India is trapped between a traditional position of disparaging Pakistan and the Taliban and a realisation of the Deobandi group’s successful diplomatic outreach. The Taliban’s full-fledged Doha-based foreign office has been visiting Iran, Russia and most recently China — a diplomatic zenith in placing itself as a legitimate actor in Afghan politics before all neighbouring powers, except India.
Meeting State Councillor Wang Yi on July 28, the Taliban assured that it will not allow its ‘soil to be used against China’, since Beijing has been concerned about the Taliban’s ascendancy boosting the extremist East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in Xinjiang. However, India’s embrace of United States’ position in its geopolitical rivalries with Russia and China caused it to be very late in reaching out to the Taliban, when the efforts were reported in June.
But Foreign Secretary Harshvardhan Shringla and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar continued criticising the group, as it took over strategic points from the Afghan National Army (ANA) amidst a US withdrawal. The contradiction in India’s approach was starker when even former Northern Alliance commander Atta Noor Mohammed suggested India engage with the Taliban during his meeting with Jaishankar in October 2020 in Delhi.
Ironically, it was the US that negotiated a peace deal with the Taliban under then President Donald Trump in February 2020 that upheld its centrality and did not involve the civilian government of Ashraf Ghani. The Taliban’s current offensive too has been found to have set political goals of capturing strategic border towns and other key cities to be used as bargaining chips for securing a better deal in intra-Afghan talks.
The group’s origin itself is a direct result of the US’ dalliance with militant Islam where a celebrated and officially acknowledged CIA operation (Operation Cyclone) instigated a Soviet intervention by funding jihadist Mujahideen in the then communist Afghan regime. Legitimising and romanticising ‘jihad’ to recruit fighters across the Middle East North Africa (MENA) to fight the Red Army with from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, created Osama bin Laden himself. Bent on giving the Soviet Union ‘it’s Vietnam’ US former President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski boasted in January 1998 that the “Muslim terrorist apparatus was created by US intelligence as a geopolitical weapon.” He even sharply asked “What was more important (between) the Taliban (and) the fall of the Soviet Empire,” when questioned if he regretted helping future terrorists.
Today, neither Pakistan nor the Taliban are interested in a military takeover. It would deny the Taliban the international legitimacy it has craved and put it in cross purposes with Russia, China and Iran whom it has painstakingly assured would be unharmed under its regime. Islamabad, Moscow and Beijing (along with Washington) are signatories to a joint statement that announces their opposition to an ‘Islamic Emirate’ in Afghanistan. Neither will the Taliban command complete support among all Afghans, since many of whom who have experienced modern democratic freedoms for a decade would reject its medieval orthodoxy.
The Taliban’s nexus with Al-Qaeda in the late 1990s was a result of the US refusing to recognise them, which would have allowed them the many UN aid programmes, causing them to be left with Arab funding from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Taliban was not involved in the 9/11 attacks, and was willing to co-operate and hand over Laden. But the US chose to invade Afghanistan that left it even in more devastation than the civil war and the Soviet intervention before that. The Taliban, Afghan leaders and experts meanwhile blame the Ghani government for refusing to share power with the Taliban and obstructing intra-Afghan talks forcing the group’s current offensive.
Russian Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said the “Taliban movement has changed” — this spoke volumes given the group is outlawed in Moscow. Its deputy chief Sirajuddin Haqqani recently asked its commanders to adhere to civilian sensitivities saying they were entering a “civilian situation”. It has also climbed down on its repressive stance towards women, when its spokesperson Suhail Shaheen said they can to go to work, school and participate in politics but would have to wear a headscarf (hijab). Kabulov, while recommending India talk directly to the Taliban, said the movement’s recent feelers to India is a “strategic” and “not a tactical manoeuvre”, hinting it might accept Kashmir as India’s internal affair.
Thus, not trying to isolate Pakistan — whose pivot to ‘geo-economics’ is in line with Russian and Chinese designs for the region — and not disparaging the Taliban, whose tribal and Pashtun interests run counter with the Islamic State’s jihadi goals leading to violent clashes between the sworn rivals — would be in harmony with the current geopolitical winds.An Afghanistan policy independent of its Pakistan diplomacy, US geopolitical rivalries and nationalist pressures would serve India better.
Courtesy – moneycontrol.com