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Kabul, Kashmir and the return of realpolitik

Context:

Recently, Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan was held with an aim to help stabilise Afghanistan.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (India’s Neighbours, Foreign policies affecting India’s Interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Who are the Taliban and what is their Ideology?
  2. The Taliban’s Violent breadcrumbs
  3. Impact of Taliban’s rise to power on India
  4. Giving recognition to Taliban-the biggest Dilemma

Who are the Taliban and what is their Ideology?

  • The Taliban, or “students” in the Pashto language, emerged in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. It originally drew members from so-called “mujahideen” fighters who, with support from the United States, repelled Soviet forces.
  • The promise made by the Taliban – in Pashtun areas straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan – was to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power.

The Taliban Rule

  • Taliban captured power in Afghanistan in 1996. They captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, overthrowing the regime of President Burhanuddin Rabbani. By 1998, the Taliban were in control of almost 90% of Afghanistan. During its five years in power, the Taliban enforced a strict version of sharia law.
  • Women were predominantly barred from working or studying and were confined to their homes unless accompanied by a male guardian.
  • Public executions and floggings were common, Western films and books were banned, and cultural artifacts seen as blasphemous under Islam were destroyed. Opponents and Western countries accuse the Taliban of wanting to return to this style of governance in the areas it already controls – a claim the group denies.
  • The Taliban also banned television, music, and cinema, and disapproved of girls aged 10 and over going to school. They were accused of various human rights and cultural abuses.

The Taliban’s Violent breadcrumbs

  • One notorious example was in 2001, when the Taliban went ahead with the destruction of the famous Bamiyan Buddha statues in central Afghanistan, despite international outrage.
  • The attention of the world was drawn to the Taliban in Afghanistan in the wake of the 11 September 2001 World Trade Center attacks in New York. The Taliban were accused of providing a sanctuary for the prime suspects – Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda movement.
  • On October 7, 2001, a US-led military coalition launched attacks in Afghanistan and led to the collapse of the Taliban regime. The Taliban spent 20 years waging an insurgency against U.S.-backed governments in Kabul. More than 100,000 civilians have been killed or injured in the fighting since 2009
  • The Taliban have been accused, along with other groups, of planting improvised explosive devices in public places, often injuring civilians, and of waging an assassination campaign targeting prominent figures seen as Western or liberal.
  • Despite ever higher numbers of foreign troops, the Taliban gradually regained and then extended their influence in Afghanistan, rendering vast tracts of the country insecure, and violence in the country returned to levels not seen since 2001.
  • One of the most high-profile and internationally condemned all Pakistani Taliban attacks took place in October 2012, when schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot on her way home in the town of Mingora. Taliban continued to target Afghan security forces and civilians, advancing rapidly across the country.

Impact of Taliban’s rise to power on India

Though India does not have a direct boundary with Afghanistan, this turmoil is definitely going to have an impact. With the US exiting Afghanistan, the Taliban becomes stronger but for India the future is unknown.

Terrorism can loom

  • ISI and Pak army supports Taliban and they may use it against India. There might be a rise in terrorist activities. Pakistan will leverage the help it provided to the Taliban to seek the Taliban’s help in spreading terrorism in India, especially Kashmir. There have been reports that talk about Pakistan has sent fighters for supporting the Taliban. Taliban has shielded many Pakistani militants in the past.
  • Taliban has recently clarified its stand with respect to Kashmir Issue and will not seek to interfere in the matters of other nations. But the terrorism card will loom because of Pakistan’s presence.
  • Also, believing a terrorist organization’s assurance of not meddling in Kashmir, an organization that openly says that the entire world will be under Islamic rule one day, will be naive. Radical ideologies of the Taliban will be a security threat not only for India but for the whole region of South Asia.

Impact on India’s investments

  • India has many valuable investments in Afghanistan, a strategic friend of India. Some of them were important for India’s strategic interest like the $150 million Zaranj-Delaram highway which provides access to Iran’s Chabahar port, which is key to India’s interest in the region. Apart from this, India under the Modi government built the Afghan parliament building costing $90million.
  • The 40 MW Salma dam is another important investment. Apart from this, India has funded a total of approximately 400 infrastructure projects in different provinces of Afghanistan. So, this takeover by the Taliban is a major setback for India which has been strategically helping Afghanistan, and all of a sudden, all the projects and investments go into the hands of terrorists.

Impact on Energy security and trade

  • India has been one of the largest trade partners of Afghanistan in recent times. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, which carries major political and strategic repercussions for India, will also hit a specific sector of the Indian market — dry fruit trade and trade in spices. Bilateral trade between India and Afghanistan will be impacted significantly.
  • India’s energy security will also be compromised. India imports petroleum products, Co, Fe, Li, etc. from Afghanistan which can be impacted by the crisis.

Refugee crisis

  • There could be a refugee crisis in India and this needs to be closely monitored. The world powers, especially the USA will pressurize India to take more and more refugees. Also, there will be different heart-wrenching pictures that will be used to emotionally create an environment for taking in refugees. I hope that India does not bulge under pressure and only grant visas to Indian supporters and deep assets of India. Remember, India is already facing the Rohingya problem, and the Indian government has still not deported them. Another large influx of refugees will be catastrophic for India.

Increase in Influence of China in the region

  • Many countries that have close ties with the USA, like the UK and India, have closed their embassies in Afghanistan, but China has not closed her embassy and has only advised her citizens to stay indoors. Chinese are particularly concerned with their project’s safety. Many projects going on are of strategic importance to China. China shares a border of 210 km, called the Wakhan border. This Wakhan corridor marks the entry point of CPEC into China.
  • Moreover, China would engage with the Taliban to benefit from Afghanistan’s rich mineral deposits and incorporate Afghanistan into its Belt and Road Initiative.
  • It can also be seen as an advantage to China. America’s withdrawal might be its efforts to advance a narrative of American decline and the rise of China’s influence in the region.

An advantage to Pakistan

  • Pakistan has long been a difficult and disruptive neighbour to Afghanistan, hoping to limit India’s influence there. A strong democratic Afghan government aligned with India can potentially encircle Pakistan.
  • It has augmented Afghanistan’s instability by providing intelligence, weapons, and protection to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network.
  • Pakistan has repeatedly denied that it was the architect of the Taliban enterprise, but there is little doubt that many Afghans who initially joined the movement were educated in madrassas (religious schools) in Pakistan. Many senior Taliban leaders reportedly took refuge in the Pakistani city of Quetta, from where they guided the Taliban.
  • Pakistan was also one of only three countries, along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which recognized the Taliban when they were in power in Afghanistan. It was also the last country to break diplomatic ties with the group.
  • Pakistan will use this to its fullest advantage to counter India and increase its terrorist activities.

Giving recognition to Taliban-the biggest Dilemma

  • The first and foremost dilemma before the Government will be recognition of the Taliban as Afghanistan’s government. Countries like China, Pakistan, Russia, and many Islamic countries have already shown signs that they would recognize the Taliban.
  • India used to support Northern Alliance which fought the Taliban when this terrorist organization was in power the last time.
  • If India opposes the Taliban openly then it might invite the Taliban to directly spread terrorism in Kashmir.
  • If India recognizes the Taliban government, then they would contradict their own stand which has always been supportive of civilian government in Afghanistan.
  • Thus, giving recognition to the Taliban’s non-democratic government is the biggest dilemma India is facing currently and has put India in a very uncomfortable position.
  • To irritate Pakistan, the Taliban administration wanted to establish relations with India.
  • Pakistan resents the Taliban’s desire for India to participate and assist in the country’s stabilisation.
  • The closer India gets to the Taliban, the more Pakistani assaults in Jammu and Kashmir will escalate.

If India assists the Taliban-led Afghan government, it would find itself in a Catch-22 situation:

  • Threats of Terrorist Attacks: Many terrorist organisations are not included in the Doha Agreement. Anti-India terrorist organisations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed are examples. Since the hijacking of an Air India aircraft to Kandahar in 1999, there has been a high level of suspicion of the Taliban.
  • Indo-Tibetan Relations: The Taliban’s close proximity to Pakistan has impeded Indo-Taliban ties.
  • Increased tensions with India and Pakistan: Pakistan’s Afghan policy earned prominence with the withdrawal of US soldiers. With the Taliban in charge, this proxy conflict will intensify.
  • Challenges to Internal security: The United States has departed Afghanistan having failed to achieve any of its goals. Furthermore, the Taliban have obtained access to various modern weaponry and sophisticated weapons as a result of their long-running conflict with the United States.
  • Surge in Drug Trafficking: Geographically, Afghanistan is a part of the Golden Crescent. With the Taliban in control, India may see a surge in illegal drug trafficking on a big scale.
  • Pakistan’s Kashmir policy: The ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan and the subsequent reduction in violence in Kashmir were a direct result of the backchannel understanding between the two sides.

-Source: The Hindu

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