’ 

He further says that aside from Deoband’s enduring influence, it exemplifies a patter-represented in general terms in a range of Islamic movements outside South Asia as well-of cultural renewal on the one hand and political adaptability on the other.

We also need to be aware of the fact that the Pakistani madrassas, which were described as Deobandi, essentially followed the curriculum prescribed by the Indian Darul Uloom. Further some of the founders of these madrassas might have studied at the Darul Uloom, but they had no umbilical link with their alma mater, and just based on the fact that they followed a particular syllabus they were described as Deobandi, though in fact the psyche and practice of their leaders were completely different from the teachings of the Deobandi. Thus, it would be a misnomer to call the Taliban as ‘Deobandi’ Taliban.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)

Taliban In Afghanistan: India’s Options

Now that the Taliban has been declared winner in Afghanistan and its elected President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on August 15, 2021 without putting up a fight, the world, especially those in the region are assessing the implications of Taliban rule. The departure of United States Armed forces has been the catalyst for the series of events and emerging geopolitical shifts that will necessitate new thinking in Indian Foreign policy.

US entered Afghanistan to eliminate the Al Qaeda network and its Taliban supporters who were responsible for the attacks on the United States soil. The leader of Al Qaeda responsible for the 9/11 attacks has been eliminated but the Al Qaeda network survives as obviously do the Taliban. The United States may still have some influence on the new Taliban, but for India the political terrain is tectonically different.

India is invested heavily in Afghanistan since the end of the Cold War. In terms of geopolitics in South Asia, Afghanistan accords a vantage point for India vis-à-vis Pakistan, it’s arch-rival. Matters are complicated further with the realization that China with its financial muscle and intention to expand the Belt and Road Initiative will find a stronghold in Afghanistan. Beijing made overtures to the Taliban leadership and met them in Qatar recently. With strong China-Pakistan relationship, India’s situation in the region becomes precarious as it may not have any leverage on its Western expanse.

India’s western borders have remained a concern historically and it expends a lot of energy and investment to consolidate and remain visible in the region. With its immediate neighbour Pakistan, not an ideal one, New Delhi looks towards Afghanistan and Iran, to both manage the western neighbourhood and to balance Pakistan.

India, therefore, has made significant investments in Iran and Afghanistan which are Pakistan’s neighbours towards west. India, imports crude oil from Iran even at the displeasure of the USA, and has invested in creating infrastructure (Schools, Hospitals and Roads) in Afghanistan. It has remained a cornerstone of India’s western geographical strategy.

The returns New Delhi may have been expecting in the form of connectivity and transport networks in the region now stand jeopardized. Under the New Silk Road Strategy of the USA, India would have gained access to Central Asia through Iran and Afghanistan. The current situation, however, alters the dynamic as the Taliban have expressed their resentment with India in the recent past and have gone to declare it as an adversary. India’s increasing proximity towards the United States may have resulted in the Taliban to dislike India.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has harboured the Taliban in safe havens on its Western tribal provinces during their difficult years and will influence decision-making in Afghanistan. Furthermore, it will work towards negating India and reducing its existing footprint in Afghanistan. As China has already approached the Taliban it is likely to extend its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects into Afghanistan via the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. In collaboration with regional power China, Pakistan will work to reduce India’s engagement in Afghanistan. The current geopolitical situation, therefore, is favourable for Pakistan.

India needs to take these developments into its stride and create opportunities to engage with the Taliban afresh. A positive beginning could be acceptance of the Taliban as the current interlocutors for Afghan people.

ALSO READ: The Afghanistan Papers Uncover A Dirty War

Internationally, a host of states have expressed their willingness to talk to Taliban as the ruling dispensation of Afghanistan. It may be because of the swiftness with which Taliban has occupied Afghanistan and it seems there is no challenge to Taliban and a civil war is unlikely. India also needs to engage with the Taliban for multiple reasons ranging from the investments made there to the inclusion in connectivity projects to pure geostrategic concerns. India can take heart from the fact that it evokes a lot of goodwill among the Afghan people.

Significantly enough, questions remain about the capacity of Taliban to govern a complex country. First, it will have to raise an economy from scratch to employ the younger generation of Afghanistan (60% of Afghan population is below 20 years of age). Whether China and Pakistan, two main allies of Taliban will be able to revive Afghanistan, remains to be seen. Second, current dominance of Taliban over the entire country will come under strain when local tribal warlords gather strength, aided by the West. The irony is that Taliban will still be riding the infrastructure built by the United States and its allies and India, whom they despise.

Third, acceptability for Taliban in the international system will also depend on the issue of human rights, most importantly women’s rights as they impose Shari’a law under the Islamic Republic in the territory. It is the fear of reprisals from the Taliban and the Shari’a which is causing the mass exodus of Afghans.

India, has been a favoured destination for common Afghans for generations and the international opinion is against the Taliban. India’s diplomatic efforts and negotiating capabilities to engage with the Taliban government will be crucial in the days and years to come. India must forsake idealistic notions in a realist world and should diplomatically engage with Taliban to protect its interests and to stay relevant in the region.

Weekly Update: Bhagwat’s Satya; British in Depression

The enigmatic leader of RSS has again reminded Indians that they are all Hindus. There are some twists to the word that the great leader may just be unaware of or may have a theory and needs to tell the world since it aims to be Vishwaguru.

Bhagwat is proud of Sanskrit and an ardent disciple of the Vedas according to some. Satyam is a key word in the Vedas, meaning truth. The Yajur Veda has a line that reveals divine wisdom, ‘Truth cannot be suppressed and always is the ultimate victor’. Bhagwat ji, no doubt, will want to ensure the truth prevails and may wish to explain the etymology of the word Hindu to those who have some doubts about his assertion.

According to many scholars, the word Hindu does not exist in any Vedas or even Upanishads. The smritis don’t have it. Although some say that a similar sounding word exists in one or two ancient texts, such as Indu or Sindhu.

However, the rest of the Sanskrit is still spoken and written in its original form, so why are the original words for Hindu undergone metamorphosis? Why is Sindhu now pronounced as Hindu and why are other words starting with S not H’ed, i.e Sanskrit to be Hanhkrit.

One theory that is usually propagated is that the word Hindu was first used and then promoted by Muslims from Middle East. They are unable to say the word ‘indu’ which apparently may have been introduced by other foreigners such as the Persian Zoarastrians or some say by Alexander the Great. Middle Eastern languages tend to use a slightly guttural accent, so started saying ‘Haendu’ instead of the Persian ‘indu’. Apparently the Mughals made it a word for anyone who wasn’t a Muslim, so they could tax them with Jaziya. It became a tax category.

Then it is said that the British institutionalised the word for people who did not follow Buddhism, Sikhism, Zorastrianism, Christianity and Islam. Hindu became an official word for followers of what the British conveniently put together as Hinduism. Neither Hindu nor Hinduism existed before Muslim and British rule.

But this could also be a colonial myth as many others are claimed to be such as that Einstein wrote theory of relativity, NASA scientists discovered and invented the satellites to go to the moon from their own minds. Any desh-bhakt ‘Hindu’ who follows the Satya of RSS, knows that western scientists got their knowledge from ancient Hindu texts, stolen during colonialism.

Which brings us back to everyone in India being a Hindu. It seems the accepted academic genealogy of Hindu is that Middle Eastern Muslim traders introduced word Hindu, Mughals used it for tax purposes, British institutionalised it for followers of what they called ‘Hinduism’ and RSS now nationalised it into the Westphalian concept of the ethnic nation. It all sounds a bit foreign.

A better option might be to use the word Bharat. Now that word has history in ancient texts. And there can be no complexity with the word Bharatiya Muslim, Bharatiya Hindu, Bharatiya Buddhist etc.

Taliban Victory, British In Depression

On 11th September 2021, the Americans have held their sort of epitaph to the never ending war in Afghanistan with a grand memorial ceremony for 9/11. Most previous presidents, excluding Trump, spoke in terms of gains and moving on. USA has other threats to worry about.

9/11 wasn’t a British incident. So there wasn’t an equivalent ceremony. However, a lot of British seem to have internalised 9/11 more deeply than Americans and feel angry and depressed at Biden’s decision to cut and run. There are many experts, Generals and academics, even heads of intelligence services who keep on popping on BBC and other media warning of dark days to come, a revivalist Al Qaeda and threats to British values, whatever they are. They predict that London streets won’t be safe. That more people die from knife crimes in London streets than ever died from terrorist attacks since Guy Fawkes is, well only inconvenient statistics.

Leading this gloom mob is the co-father of the post 9/11 wars, Tony Blair. Like a person missing his high, his eyes pop, forehead furrows deepen and the fury expresses in his rants on ‘end of civilisation’ in his interviews. He is perhaps a modern British version of the French Crusader Raynald of Chatillon, no longer in the driving seat but continuing to extol war and prophesying the end of western civilisation if Americans don’t continue to occupy foreign lands. He is a crusader who also made a lot of money while calling leaders like Biden ‘imbecilic’.

The gloom in British circles around Afghanistan is driven by a different urge than USA. America has a large defence industrial complex that thrives financially on wars. It needs to develop bigger weapons to make bigger profits. Afghanistan was becoming a bit tight on shareholders. It was a commercial decision.

The British war industry on the other hand is addicted to wars. It just likes wars for the sake of wars. For 500 years it has been at war with someone or other. So Biden’s words, ‘end the never ending war’ just doesn’t make sense to the British war machine which hasn’t developed fatigue even after 500 years of never ending war. It needs another one soon to keep the streets of London safe.

From whom? Well some one will turn up as the next target. There are quite a number of people whose jobs and passions depend on it. To give them some interim hope, the British defence minister has said, ‘we reserve the right to send in drones in to Afghanistan’. The never ending war goes on.

Taliban Victory Puts Pakistan In A Spot

Pakistani government at the moment seems to be in a quandary. The manner in which it wanted to exploit the Taliban victory in Afghanistan has rebounded threatening to reinforce religious fundamentalists inclinations in Pakistan itself. US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan was due to the realisation that religious fundamentalism might not remain contained to Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan may give Pakistan a choice to look at its relationships with its neighbours, not just from an anti-India stance as it tries to rein-in and influence Taliban to remain pro-Pakistan and not adopt an independent policy of their own.

However, the religio-politico situation of the region which started rearing its head in 1980s with the help of US and Saudi-backed fanatical elements to drive out the Soviets from Afghanistan, has increasingly showed ripple effect in Pakistan, the Tehrik-e Taliban-e Pakistan (TTP) remains a prime example of such thinking.

Pakistan is seen as working in support of the Taliban as reports suggest that it was based on the advice of Pakistani military and government officials that the US generals stuck to the Taliban’s August 31 deadline for an end to US evacuation so that the group can move forward with forming a government.

In fact the Pakistani military started working on efforts to persuade the United States to negotiate an end to the war with the Taliban even before they gained control of Afghanistan, a development Pakistani officers believed was inevitable. Based on those inputs the US started to engage with Taliban in early 2019.

Commenting on the evolving situation Ayesha Siddiqa a geo-politics adviser at SOAS, UK said that Rawalpindi invested primarily in the Taliban as it knew that US would ultimately leave Afghanistan. Rawalpindi’s prime desire was to ensure a friendly establishment in its north-western neighbouring nation, which doesn’t get exploited against Pakistan’s interests, especially by India.

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However, the investment over 27 years has produced mixed results. It certainly did not translate into the Taliban doing Pakistan’s bidding. Ms. Siddiqa described Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid’s promise that Afghan media would be free as “a reminder of similar assurances about media freedom by Pakistan’s generals, which makes one realise the effort afoot to make a Taliban-led regime look increasingly like Pakistan (or even India): Hybrid-authoritarian and hybrid-theocratic… This is where the real problem for Pakistan begins.”

While Pakistani fears that the Taliban victory may give a violent boost to the TTP, the Pakistani Taliban that has close ties to their Afghan kin, the TTP had started to be active again inside Pakistan even before the Taliban capture of Afghanistan.

The Taliban victory benefits from decades in which religious fundamentalism was woven into the fabric of Pakistani society as well as some of its key institutions.

Ms. Siddiqa comments, “The fact remains that, notwithstanding the ambition to mellow the tone of religion in Afghanistan, Pakistan itself runs the risk of becoming more like its north-western neighbour – more religious and more authoritarian.”

Pakistan understands the complex situation very well and that’s why it was pushing the Taliban to opt for a truly inclusive government besides broadening its contacts with other Afghan groups. A visit last week to the Pakistani capital by representatives of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and other Afghan politicians is a pointer in that regard.

In discussing the fallout for Pakistan of the Taliban victory, analysts have by and large focussed on Pakistan as fertile ground for the spread of Taliban-style religious fundamentalism as well as concerns that it would enable TTP to rekindle their campaign of attacks in Pakistan.

The TTP is a coalition of Pashtun Islamist groups with close ties to the Afghan Taliban that last year joined forces with several other militant Pakistani groups, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a violently anti-Shiite Sunni Muslim supremacist organisation.

“Pashtuns of the Afghan Taliban will, after a few years in power, find common cause with their Pashtun kinsmen in Pakistan… There are plenty of Pakistani Pashtuns who would prefer the whole of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North-West Frontier Province) to be part of a wider Pashtunistan,” predicts scholar and former British ambassador to Pakistan Tim Willasey-Wilsey.

In fact, the events of the last 75 years confirm that the main focus of Pakistan’s foreign policy has always been anti-Indian in tenor and practice. It became a fertile ground for Mujahedeen in the 1970s, as it wanted to exert more influence on the Soviet state as compared to India besides stoking fire in Indian Kashmir.

Later it allied with the US just in order to belittle India, but the reality is that Pakistan has always tried to be involved in the Afghan affairs due to the economic gains also and this trend continues even now. The British Foreign Secretary Dominic Rabb, while in Pakistan last week, announced doubling of aid to Afghanistan to £286 million and released the first tranche of  £30 million of that to support Afghanistan’s regional neighbours including Pakistan. Thus, in a way the foreign aid has not only lined the pockets of Afghan gang lords and politicians but even the Pakistani generals and politicians.

Due to this complexity in the Afghan affairs and the recent announcements by senior Taliban leadership with regard to India puts Pakistan in a real quandary. Pakistan might also be concerned after a Taliban official Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai declared in a rare statement on foreign policy that “we give due importance to our political, economic and trade ties with India and we want these ties to continue. We are looking forward to working with India in this regard.”

Stanekzai is considered to have a soft corner for India, having trained at IMA, Dehradun during the 1980s, and it is Taliban officials like him and others who might be more pro-India, which puts Pakistan at unease along with the concern that one day the Taliban style thinking might spread through Pakistan also.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on issues related to Muslims, education, geopolitics and interfaith)

Future Of Afghanistan

The Taliban have once again captured the power in Afghanistan. In one of the swiftest operations the Taliban took control of all major cities including Kabul within a ten-days period. This feat has however, put them in a tight bind on whether to continue with their old traits or try to portray a new picture of the Taliban, which has moved along with the world in the last 20 years and one which is more pragmatic and tolerant and most of all which is politically savvy not violence prone.

A widely held belief is that the Taliban would like to be seen as more pragmatic and inclusive force rather than the one, which brutally ruled Afghanistan earlier. Whatsoever be the case, it would be reckoned by the group’s attitudes towards jihadists and other militants present in Afghanistan, ethnic and religious minorities, women and governance.

Future Government

It has been a week since the Taliban captured the national capital but they are yet to announce any government and its structure. This has led to speculations that intense political activities are going on behind the scenes and the world is waiting with bated breath to know the outcome. In the meantime Taliban have tried to calm concerns about their rule by urging women to join a government that has yet to be formed, declaring an amnesty for people employed by the former government or US and other foreign forces. To assuage these feelings, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in May that the group, once in power, would write laws to ensure the participation of women in public life.

However, reports from Kabul indicate that the former president Hamid Karzai and former minister of external affairs Abdullah Abdullah are still present in the city. This leads credence to the fact that any future government might be based on Islamic foundations but it might be an amalgamation of Islamic and liberal democratic principles.

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Karzai and Taliban’s current supremo Haibatullah Akhundzade are relatives and belong to the Popalzai tribe, tracing their lineage to the Durrani clan. So in a possible scenario Haibatullah might lead the Islamic Council, wielding control and power, as in the past and Karzai might be named as the president or prime minister of the new government, in which Abdullah Abdullah might also be included. In addition, non-Taliban leaders like Hizb-i Islami’s Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and former deputy president Karim Khalili might also be included in the new setup.

Further, we also have to take into consideration the rise of young blood amongst the Taliban ranks. Figures such as Mulla Yaqoob, son of former Taliban supremo Mulla Umar now leads its military branch and is credited with the swift capture of power in the country with less bloodshed. This young generation is tech and media savvy, many Taliban leaders now announce the latest developments on Twitter. Coupled with this the Taliban delegation, which took part in the Doha talks, has experienced exposure to the liberal views and they might be more amenable to a not strictly Islamic form of government. As far as the role of Taliban is concerned, they were accepted as an important political force when the former American president invited them to the Doha Talks, lending credence to them as a group, which needs to be engaged with for any feasible solution of the on-going war.

Afghanistan’s Mineral Wealth

The Taliban’s resurgence has once again brought renewed focus on Afghanistan’s vast untapped mineral wealth and resources that could transform its economic prospects if developed judiciously. Some conspiracy theories circulated earlier, which claimed that behind the on-going military campaign in Afghanistan, the American experts were also exploring the mineral deposits in Afghanistan.

Lending credence to these theories, CNN on 17 Aug. carried a story, which said that Afghanistan possesses mineral deposits worth nearly $1 trillion. Iron, copper and gold deposits are scattered across provinces. There are also rare earth minerals and, perhaps most importantly, what could be one of the world’s biggest deposits of lithium — an essential but scarce component in rechargeable batteries and other technologies vital to tackling the climate crisis.

Said Mirzad former head of the Afghanistan Geological Survey told Science magazine in 2010 that if Afghanistan has a few years of calm, allowing the development of its mineral resources, it could become one of the richest countries in the region within a decade.

Three countries, which have been wooing the Taliban based on this assessment, are Iran, China and India. All of them could provide the expertise, infrastructure and labour force for the further prospecting, mining and processing of these minerals.

Iran and China have been early starters in this regard. Iran has been hosting Taliban delegations to Teheran since last year and in late July 2021, before the recent developments, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with a delegation led by the head of the Afghan Taliban political committee Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Tianjin.

India on its part began engaging with the Taliban leaders in Doha since September 2020 when the intra-Afghan dialogue began even as New Delhi refused to spell out its policy clearly and said it continues to engage with “all stakeholders”.

Afghan Psyche

Before commenting on the future of Afghanistan, we have to understand the geographic location, socio-cultural fabric and the internal forces, besides the Afghan psyche, all of which have always managed to play a key role in any political activity in the country.

The tribal Pashtun population of Afghanistan, which approximately is 42% has always enjoyed political influence both at the local and national stage. The Pashtun by virtue of being the largest tribe in the south and east has always dominated the national politics of Afghanistan, since the time of Ahmad Shah Durrani (1722-72).

Moreover, the central authority in Kabul has always governed the country through a loosely federal structure. Which means that the central law was more or less observed in major cities and some smaller cities, but at the district and village level the tribal writ was imposed with a heavy hand.

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Added to this is the overall Afghan psyche, which has always remained fiercely independent and loyal to its tribal and clan ties besides being devout Muslims. To control them through a loose federal system remains the only wise choice, so as to let the tribal and clan ties continue and dominate the rural population but the major decisions are taken by the powers in the big cities.

This might be one of the reasons, which is forcing Taliban to evolve a government, which rules with an iron fist from the centre but at the village and district level the local tribes manage their affairs in their own style whilst participating in the development of the rural areas and the country as a whole.