Afghanistan: US Won, West Lost; Pak Profited, India Adrift

The United States attacked Afghanistan to achieve some specific objectives including: 1) Kill Osama bin Laden; 2) topple Taliban regime and install a cooperative Afghan government; and 3) establish influence in the region.

The withdrawal of the US after a 20-year war under NATO banner has led to many interpretations. All different positions appear to be supported by good arguments. Many see it as a failure and defeat. Others fear that the region will become a nest-bed for ‘terrorists’ again. However, it seems that the US entered Afghanistan with a broader plan and it achieved all its objectives despite these contradictory statements even by some eminent people. Pakistan and Iran appear to have benefitted while it seems India may have been left adrift without friends in the region.

The conflicting narratives whether the United States won or lost emerge under three types of human activity and nature:

  1. Sensitive individuals adopt independent approach towards specific situations or outcomes either because of the facts that they know or because they don’t compromise on their integrity. There are many examples of people who repent after wars and have written stories of the miseries of people under attack.
  2. The western world enjoys freedom of expression and therefore opinion writers get full benefit of independence to express their own stance irrespective of the government’s reservations.
  3. According to conspiracy theory, sometimes a few individuals are planted by the secret agencies themselves to create a debate going against the national narrative to create confusion.

When the US toppled the Taliban government without any reasonable resistance, the circumstances further encouraged and facilitated the US to influence the regional geo-strategic overture in its favour. It influenced the shape of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, and other regional issues

The USA planned to counter China’s increasing influence in Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Therefore US designs were manifold and a very prudent policy was required to achieve all these objectives.

While the USA was pursuing its policy, India had become somewhat optimist and was obstructing Pakistan by establishing its bases within Afghanistan and promoting militancy in the western and central areas of Pakistan. Pakistan seemed to be squeezed down to a nonentity. However, India’s policy would appear to have been somewhat irrational as it failed to consider deeper natural relationships based on racial, religious, territorial and political bonds. These seemed to have been overlooked by both Indian and US policymakers.

Pakistan took counter initiatives to survive through this period. It cooperated with the international community and took measure against terrorism and extremism in the region. Pakistan opened the Kartarpur Corridor and even sought significant changes in the education syllabus as desired by the minorities living in Pakistan. Laws regarding religious matters of the minorities were introduced to boost up their sense of integration and respect in the society.

ALSO READ: The Afghanistan Papers Uncover A Dirty War

Pakistan remained with the international community despite an aggressive Indian policy against Pakistan and huge investment in Afghanistan. The Indian government opened its educational institutions for Afghan students. India set up training camps in different cities of Afghanistan and infused anti-Pakistan sentiments which damaged peace in KPK, Baluchistan and Punjab.

In all this, the United States however had a parallel policy while India seems to have put all its eggs in one basket or approach.

Consequently, the fall of Ashraf Ghani’s government and the recapture of Kabul by the Taliban has been devastating for the BJP government. BJP underestimated the sanctity and strategic importance of ‘neighbourhood’ despite facing its practical implications when interfering within the internal affairs of their small neighbouring countries.

Despite all odds and lapses, the stark reality is that Pakistan and Afghanistan cannot be separated, being neighbours and racially and religiously connected. This dimension also explains why BJP government failed in its Middle East policy. It has had to bear loss of close neighbourhood ties with Iran, Afghanistan, China and Pakistan. The Taliban’s declaration to support the Kashmiri Muslims has further stamped the failure of the BJP policy in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, as far as the US is concerned, it has won the war because it achieved its objectives and moved ahead with a well worked out policy. The USA killed Osama Bin Laden, toppled a hostile Taliban government, damaged CPEC and influenced Iran, Afghan groups, Pakistan, China and other countries. It deftly and  simultaneously carried on its aggressive activities as well as backdoor diplomacy with Taliban. This strategy not only maintained US terror on the Afghans but also encouraged them to reach an agreement with the US.

US policymakers seemed clear about the impotency of the Afghans but on the other hand they were also aware of the religious potency and might of Taliban. Therefore through backdoor diplomacy Americans settled all issues with Taliban and left as promised in August 2021. What these promises are will become clearer in the next few years. The new Taliban is a much different Taliban in that it seems amenable to American ‘friendship’.

During the last 20 years, Taliban forces did not face any kind of scarcity of modern weapons, food, technology and backdoor channel diplomacy. The West can best reveal from where Taliban were being facilitated.

ALSO READ: 1947 & 2021 – Two Exits In Perspective

The US appears to have won because it got its objectives and evacuated its armies. It also got promises from Taliban to respect international pressure and UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Taliban also assured that Afghanistan would not let terrorists act against US and its allies. It is most likely that the US has also got assurances from Taliban to curtail if not stop the drug trade.

The US will now be able to balance its finances that were being drained in Afghanistan and instead concentrate on other interests and threats. Many wrote critical opinions and gave speeches criticizing the abrupt and unannounced departure of the US army from Afghanistan. They have deemed it an utter and humiliating defeat of the US. Yet the US showed its military might by reappearing in Afghanistan at will to evacuate its ambassadorial staff and other personnel. How many defeated armies are able to go back unhindered and recover their people, even with the cooperation of so called winners! Commentators seem to miss this point. This is clearly not a black and white win or loser scenario.

If Taliban fulfil all the promises, it will be a victory for the US, Pakistan, Iran and the region. Therefore the reemergence of Taliban with the help of the US and with consent of Pakistan and Iran affirms the success and very smart policy of the United States who managed it all behind the curtain. The US has killed thousands of Afghans. Despite that, the Taliban have desired to have cordial relations with them because common sense guides that all international forums, institutions and aggressive as well as peace diplomacy revolve around the US.

China cannot counter the US because both have different domains in world politics. China penetrates through commercial designs and modes while US asserts through aggressive diplomacy. Therefore, there is possibility or competition of a US-China conflict in contrast to the previous US-Soviet Union cold and proxy wars. The Soviet was ideologically competing with the US for dominance.

China is not interested in ideological competition. This confirms the US as an unchallengeable might in the battlefield while China has no match in the economic sphere. China as world power has UN veto and enjoys high and influential stature as an effective world player

The US ties with India are important but the recent developments in Afghanistan, especially engineered by the US, appear to show no favours or gains for India. It is highly unlikely that India knew of America’s deeper and secretive policies. It seems it may have been caught unaware and on a backfoot.

The withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan and agreement with Taliban is a wise decision as it has achieved all of American strategic goals. Its influence remains and it still marshals events in the region. Unfortunately, India may be the only looser in the Afghan game while Iran and Pakistan will gain special role in the coming years in the region.

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.

ALSO READ: Taliban In Frame, Afghanistan In Flames

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.

ALSO READ: Understanding The Resurgent Taliban

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.

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 Are Savage, I Fear For My Family In Afghanistan’

Sayed Idris, 26, an Afghan student who also works at a Delhi eatery, says he can only pray for the safety of his family left behind in Afghanistan

I don’t know what the future has in store for me and my family; I spend sleepless nights worrying about the members of my family left behind in Afghanistan. Only my elder sister and I could make our way to India, my parents and another brother and a sister are still in Kabul, the city I grew up in. With news of Taliban capturing Kabul, I wonder if I would ever be able to see my family again.

My sister and I came to India in 2019 and ever since then things have only worsened in Afghanistan. Each day people live in fear. These Taliban fighters are brutal and barbaric; they have no humanity in them and they don’t heed to any logic.

I don’t want to go through the story of the journey we made from Kabul to Delhi, but no one wants to leave his or her motherland unless forced by circumstances. It broke my heart to leave my family and country and start a new life elsewhere without them. Thankfully technology is still intact in Afghanistan and we can at least talk to our family members each day over the phone.

Even though we both didn’t know a word of Hindi before we landed here, India and Indians welcomed us with open arms. The neighbours are very nice and never treat us differently. My sister and I can now speak Hindi a little.

Idris says he feels helpless and can only pray for his family

We live in Delhi along with many other Afghan refugees. Life here has been much better here than it was there, especially for my sister. She feels respected here as a human. There is no education, no scope for employment, basically no future back there. Women are really treated badly by the Taliban and my sisters were ‘discouraged’ from studying or working, as if they have no dreams or ideas of their own.

We have a distantly related uncle living nearby and we look up to him. I work at an eatery making Afghani bread and also take online classes for learning English and Computers. My sister has also enrolled for the same courses and it makes me happy to see her making progress, free and away from the eyes of the Taliban.

I wish we can both stand on our own feet soon and get our family here. Thankfully I was working at an eatery which didn’t suffer so much from lockdown. If I were working in any other kind of business, I don’t know how we would survive.

ALSO READ: Taliban In Frame, Afghanistan In Flames

Afghanistan has had a taste of Taliban rule before and most people knew how it could turn out again and so decided to come to India. My only wish and hope is that the rest of my family can join us too and that my country finds peace.

I hope the international powers that are will find a solution to the problem soon and I feel India’s voice matters a lot in times like these. The international community has to come together and stand up for Afghanistan otherwise it will have ramifications for the whole world. Bahut mushkil waqt hai, dua ke alawa ab kuch aur nahi kar sakte. (These are tough times. It is all in God’s hands now. We can only pray for the safety of everyone).

– As Told To Yog Maya Singh

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.

Weekly Round Up: SC Finds Its Mojo; Power Marches In, Marches Out 2,50,000 Dead

Supreme Court And Its New-Found Mojo

The Supreme Court has so far been accused by almost everyone outside the Bhakt world, to be Modi’s kangaroo court (I ask My Lords’ pardon, I am only stating what people say), including the protesting farmers who refuse to take their case to SC. Such is the loss of confidence in their Lords, the Justices of India. But now the SC has suddenly found a bit of mojo to prove it is independent. It has challenged revered leader Modiji’s dream of becoming India’s ‘Dear Leader’ by rampart use of Indian Penal Code article 124A.

To the surprise of everyone, the Chief Justice of India N V Ramana has suggested that IPC article 124A, sedition, should be scrapped! What! Imagine Modi ji receiving this news. He probably summoned the Attorney General and ordered him to slap IPC 124A on the Justice. ‘Can’t be done Vasudev Maharaj, he is Chief Justice of India’.

Boldly, the CJ stated, “Sedition is a colonial law. It suppresses freedoms. It was used against Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak … is this law necessary after 75 years of independence?

That must have sent tremors in the esteemed IAS officers of Indian bureaucracy who probably thought in silence, ‘Umm, we have been running British Colonialism mark 2 all this time with help of sedition and anti-terrorist laws, police brutality and army interventions. Does this CJ understand India will break up if we give that up?’ The IAS was set up by the British and its purpose is to keep the system functioning as was intended.

But CJI went on, obviously raising some blood pressures in the Modi-Shah Government. “The use of sedition is like giving a saw to the carpenter to cut a piece of wood and he uses it to cut the entire forest itself”.  Is the SC turning seditious!

And then sort of ordering the Attorney General, Venugopa, “Your government is taking out a lot of state laws from the law books, why have they not looked into this”. Boom, Boom. Imagine the scene in Home Minister Amit Shah’s office.

Then the Chief Justice went on to rub the entire Bhakt world, “If one party does not like what the other is saying, Section 124A is used, it is a serious threat to the functioning of individuals and parties”. Will it undermine the fourth pillar of Hindutva advance by use of 124A.

There were 93 cases on ground of sedition in 2019 and perhaps a lot more in 2020. Only two have been successfully convicted. But the scars on the rest must have been deep and long waits for court hearings, mentally draining.

124A has been the cornerstone of Government oppression in many areas. This recent case included veteran journalist Vinod Dua who criticised Govt lockdown policy without adequate preparations when hundreds of thousands workers were forced to walk home for hundreds of miles. Govt couldn’t quite say ‘Fake News’ as BBC had reported it, so it clapped IPC 124A for attempt at disaffection.

Other famous cases in history have included Arundhiti Roy (2010), Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi (2012), climate activist Disha Ravi (2020) and JNU Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar. In 2011 an entire village and some more, were charged with Sedition under 124A. In the protests in 2012-13 against Kudankuam Nuclear Power Plant, 9,000 people were arrested for ‘sedition’.

Not surprising when the law says “whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation or otherwise, brings or attempts into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India shall be punished with life imprisonment!”

With a law like this who needs a dictatorship. North Korea or China should consider becoming democracies to get away with complete suppression of dissent with this sort of law. Western human rights world wouldn’t even notice. After all it has been democratically enacted.

It’s not difficult to see why Modiji doesn’t like any criticism of his policy or character. He is simply upholding a democratic law in spirit and letter. That is what a leader is elected to do.

There is however a corollary. If somebody is convicted under a law still on statue, does the person have a permanent criminal record? If so, as Gandhi ji spent 6 years in prison under this law, and as this law has not been repealed by the wise and the great of Lok Sabha, is Gandhiji an ex criminal? We need a legal position on this.

Let us hope the Supreme Court mojo lasts a few more seconds. People may see that it has exorcised the Kangaroo image to a proper court. Or it could be that even the esteemed Judges have smelt that BJP isn’t invincible in elections.

USA Runs Away From Taliban After 20 Years

Being the most powerful is pointless if you lack stamina and can’t even bully a bunch of hill billies. The United States virtually walked into Afghanistan in 2001 meeting little resistance. They were against a rag tag army of the Taliban, hardly a version of the American ‘Universal Soldier’ with heavy metal, bulletproof everything, night vision equipment, satellite guided laser guns, supported by devastating air firepower, penetrating bombs blowing up deepest of secret tunnels and training that many an army would give anything for if it could afford. Yet twenty years later, with $850 Billion misspent, enough to give every poor American a free medicare for life, the best trained army has been forced to march out in the dark of the night.

The Americans wanted to ‘civilise’ the Afghan people with democracy, women rights and modern education. It would sound pious if it wasn’t that back in USA, millions of Black Americans, potential Democrat voters, have been denied votes by some administrative trickery. And the idea of a female President still shocks half of Americans.

The Taliban simply followed a long tradition of Afghans, particularly the Pashtuns. They get thrown out of their settled towns and villages only to return and chase away the enemy into history. They use the same tactic. They run to the hills, band together and then come back ferociously, persistently and tenaciously. With their home-made weapons, they haemorrhage the invader until the occupier finally decides that it’s not worth it. They did the same now. And they are quite content dying for this repeating sport. About 2,50,000 Afghans have died this time.

The irony of it is that a Taliban run State may yet put in place some form of democracy under a supreme leader after a few years. They will also provide education and jobs for women. The modern State requires some form of representation governance, otherwise missed warlords get angry. Modern economics cannot afford to feed half the population sitting at home, particularly if the State leadership wants the money to acquire big weapons, modern gadgets and have pothole-less roads to drive expensive cars on. It needs all hands to work.

All the same, American think tanks (tinker tanks) will write long articles justifying the crusade explaining how American intervention brought some form of democracy to Afghanistan and rights for women. It was all worth it depriving millions of fellow Americans free medical care. Next door Iran seems to have achieved democracy and women empowerment without American intervention and even by calling USA the devil.

Taliban In Kabul: India’s Diplomatic Challenge

Next-door to India, a regional event with global implications that is dreaded by all, whether in support or opposition, is happening. Well-armed and highly motivated, the Taliban are overrunning Afghanistan, fighting pitched territorial battles with the government forces, pushing them out of the vast countryside and confining them to the cities.

It may be a matter of weeks before the government in Kabul collapses because the political and military will of the world powers has also collapsed. There seems to be room only for diplomacy as war-weary US-Nato withdraw their soldiers, a process they may complete well before the September 11 deadline.

The Taliban appear unstoppable. They couldn’t care less what the world thinks of them. They are focused totally on regaining power and their own national issues. A recent interview a top Taliban leader gave ‘Foreign Policy’ reiterates their well-known and much-criticised approach to their women. There will be little education and no jobs for them once they return to power.

The Taliban calculate that the world will worship the victor. After all, they have huge untapped minerals to offer. Weren’t they, when in power, wooed for access and exploitation of Central Asia’s gas an oil – till 9/11 happened?

But the dread persists and it is not just due to uncertainties of what may lie ahead. The nations that are withdrawing from a war they cannot win after nearly two decades are frightened of terrorism in the shape of Al Qaida and the Islamic State returning to Afghanistan, along with and even without the Taliban at the helm. The extremist forces they created and battled by turns as per their expediency have acquired strength they cannot control. It’s déjà vu.

ALSO READ: Afghanistan – The Great Game Continues

This is most apparent in the Biden administration that had little choice – and inclination – to undo what the previous Trump administration handed down. Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says Al Qaeda could regroup in Afghanistan in two years.  Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, told the US Senate Appropriations Committee that he agreed. It was the most specific public forecast of the prospects for a renewed international terrorist threat from Afghanistan since President Joe Biden announced in April that all U.S. troops would withdraw by September 11.

If America fears this even as it withdraws, unconditionally and completely, the France-based think tank, Center for the Analysis of Terrorism (CAT), in a paper published this month sees resurgence of Al Qaida, the IS and its numerous affiliates across a vast region that covers West, Central and South Asia as  result of the forthcoming tectonic changes in Afghanistan.  

The title and the focus are “the Pakistani Jihadis and Global Jihad” which India can hardly afford to ignore. It says, “…following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, one is likely to witness a resurgence of the Taliban and probably a more operational coordination between Pakistan-supported groups like the LET & JEM and the Taliban.”

It further says: “The current threat landscape and its evolution is strongly tied to the evolution, transformation and fragmentation of historical organizations active in the region since the late 80s and to the continuing alignment of political organs and elites’ interests in Pakistan with those of the Pakistani jihadi organizations (for example the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir), whilst several of these organizations have since adhered to the global agenda of terrorist organizations posing a direct threat to neighbouring countries, primarily India.”

Is it surprising that Pakistan castigates India as a ‘spoiler’ in Afghanistan for trying to deny the strategic advantage it hopes to gain, post-US withdrawal, from a new regime in Kabul? But Pakistan has own set of Cassandras to deal with in the shape of more refugees, more drugs and more sectarian violence. TTP, the Pakistani Taliban have the same ideological inclination as the Afghan Taliban they have hosted for two decades. 

The situation is unenviable for India that sees repeat of its recent past. It was friendless when the Russians withdrew and the regime they had supported collapsed. It stands to become friendless again with a Taliban rise, this time having invested over USD three billion.  

ALSO READ: India Must Remain Involved In US-Taliban Talks

India has little choice but to engage with the Taliban, and whoever else gains powers after the US-led evacuation. Indeed, its growing proximity to the US makes its presence more vulnerable from the very people it has opposed and criticised. The memories of the 1999 hijack of an Indian passenger aircraft to Kandahar are fresh and so are attacks on its interests by the Haqqani group, said to be working for Pakistan’s ISI.

When the Mujahideen took power in the early 1990s, MK Bhadrakumar, a senior diplomat well versed in the region’s affairs was dispatched. He met the new top leadership, including Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmed Shah Masud. Full advantage was taken of an airport refuelling stopover in Delhi by Rabbani and his men. The rapprochement took long, but it happened.

The diplomatic situation is many times more challenging, what with India being identified with the US and against the Sino-Pak alliance, with old allies Russia and Iran missing from its side.

India is a straggler in engaging with the Taliban leaders who have resented India. The past record has been one of mutual dislike and distrust. This is hardly the time to reminisce what India has done or can do in Afghanistan and the goodwill it has gained. The time is to salvage what is built and protect, even the embassy in Kabul and consulates in other Afghan cities.

This is by far the biggest diplomatic challenge with overwhelming security component that India faces in many years.