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.

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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.

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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.

‘Taliban Says Nice Things On TV, Do The Opposite On Ground’

Nasima Ahmadi, 32, a Hazara Afghan from Mazar-i-Sharif came to Delhi when her city was surrounded by Taliban gunmen last month. Ahmadi says she cannot think of a dignified life under Taliban rule

I belong to Shia Hazara community in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. Last month, the city was surrounded by Taliban gunmen and they were close to capture it. Desperate to leave Mazar-i-Sharif before the violence reached us, we applied for Indian medical visa. While I manage to bring my two children and in-laws here to Delhi, my own parents are still there and I fear for them.

In the one month that I am here in Bhogal (South Delhi) the situation is completely changed in Afghanistan. Of whatever little I have spoken to my family back in Afghanistan, the situation is not what the TV channels are showing. The Taliban militia forcibly enter into people’s houses at night, and conduct ruthless searches… I wonder what they are looking for. They also take away young girls with them at gunpoint and these women are never heard of again. One of my own uncles has been killed by the Taliban.

On TV, the Taliban leaders say girls can go to schools and study, they can take up a job, there are no restrictions… this and that. But they are telling blatant lies. Girls are not allowed to go to school, nor work. And our community (Shia Hazaras) faces the harshest persecution.

Our only crime is that we belong to the Hazara community. Can you imagine belonging to a community being a crime in any other part of the world? We cannot go to Afghanistan now; Hazaras cannot think of a life under Taliban rule.

ALSO READ: ‘Talibans Are Savage, I Fear For My Family In Afghanistan’

When the Taliban was in power last time in the late 1990s and we were in Afghanistan, the situation was horrible. The Taliban barred schooling for women. That is why I couldn’t get a proper education. That is why I always wanted to provide good education to my children. After the Taliban was rooted out of power, the situation started to improve and life got better for the common man. Now when the barbarians are back in power, the horror has returned to Afghanistan.

There is nothing worse than having forced to leave one’s homeland. We had constructed a new house recently but had to leave everything behind. We could only bring our savings and some clothes. We don’t know now if the house is abandoned. What keeps us going is our resolve to find a better life for our children.

There are only two more months before our visa expires, and we have been going to various embassies in New Delhi for help and asylum. We haven’t been able to get any help so far though. Everyone gives us an email id and asks us to send our details, problem and why we want a visa. I recently went to the American Embassy for help too. We are trying to get a visa so we can go to the US.

My husband is employed in Dubai. So I have to do the running around here to find a safe shelter for my children and family. If nothing happens in the next two months that our visa for India holds, I do not know what shall be our status. I request everyone reading this to help the displaced Afghans.

(The picture is representational as Ahmadi declined to share her photograph for safety reasons)

As Told To Mamta Sharma

Weekly Update: What Taliban’s Ascension Means for India; How Popular is Modi?

The turbocharged takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban within days after the US forces exited the country after two decades of waging a controversial war in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks has confounded diplomats, foreign affairs experts and the security and intelligence establishments. The swift takeover by the Taliban, which refers to it as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, has led to nations across the world scurrying to evacuate their diplomats from Afghanistan and to re-evaluate their relationship with Afghanistan under its new leadership.

But even as social media channels are abuzz with chuckle-evoking video clips such as the one of Taliban members romping about the gym at the Presidential palace in Kabul, which the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled, there is a sobre aspect of what the US military’s exit and the Taliban’s ascension to power means for India.

As the Taliban wrests control of Afghanistan, the consequences for South Asia, particularly the Indian subcontinent, will likely be significant. India’s relationship with its immediate neighbours–Pakistan and China–have for decades been fraught with risks and apprehension. In the best of times, India’s relationships with these neighbours have been testy. 

Pakistan’s borders with Afghanistan are sieve-like. Taliban militants, and those of the al-Qaida have frequently sought refuge in the northern part of Pakistan.And, as we know, the US sought Pakistan’s help to track down and kill Osama Bin Laden by raiding his hideout in Pakistan. The latter has always had an active role to play in the affairs of Afghanistan, with or without the help of the US. China, on the other hand, has been showing greater interest in the country of late. In July, the Chinese foreign minister had meetings with the Talibanjust before the US formally began its disengagement.

How would the roles that its two neighbours play in Afghanistan affect India? One theory is that Pakistan could now have a greater influence over the Taliban-led government in Kabul. Under Ashraf Ghani, Islamabad’s relations with Kabul had softened and this had perceptibly weakened Pakistan’s clout in the region. Many believe with the Taliban back in the driver’s seat, the new government in Afghanistan could reach out to Pakistan and the latter could, therefore, increase its say in the governance of the country. This could also mean that militants in the region could take advantage of the lax borders between the two countries and easily move closer to Pakistan’s borders with India.

The other area of concern for India could be China’s ostensible desire to play a bigger role in the region, particularly in keeping with its plans for the Belt and Road Initiative, which is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in nearly 70 countries and international organisations. Meanwhile, Russia, which once propped up a Communist government in Afghanistan and fought a war there for nine years,is one of the only countries that has not been alarmed by the Taliban’s ascension to power. It has decided to keep its embassy manned and has, in fact, lauded the Taliban. One view that some analysts have is that in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, China and Iran could increase their roles in the region, something that India is understandably apprehensive about.

While New Delhi evaluates its moves with regard to the changes in Afghanistan, it will be interesting in the coming weeks and months to see how the geo-political dynamics move in the region.

Is Modi Losing his popularity?

If two national surveys in India last week are to be believed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity could be waning. According to India Today’s Mood of the Nation survey, only 24% of respondents said he was best suited to be Prime Minister. Six months ago, it was 38% and a year ago 66%.

Likewise, another poll, the YouGov-Mint–CPR Millennial survey, showed that 46% of respondents think that there is a need for a new political leadership in India. And another 53% of people surveyed agreed with the statement that the people they “interact with are very upset with PM Modi’s leadership in the past few months”, while 42% agreed with the statement that “Modi was responsible for the healthcare disaster that followed the second wave of the pandemic”. 

According to the India Today survey, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath came in second as the person best suited to be prime minister — 11 per cent of those surveyed rooted for him. He was followed by Rahul Gandhi (10%); and the chief ministers of West Bengal and Delhi, Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal, respectively (both had 8% each of the respondents opting for them). 

While Modi with 24% remained as the prime choice, his previously unassailable popularity has come under severe pressure–partly due to the impact of the pandemic but also because of slowdown in the economy, rising inflation, and growing unemployment, all of which have seen people’s livelihoods affected adversely and also pushed millions back into poverty.

Some columnists, particularly the pro-government sort, have predictably disputed the survey findings and nitpicked some of the figures and percentages. It is, however, quite likely that Mr Modi has suffered a setback in the aftermath of the pandemic. India’s vaccination rate at 9.3% (fully vaccinated) has been low and lack of availability and inadequate infrastructure have wreaked havoc with its vaccination programme, which is marked by inconsistencies. Its economy has also failed to pick up. So, while opinion polls have their shortcomings and are never very accurate, the straws in the wind that they point to in terms of Mr Modi’s support from his countrymen should be a cause of concern for him and his party as the 2024 parliamentary elections come closer.

Taliban In Frame, Afghanistan In Flames, India In Firing Range

Buzkashi, the national game of the people of Afghanistan, has horsemen competing to possess the headless body of a goat. In one of the world’s most enduring ironies, the country has itself become the goat, being dragged and tossed around. A horrified world watches as an elected government is losing out to the Taliban, a group of women-hating men poised to take control.

They have rendered impotent and helpless the outsiders, all powerful, that have been either backing them diplomatically and militarily, or opposing them meekly, with wordy resolutions.

It happened to the British and the Russians and now, it is the Americans. The unprecedented turn of events has yet again shown that Afghanistan cannot be controlled from outside. Even before the United States ends its longest war by this month-end, the Taliban are knocking at the gates of Kabul, poised to win this round of what has been gamely called the “Great Game”.

The Game’s original players, erstwhile imperial powers Britain and Russia, now pale shadows of themselves, are riding piggy-back on the United States and China respectively. As the US departs, yet dominates the global discourse, the ascending player is China. Sadly, the global line-up the two lead, guarantees more violence and bloodshed for the Afghan people.

This round unfolds without a political solution that the US naively sought, signing a deeply flawed Doha Agreement of February 2020. It gave the Taliban primacy and legitimacy, without securing an end to the conflict and certainly, to terrorism. Now, since everybody is talking, the world is witnessing a collective shedding of crocodile tears.

The only thing that seems certain is prolonged violence. A UN report says 6,000 fighters of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are fighting alongside the Afghan Taliban and along with thousands of ‘volunteers’ from many countries. The Pentagon has woken up to the presence of “terrorist safe havens” on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Time will tell who has played what role and why.

All this does remind of the past – except that the world’s most powerful nation, having conceded ground, both territorially and tactically, is left conducting aerial operations from outside. Signals from Washington, as it licks its wounds worse than in Vietnam of the 1970s, are that this may not continue after August 30. The Afghans will be left on their own – abandoned to their bloody fate.

ALSO READ: A Resurgent Taliban In India’s Backyard

If this sounds like a diatribe, well, it is, against all those who had begun with lofty ideas at the 2001 Bonn Conference to facilitate a moderate regime in Kabul. Two decades hence, a war-weary Joe Biden confirms what George Bush Jr. said in 2002, that “nation building” was never the aim in Afghanistan. The Afghans, then, have a valid question: why are/were they there?

India was not alone in 2003, when its External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha lobbied with the US against a military campaign in Iraq. But they persisted, with a patently false excuse that Saddam Husain had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) which were never found. Super-confident after removing the Taliban from Kabul in response to 9/11, Bush Jr. needed to avenge his father’s humiliation at not being re-elected America’s President.

The Iraq campaign badly distracted Afghanistan’s. Its consequences are now clearly visible. Eighteen years hence, by end-2021, the US military will quit Iraq. Meanwhile, in addition to Al Qaida, another Frankestein has been created in the Islamic State (IS).

Again, India was not alone when its then National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon pleaded against the US announcing a firm date to withdraw from Afghanistan. The Pakistan-hosted Taliban would merely “sit out”, Menon had warned. That, and worse has happened since Donald Trump struck a deal with yesterday’s ‘terrorists’ and ‘insurgents’, bypassing the US-supported and US-dependent government in Kabul. That hit the credibility of all those in the world community who supported the “global war on terror” in Afghanistan.

To put it bluntly, this is America’s hubris. Its failure to see where the Taliban, ousted from Kabul, had moved to was compounded by failure/unwillingness to touch them. It was satisfied getting Osama Bin Laden. It kept deluding itself, and the world, in seeking to separate the ‘good’ Taliban from the ‘bad’. To cover up its own failure at the eleventh hour, it expected everyone else to seek an “Afghan-led, Afghan owned” political solution. Nobody asked why the Taliban would want it.

This is a lesson for Big Powers: you can light a fire in any corner of the world, but cannot douse it. Taliban became ‘good’ since they are not supposed to have ambitions outside of Afghanistan. But what about Al Qaida and the IS? Will the Big powers return to Afghanistan, Iraq or any other place if they perceive a new global threat? Someone has aptly said that those who do not learn from past mistakes are doomed to repeat them.

Of the others, if China is ambitious in Afghanistan, Russia and Iran are being plain opportunistic. The hapless Central Asians must seek American, Chinese or Russian help to fend off a resurgence in Islamist extremism at home that a Taliban triumph guarantees.

India is again on the wrong side, like it was when the Russians left and now, when the Americans are leaving. It invested three billion dollars and earned goodwill. Will it now be India’s fate to “do more” in Afghanistan at the US’s behest, to compete with China and Pakistan?

That, of course, will depend upon how the Kabul-Delhi equations develop. A furious debate has ensued if India should talk to the Taliban and whether Taliban are interested in talking to the Indians, when they have support of India’s regional adversaries. Otherwise supportive of the present government, Vivek Katju, an old Af-Pak hand and envoy to Kabul, calls it “policy paralysis”.

ALSO READ: Four Lakh Displaced As Taliban Advances

Conventional wisdom is that a ‘friendly’ government in Kabul would mark Pakistan’s victory. But it will prove Pyrrhic, what with flow of refugees, drugs and arms. It successfully hoodwinked the West while benefiting from them militarily and materially, nurtured the Taliban and calibrated their across–the-border operations and backed them in negotiations. Islamabad’s more important move, however, is effectively shifting a part of its allegiance from West to China.

Not a factor before, China is now the region’s strongest power-player, with global reach. Beijing has embraced the Taliban diplomatically and as reports indicate, also militarily. It is poised to extend the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan. China gains greater access to the Indian Ocean and to the Gulf, through Iran. Not just geopolitics, geo-economics is also at work.

Now, the fast-shifting ground situation. The Taliban have played their military card commendably by seeking to eliminate the re-emergence of the Northern Alliance that had helped the US remove them from Kabul in 2001. They have captured huge territory and some of the provincial capitals from Herat in the west to Badakhshan in the north and closed the gates for any external intervention on the ground.

But it’s not going to be easy. Embedded in their campaign are seeds of resistance from ethnic minorities who will fight for sheer survival, and not just against Pashtun domination. It’s life-and-death for the Uzbeks and Tajiks, who are in significant numbers and the Hazaras who, as Shias, are traditional Pashtun targets. Battles are likely to be fought for long for control of the cities and the countryside.

It is almost certain that a government, if born out of Taliban’s military victory, will face economic sanctions. Without hand-holding, Afghanistan is bound to suffer. Besides political instability, economic misery will worsen, not to speak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some questions for the near-future: how long and to what effect will the threatened sanctions work? As had happened with the Myanmar military junta, will biggies of the world engage in behind-the-scene engagements to guard their business interests? Not to forget, a Taliban mission operated in Washington till 9/11 happened, because the US wanted to guard its interest in Afghan and Central Asian oil and gas reserves.

How will the Islamic world respond to the near-certain birth, or re-birth, of the Islamic Emirate? Now that the West has taken a beating, will the definition of terrorism change? What will be the new global security threat perceptions and how will they be responded to?

The new chapter of ‘Great Game’ has more questions than answers. Not the least, the fate of that Buzkashi’s goat.

The writer is co-author, with late Sreedhar, of Afghan Turmoil: Changing Equations (Oxford Books, 1988) and Afghan Buzkashi: Great Game & Gamesmen (Wordsmiths, 2000). He can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

Insecurity In Afghan Region After US Withdrawal

The American forces left Afghanistan secretly to avoid any interference or casualties resulting from intelligence breach that might have forced the US head to revamp the policy of withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Biden administration was determined to pull out their forces from Afghanistan. Many analysts do believe that Talibans could never survive against the allied forces if they had not been funded and supported by the secret hands. It seems obvious when we see that the Talibans never lacked modern weapons, technology, dollars, food, backdoor diplomacy channels and other facilities.

The future of South Asian politics seems troublesome. The UK and other countries have consented to work with Taliban governments but US along with other powers advised Talibans not to capture Kabul and political power by force because it would be difficult for them to cooperate with them. This gesture shows advice to Talibans that if they capture power with consensus they, US and allies, would be ready to render cooperation.  

We see a big change in Talibans in that their vision seems mature. They have been occupying the rival territories without resorting to barbarity and brutality they had were infamous for in the past. That they are capturing bordering districts one by one without any resistance from the locals shows the terror of the Talibans. The Afghan masses cannot forget the ruthlessness of Talibans and fear it will recur for coming decades. Therefore they don’t trust the Ashraf Ghani administration to provide the safety and security. Even people working in Government are submitting to them gradually and it seems that Talibans will soon occupy the major portion of Afghanistan.

The US allies have planned to retain Kabul to counter Taliban if they prove a menace for the international movement or diplomacy. Ashraf Ghani weak government, extremist ideology and past inhumanity of Talibans present a fragile situation of law and order in Afghanistan.

If Talibans come to power, many refugees will flee to Pakistan. Many pro US families had already applied for immigration in the west because they expect barbarian treatment by the Talibans after the US withdrawal.

ALSO READ: Afghanistan – The Great Game Continues

The circumstances heading towards conflict create a new sense of insecurity in Afghanistan and South Asia. Afghan refugees in Afghanistan will cause trouble in Pakistan because Tehrik-I-Taliban Pakistan and anti-Shia and other Muslim sects can be targeted, befriended and encouraged towards violence by the troublemakers infiltrating in the guise of the refugees. There is empirical evidence that the same happened in the past.

The only difference is that past happened under the Soviet Union while the current scenario presents US and allied forces. The rest of the situation is same.

In India, the BJP government under Narendra Modi has been targeting Indian minorities. The citizen laws, agriculture bills, ghar wapsi, conspiracies against Churches, Mosques, Gurdwaras, Granth Sahib, etc. Throwing the blame on its neighbour and promoting the disinformation that all troubles in India come from Pakistan will ignite a new era of tussle between Indian and Pakistan. The Kashmir issue, Sikh issue and Muslim issue in India are expected to heighten to the extent that the region could see a new wave of agony and terrorism. The Taliban could start to exploit these as well.

The Talibans were approached by the Indians but they were not welcomed under a revengeful atmosphere as India had supported anti-Taliban internal and external forces during the past decades.

The Talibans have enjoyed a soft corner by Pakistan but the post-withdrawal situation is not favourable for Pakistan either. The US should have reached out to all the fighting factions in Afghanistan and secured their agreement on a coalition government which could bring peace in Afghanistan. Unfortunately the US forces abdicated from all influence in the government formation or maneuvering power. This has caused a major crisis in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and India lack diplomatic vision, depth and wisdom to cope with the alarming situation that is developing under these circumstances. For this reason, all share apprehensions because if Talibans get the support from Russia and western secret agencies as happened in the past two decades the South Asian countries will be unable to handle the situation. Resultantly, the region will be destabilised and go on fire.

ALSO READ: How US Turned A Good War Into A Dumb War

The BJP government may benefit from this hate-ridden situation but they will have to make many sacrifices because hatred cannot be alternative to peace. Peace and love are the only solution to eliminate hatred and violence.

Pakistan is the most vulnerable country. Past record shows that Afghan wars hit it to the extent that terrorist activities of the Afghan sponsored factions not only supplied drugs and weapons but also resulted in attacks on Pakistani military bases, schools, markets, Imam Barahs, Churches, Gurdwaras and Mosques. It seemed that Pakistan would never be able to restore peace in the country.

The Pakistan army had to plunge into war within Pakistan against the terrors and with 70,000 lives lost. The Army managed to control the criminals and terrorists and restored law and order situation. However once again the same woeful situation is emerging and the Pakistani policymakers are pondering over the situation.

The issue of the daughter of the Afghan ambassador and their return to Afghanistan as tacit protest has created a new chapter of confusion between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistani government believes that Indian hand is behind all these incidents because Pakistan cannot afford such tensions with its neighbouring Afghanistan. Such incidents are engineered by foreign secret hands.

Under these destabilizing and increasingly fragile circumstances, Pakistan and India should hold more and more sessions of dialogue to clarify things otherwise they will face another wave of havoc in the future.