Stability remains elusive for Afghanistan

Published by The Tribune India on 18 Nov. 2021

 

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Kashmir: Different Pak hand

Targeted killings are low-investment options. Infiltration is bolstered by Afghan situation

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Weakening Kabul, worried Pak, unhappy West

Published by The Tribune India on 25 Sept 2021

 

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Hemmed in on all sides

Kabul will be under pressure from four directions: Pakistan, China, Russia, US/EU

Published by The Indian Express on 07 Sept 2021

 

The Taliban’s speedy advance and the fall of Kabul is a distant memory, replaced by rumours of trouble brewing within the fledgling enterprise. Leadership is unseen, spokespersons are numerous and signals are confusing. But some facets are clear. Taliban governance in provinces and districts is highly decentralized, and is so far restricted to PR photographs of site visits. Governance is more focused on policing, with each Taliban group following its own set of rules on what women should do and wear and the punishment to be meted out to former government/military employees. Evolved protection of human rights will clearly be missing. The most dependable assessment is that the Kabul regime will be under pressure from four directions: Pakistan, for security and past links; China, for investment; Russia, for intelligence; and the US/EU, for the ability to conduct finance globally. So far, the Pakistan hand is showing up with prominence.

Pakistan appears to have claimed victory by sending its spy chief for a visible visit. But most observers feel that serious concerns of conflict and a possible firefight between Pakistan’s Haqqani Network and the Doha negotiators was the key reason. For Pakistan to have to physically intervene in a leadership crisis indicates its lack of control over the Doha and Haqqani factions. Further, Pakistan has clearly not been able to impress upon the regime the need to cater to Western demands to include ethnic minorities and members of the Ghani regime, and is still to deal with the question of whether to disband ANDSF, purge it of undesirables or just recruit Talibs into the existing structure. The catastrophic results of disbanding Saddam’s army and intelligence were there for all to see, given their eventual recruitment by ISIL and offshoots.

Pakistan has to also deal with an enormous refugee crisis. Given Afghanistan’s faltering fiscal situation, the key assistance that Afghans will expect in terms of food, fuel and power will have to come from Iran and Pakistan. Iran has already cut a deal and is allowing export of its abundant oil in exchange for cash. Pakistan, itself in dire economic straits due to restrictive IMF conditions, has just about managed to resolve its forex crisis, having accumulated $27 billion forex reserves. It will find it exceedingly difficult to send supplies to Afghanistan, especially on uncertain terms of payment and in a currency of its choice.

 

Pakistan is now stuck in a classic catch-22 situation, where the West will hold it to its promise of control over the Taliban and of ensuring inclusivity. There is a debate within Pakistan’s security establishment on how to handle this victory and how to keep it under control. Pakistan’s experts are worried that a seemingly-weak Helmandi Pashtun, heading the clergy, could grow wings, while a much-required strong Pashtun as head of government will surely come under Indian, Iranian and Western influence and move in a different direction.

Pakistan is acutely aware that the West holds several cards without which the survival of the regime is impossible. Such levers include American control of Afghanistan’s forex and remittances; existing and future UN and US Treasury sanctions regime; potential CAATSA sanctions for any Russian investment; FATF for financial strangulation; and avenues for Western intelligence to tie down China’s promised BRI investment in a traditionally restive Afghanistan. Even a single misstep by Pakistan could jeopardise its attempts to exit the FATF grey list, while also including Afghanistan in a similar process.

For decades, Pakistan has taught the strategy at its army college that it can’t afford a two-front war, with a belligerent India to the east and an India-inspired Afghanistan to the west. Having been granted a strategic wish with a suddenly less-sensitive eastern border, it must be aware that Indian strategists would be counselling their diplomats and intelligence agencies to sell old wine — the idea of Pashtunistan — in a new bottle to the Taliban regime. An informal comment was made by the Taliban spokesperson that it was opposed to fencing the Durand Line. The strategic-economic alliance that Pakistan established with China, in order to bind India down to hard borders along its entire west-to-east boundary, may just have been mitigated by the Taliban victory, with India having no option but to encourage Pashtun separatism within Pakistan.

The other interesting division in the Taliban that Pakistan is unable to handle is the sudden emergence of Anas Haqqani, not UN-designated, but wearing the traditional turban signifying the legacy of his father, Jalaluddin Haqqani. Sirajuddin Haqqani does not possess such a legacy. However, the latter was groomed by the ISI and has evaded arrest and drone strikes, despite a $5 million American bounty. With the US unable to have the Haqqanis delisted from the sanctions regime, Sirajuddin is now a Pakistani asset, inconvenient to the US. His continued presence is a danger to the stability of the new Taliban regime. His past dalliance with ISIS-K, including rumours of involvement in the August 26 bombing which killed 183, are serious threats to Western interests in the region.

Therefore, Pakistan will desperately try to bring Sirajuddin on board the Taliban regime which, in turn, risks reducing the chances of recognition, and therefore the survival of the regime. On the contrary, if it leaves him out, it risks destabilising the nascent regime, and will be forced to house a dissenting or warring Haqqani faction within Pakistan. Both scenarios and the continued absence of visuals or statements from Sirajuddin indicate that his days may be numbered, unless he has already found new refuge and has begun to plot against his new enemies, Pakistan and the US.

 

 

 

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Centre is not muzzling retired officers

Published by The Indian Express on June 11, 2021

 

 

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Rise of Taliban- Deeper implications on India and the World

Published by VK news Kannada epaper

Afghanistan is back in the news, neither for their internationally renowned cricket team nor emerging football team, but for all wrong reasons. The quick and smooth capture of power by Taliban, like winning an uncontested or prefixed match, stunned the citizens of the world. United States America, under the illusion of being a super power reportedly invested from 2002 to June 2021, a staggering $144.98 billion for so called reconstruction and related activities including $88.61 billion for security, $36.29 billion for governance and development, $4.18 billion for humanitarian aid and 15.91 billion for agency operations. About 80% of Afghan budget was paid by United States and it may be recalled that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani publicly stated earlier that his government is unable to support salaries and maintenance of its army even for six months without financial aid from America. Though the analysts say that nearly 80% of funds provided went back to US economy, obviously leaving little for sustained improvements and genuine empowerment of Afghan people, the fact remains that American leadership failed miserably in assessing the mischievous potential of Taliban and inherent weaknesses in the Afghan army that US supposed to have trained and equipped for two decades.

 

For the past few days, we were shocked to see images of fleeing people from Kabul airport, thousands running helter-skelter leaving their homes and possessions, jostling among themselves to leave their country out of sheer fear, Taliban gunmen roaming on the streets of Kabul flashing their deadly weaponry and uncertain future staring at everyone. Media debates, leaked videos of acts of barbarism from streets of Kabul and many cities, fault finding political debates, stories on the historical legacy of Afghan resistance, hasty interpretations on what a religion stands for, the flood gates of information and news opened all of a sudden.

 

Those who read the book “Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia” written by Peter Hopkrik published way back in 1990s understand how two, the then imperial powers, Russian Empire and British Empire, schemed, conspired and fought for control over Central Asia, especially to dominate Afghanistan, a strategic location to expand and hold power over entire Asia unhindered. Similarly, we in India, are fully aware that the brutal Islamic invaders from eighth century to fall of Mughal Empire had roots in Afghanistan, directly or indirectly. It was in 1504, the Babur, known for his perversity and ruthlessness, captured Kabul and could succeed in his barbaric ambitions through series of attacks laying the foundation for centuries of oppression and subjugation. On his desire on deathbed, Babur’s body was taken to Kabul to be buried on a hill-side. This is the gory connection of Afghanistan with India.

 

Origins of Taliban in 1980s as co-product of Pakistan Intelligence Agency ISI and US Intelligence Agency CIA to fight Soviet forces, Taliban’s capture of Kabul in 1996, heinous crimes against women, innocents, inhuman restrictions imposed on Sikhs, Hindus and other religious minorities, shocking destruction of tallest sandstone carvings of Buddhas at Bamiyan, senseless vandalism to erase ancient heritage, untold misery and misgovernance are well known facts of recent history. The bonhomie of Taliban and US government ended abruptly in 2001 after most disturbing terrorist attack on towers of World Trade Center orchestrated by Osama bin Laden, leader of al Qaeda from a secret location inside Taliban controlled Afghanistan. Now, after almost two decades the developments in Afghanistan turned a full circle and hunter became the hunted.

 

The Taliban of 1990s and as of now undergone phenomenal change on many counts. The terrorist splinter group is a major force with huge financial resources, decades of experience in violent insurgency. The democratic nations of the world can no longer ignore this menace and pretend as if it’s no one’s problem.

Initial assurances by Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesman of Taliban in the first press meet that they will respect women’s rights, forgive those who worked for previous government, freedom of media, that they will not allow the country to become haven for terrorists to attack other countries and other tall promises are nothing but a clever ploy to project a moderate image and also to gain crucial time to strengthen their hold. The incidents subsequent to press conference such as beatings on the streets, raids on the houses of those were aligned with previous government, turning away of women journalists from work and a visible gap in assurances and action confirmed the worst fears and the skepticism among Afghan people appears to be fully justified.

Further, it’s also unclear what type of Sharia, the Islamic Law, that govern life of citizens in general and women in particular likely to be adopted by Taliban government as interpretation of Islamic Law practiced differently in different countries according to local culture, practices, traditions and customs. There is also a specific school of jurisprudence that firmly believe that the basic characteristics of medieval Sharia is not only outdated but incompatible with modern legal systems that believe in equity, justice, secularism free from imprecisely and ambiguously defined language in the sacred texts.

Another significant point to be noted is that present Taliban is part and parcel of global jihadist movement and so called differences amongst Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, Haqqani network, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other terrorist groups are only for name sake and they share common diabolical ambitions.

It is noteworthy that Al Qaeda once declared that they are subordinate to Taliban and accepted Mullah Omar as their leader. Similarly, Mamoun Hatem, one of the prominent clerics of Al Qaeda declared unflinching support to ISIS. The vicious circle of mutual bonding and interlinked terrorist plans among all these groups is an open secret.  Added to this, many organizations, political outfits, overt and covert formulations scattered around the globe, sing a common tune typical of a jihadist ideology and share a short-term and long- term goal of establishing Islamic emirate to begin with and ultimate realization of worldwide Caliphate over larger territory as much as possible. It’s no wonder, the Taliban has already declared itself an Islamic Emirate betraying promises extended to US government not to do so. Expectedly, in India, so called left liberals, self-styled historians known for their anti-national bias, urban naxals disguised as academicians, frustrated intellectuals out of favour with the system, some prejudiced media houses and a ragtag combination of unemployed politicians are unabashedly welcoming the return of Taliban sensing a golden opportunity to further their short-sighted ambitions at the cost of sacrificing security, integrity and national pride.

 

Political activism and unbridled militancy are no longer considered as un-Islamic. Global jihadist movement is a multi-headed monster and no more hides its nefarious ambitions. The coordinated and concerted acts of terrorism as a means to an end spread across the length and breadth of the world is a clear proof that the secretive period of incubation is over. All these terrorist groups are inherently and amorphously connected with one another and there is perfect coordination and support across a spectrum of activities.

 

Sooner the world awakes to this harsh reality, better for very survival of nations in order to protect the people who firmly believe in civilizational values. Clear strategy, concrete action in specific time frame can only save everlasting human dignity and ensure world peace.

 

 

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Ethnic divisions may queer the pitch for Taliban

Published by The Tribune on August 28, 2021

 

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