Almost fifteen years has passed since the initiation of the Afghan war and yet the Taliban pose a larger threat today than at the beginning of the conflict. They are on the verge of taking over the entire Helmand province.
At the moment, the government in Kabul can only claim full control for three out of the fourteen districts within the province. The government ignored a last minute appeal on Facebook by local officials in Helmand for additional reinforcements against an impending Taliban siege. This unusually off season offensive came after the Taliban temporary captured Kunduz, which was a major symbolic victory for the insurgency. The capture of Kunduz was the first time during the entire war that the insurgency was able to establish full control of a city within Afghanistan. After fifteen years of training and millions upon millions invested into the Afghan army and police, what has been the result?
After almost fifteen years of blood, treasure, and time spent by the international community on the war in Afghanistan, the gains are minimal at best. The Afghan government has come to epitomize everything the American-led effort was against. The only way the West can ensure the viability and perpetuity of the current Afghan government is to continue the long and expensive occupation of Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. This type of no end in sight occupation is not only impractical but unpopular to the American and European public at large . The war in Afghanistan has been a failure. A new approach is needed to withdraw from the region while ensuring terrorism never emanates from it.
How Did We Get Here
When historians look back at this war, they can perhaps outline the mistakes that were made. Until then, the following is a start:
Created with Original Sin
The Afghan government was hastily put together in Bonn, Germany to replace the toppled Taliban government. This new government consisted mainly of the same warlords whose atrocities gave rise to the Taliban in the early 1990s. While in power, the Taliban provided security and safety from the horrors that were perpetuated by these warlords. Unfortunately for the Afghan people, security came at the cost of being subjected to a harsh and fundamentalist theocracy, which eventually rendered the Taliban government unwanted by those whom it governed.
The Iraq War
Despite an ill-formed government, the selection of Hamid Karzai, the only leading figure in the government without a tarnished history, as president brought hope to a country that had been in continuous war for the past twenty years at that time. As soon as Karzai began to lead, attention transitioned from Afghanistan to Iraq, where the drums of war were beating for an eventual campaign that removed the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein. The war and ensuing insurgency in Iraq continued to be the center of the media’s attention. Afghanistan became the forgotten war. This negligence of the Afghan war would have devastating consequences for the war effort.
Corruption and Accountability
With Iraq in the limelight, the warlords in the Afghan government had cart blanche to do as they pleased. Without the proper oversight, the government’s main function became corruption. Rule of law became applicable on a selective basis. Besides the reintroduction of warlords in the government, the empowering of the Afghan minorities at the expense of the Pashtuns, the majority ethnic group, would create further resentment. This exclusion was partially attributed to the fact that the Northern Alliance, NATO’s main ally in the war, was comprised largely of all of Afghanistan’s minorities while the Taliban were mainly comprised of the Pashtuns. With significant help from the US and NATO, the Northern Alliance ascended to power from near defeat.
Insecurity and crime increased dramatically throughout the country as the warlords turned diplomats returned to their former fiefdoms. The once eradicated production of opium flourished throughout the country in areas controlled by the warlords and Taliban . Horrendous crimes that were eliminated accompanied the return of the warlords such as the practice of sexually abusing young boys. The government in Kabul knowingly turned a blind eye to the practice that was being perpetuated by the Afghan military and local police . These types of monstrosities become the norm.
In a conservative society such as Afghanistan where values and belief stem from religion and tribalism, the gravity of such acts of abuse appeared to not be fully understood by the US and NATO. Ordinary citizens were left powerless as no “legal” means were left to address their grievances. They began to fear their government. Once again the people across the country thirsted for security. The Taliban pounced on this opportunity and provided justice with their mobile courts and provided the social needs that the government failed to do. Slowly their popularity began to rise. For the people of Afghanistan, the Taliban appear to be the lesser of two evils.
The United States and international community were hoping to remedy their past mistake of abandoning Afghanistan after the defeat of the Soviet Union. An outline for a government and a well-trained army and police was put together. Unfortunately, the recent Taliban advances display a government that lacks not only proper training but even more importantly ideological cohesiveness. The government has failed to exude a sense of national identity that the population can unite under. Unlike the Soviet-backed government of Najibullah whose members to a large extent saw past ethnic identities and shared a common political ideology, the current government is held together by the inflow of foreign aid and the presence of foreign troops. As soon as the aid spigot is closed and foreign troops withdraw, the government in Kabul will unravel and collapse.
Defeating the Taliban will not be an inexpensive or easy feat. Unlike ISIS or Al Qaeda, the Taliban are a native insurgency with a vision that does not extend beyond the borders of Afghanistan. To cluster them with terror groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda only hurts America’s strategic imperative for the region. As a result of the Afghan government’s failures, parts of the country that did not support the Taliban before are now turning to them for help. Badakhshan, which was one of the last remaining areas to not fall under Taliban control prior to September 11th, have districts now that are under Taliban control. To a large extent, it appears as if the Taliban have shed some of their Pashtun-centric identity for a more inclusive Afghan identity. Whether this will hold after the full withdrawal of foreign troops is a different story.
The Afghan people are no longer wondering if their government will fall but rather when. Those who can afford to leave are doing so . The current strategy with its opaque objectives will continue to erode any goodwill the West attempts to build in the Afghanistan. A change is needed and the only viable solution is to open a genuine dialogue with the Taliban with limited pre-conditions.
The main concern of the US and NATO is to get a guarantee of no more human rights abuse and ensuring that the group does not shelter nor aid terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. If the guarantee is not adhered to after the West withdraws, sanctions and isolation should follow. The Taliban have experienced the detrimental effects of being a pariah in the international community before and will not want to relive that again.
The expectation of the Taliban laying down arms and integrating with a corrupt government is an impractical prerequisite. Momentum and time is on their side, there is no feasible reason for them to engage with such a prerequisite. If the West can ensure terrorism will not emanate from Afghanistan and human rights abuses will not occur, the rest can be left to the internal dynamics of the Afghan people and region to work out amongst themselves.
The current strategy has not resulted into anything that was initially hoped for by the international community in 2001. Any further extension of the country’s occupation by the US and NATO will only result in more unnecessary troop and civilian deaths as well as prolonging the conflict. The war in Afghanistan is over and a new approach is needed by the US and NATO.
Kashmir Issue at the UNGA and the Nuclear Discourse
The Kashmir issue has more significance in view of the nuclearization of South Asia as many security experts around the world consider Kashmir a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan. The revocation of the special constitutional status of Kashmir by the BJP government on August 5, 2019, also referred to as Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019 and the subsequent lockdown in Kashmir has since considerably increased political and diplomatic tensions between India and Pakistan. India’s recent moves and actions in Kashmir have once again internationalized the Kashmir dispute. This was evident during the UN General Assembly’s 74th Session, where the Kashmir issue remained a crucial agenda item for several countries.
During this year’s session prominent leaders of the world condemned Indian brutalities in Kashmir. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the international community for failing to pay attention to the Kashmir conflict and called for dialogue to end this dispute. Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said that Kashmir “has been invaded and occupied” by India despite the UN resolution on the issue. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also discussed the issue and called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute based on the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions. Based on the grave importance of Kashmir as a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing the UNGA warned the world community about the dangers of a nuclear war that according to him might break out over Kashmir due to Indian atrocities. The current situation appears to be the most critical time for both the countries and the region as both countries are nuclear-armed.
However, unfortunately, the Indian leaders and media perceived Prime Minister Imran Khan’s warning as a nuclear threat and termed it as ‘brinkmanship’. Contrary to this perspective, it is worth mentioning here that the Indian leadership itself is involved in negative nuclear signaling and war hysteria against Pakistan in recent months. For instance, the 2019 Indian General Election campaign of Prime Minister Modi was largely based on negative nuclear signaling comprising of several threats referring to the possible use of nuclear weapons against Pakistan. Furthermore, as an apparent shift from India’s ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy, on August 16, 2019Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, while on a visit to the Pokhran nuclear test site paid tribute to the late former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and asserted that India might review its NFU policy. He stated that a change in future circumstances would likely define the status of India’s NFU policy. Since then there is no official denial of this assertion from India which indicates that India might abandon its NFU policy.
Moreover, India’s offensive missile development programs and its growing nuclear arsenal which include; hypersonic missiles, ballistic missile defence systems, enhanced space capabilities for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance and the induction of nuclear-powered ballistic-missile-capable submarines clearly indicate that India’s nuclear weapons modernization is aimed at continuously enhancing its deterrence framework including its second-strike capabilities vis-à-vis Pakistan. This is also evident from India’s military preparations under its more recent doctrines such as the 2017 Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) and the 2018 Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD)which are also based upon more proactive offensive strategies and indirect threats of pre-emptive strikes against Pakistan.
As evident from the above-mentioned developments, it seems likely that India aspires to increasingly project itself as a regional hegemon and a potential superpower. The BJP government under Prime Minister Modi inspired by the Hindutva ideology is taking offensive measures under the notions of ‘a more Muscular or Modern India’ based on strong military preparedness. In such circumstances, Pakistan’s threat perception would likely remain increasingly inclined towards its eastern border. Pakistan due to its economic constraints would also likely face considerable difficulties in competing with India toe to toe with respect to its military modernization plans. Pakistan is already punching well above its weight, and nuclear deterrence would be the only way through which Pakistan can maintain a precise balance of power to preserve its security. This could only be carried out by deterring India with the employment of both minimum credible deterrence and full-spectrum deterrence capabilities. This posture clearly asserts that since Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are for defensive purposes in principle, they are aimed at deterring India from any and all kinds of aggression.
Hence, at the present India’s forceful annexation of occupied Kashmir and the resultant nuclear discourse at the UNGA has further intensified Pakistan-India tensions. Under present circumstances, the situation could easily trigger another politico-military escalation between India and Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi has bet his political reputation on his move to annex the region and his political career is on the line. The same way Pakistan’s politico-military establishment is equally unlikely back down from its stance on Kashmir. It would be difficult for both countries to come down from the escalation ladder because politico-military reputations would be at stake at both ends. Consequently, Pakistan might be forced to take action before India’s modernization plans get ahead and might respond even sooner.
The nuclear discourse in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech against the backdrop of the Kashmir crisis at such a high forum like UNGA would likely keep the issue internationalized. The situation demands the UN fulfill its responsibility of ensuring peace and to prevent billions of people from the dangers of a nuclear war. However, Indian blame game, aggressive behavior and offensive nuclear signaling against Pakistan all present a clear warning of nuclear war. It would greatly limit the prospects for international mediation especially by the United Nations whose resolutions on Kashmir clearly provide a right of self-determination to decide Kashmir’s future.
1.2 trillion rupees on the move: Modi’s greatest piece of purchase yet
Last week, the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) was taken aback by more than a surprise. Just when it was dealing with the uncomfortable series of events that led to the transfer of surplus 1.2 trillion rupees into the government of India; social media erupted. It quickly realized that losing the battle regarding the transfer would only add fuel to the hoax of closing down nine commercial banks. RBI enjoys considerable amount of autonomy and independence in the largest democracy, and still, it had to kneel down to Modi’s alleged quick fix.
The RBI would have to vouch for the government in times of need, it is primarily what is expected of the institution; but there was a great deal of discomfort in how the government justified it. A committee set up under the ex-governor, Mr Bimal Jalan, cited how central banks would not need so much of surplus to carry out their affairs. Effectively, it was an order, not a request, which became the underlying discomfort behind RBI’s hesitancy in adhering to the views of capital transfer committee. Not that anyone expected the central lender to protest longer, it did however, request Mr Jalan to reconsider the decision at the face of various consequences. To say the least, it was embarrassing for a premier financial institution to be put under the public eye. The social media hoax was another ridicule of the sickly RBI. In the tales of grand conquests, the victorious army steals the wealth from the losing party. Similarly, the BJP led government in India are redefining all forms of state tools in favour of their interests.
Stolen wealth is most often than not used to correct economic blunders. Just like in the tales of grand conquests, the decision to transfer national wealth from the reserve bank is nothing new. It is nevertheless baffling, that the money transfer is looping in the same direction. While the BJP government in India were imposing a comprehensive GST (Goods and Service Tax) policy, they would not have anticipated complaints from large industries over decreased consumer consumption. For a party that is now known to redefine the legitimacy of governance, falling prey to NBFC’s (Non-bank Financial Companies) incompetence or bankruptcy is a visible defeat. Unlike many other soaring economies, there are large group of subsidiary lenders operating in India. On hindsight, economic policies are barely creating tunnels through which the capital is getting recycled in the same loop. Revenues are not generating further revenues. It is merely closing down on its self-inflicted gap.
The Security and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) almost played with fire. Uncharacteristically, it proposed a framework to work together with the RBI in order to claim outstanding defaults from high value clients. The RBI was never going to agree with a defaming offer as such but the incident did fuel the argument of capital shuffling. It only makes the bluff look more real. A strategic plan to counter all measures that would have blocked the transfer of trillions. As Mr Jalan sheepishly implied how the importance of central bank and what is does is only limited to the public perception, RBI fought a fix in between larger or rather dangerous political agendas. Consolidating requests from SEBI to only fall into the whims of the government shows the lack lustre personality of the central funding institution. For the time being, Narendra Modi has his way, a theft of national treasure-like his opposition colleague Rajiv Gandhi expressed in the media. However, there will also be a far-fetched evaluation of Modi’s actions. A move of 1.2 trillion rupees in the same pot. Not by any means, a cunning cover up.
Walking the tight rope: India’s Diplomatic Strategy in the Middle East
India’s diplomatic corps have been resolutely articulating India’s stances and furthering its interests in the international fora where multiple challenges emanating from historical and contemporary contexts are being faced. One important factor which India’s astute foreign policy makers have faced is the complicated and crucial engagement with the Middle East. There are multiple facets to India’s engagement in the contemporary context that add to this complexity. One, India’s old adversary and neighbor Pakistan has upped the ante in its diplomatic blitzkrieg especially within the Muslim world. Second India’s has varied strategic interests in the warring Middle East factions. Third, the economic interdependencies and the crisis in the international trade in the Trump era has further complicated India’s position as an economic actor in the region. While there are various constituent elements of India’s Middle East outreach, the contemporaneous concerns relate more to its relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Turkey.
India and Saudi Arabia have historically engaged in deep and multi-dimensional political, economic, cultural, defence and strategic cooperation. Saudi Arabia has long been an important Indian trade partner; the Kingdom remains a vital source of energy for India, which imports almost a fifth of its crude oil requirement from Saudi Arabia. Enhanced security cooperation has added a new dimension in the bilateral ties between New Delhi and Riyadh. Recently, Indian PM Narendra Modi was conferred with the highest civilian award of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia even as the top leadership continues to send signals of deep comradarie and solidarity.
With the ascent of the crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman, various layers in this important diplomatic relationship have surfaced. This has happened in a particularly peculiar geopolitical and geostrategic context where both countries have faced tough challenges to their internal stability and international position. While Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is still emerging from the consequences of the massive attack in its oil fields as well as the widespread criticism of humanitarian crisis in Yemen at the international fora, India is grappling with international criticism and discourse about the situation in Kashmir in context of dilution of its political autonomy as well as prolonged information and communication blackout.KSA has had a mediating role in the Indo-Pak tussle since Pulwama and how this hyphenation has led to competitive photo-ops of diplomatic support. Even as KSA has stood by Indian leadership’s vital interests. However, the Pakistani leadership has been relentless in its attempts to appeal to the leader of the Islamic world for vital economic and diplomatic support, especially in context of the Kashmir situation. Even as Saudi Arabia has managed this delicate equation with deftness, it has given in to Pakistan’s economic demands while making a symbolic gesture of closeness by offering the private jet to Pakistani Prime Minister for his visit to the West. It doesn’t help that the Indian economy is going through a rough phase. However, the audacious announcement to invest $100 Billion in the fledgling Indian economy is a bold testament of the veritable and vibrant economic partnership between New Delhi and Riyadh. It is pertinent to note that in the contemporaneous challenges that the countries face, Iran as well as Pakistan emerge as key actors that affect the bilateral engagement in a pronounced manner.
Iran is India’s historic ally and third largest supplier of crude oil. However, the India-Iran relationship transcends oil. India, with an investment of $500 million, aims to develop Iran’s Chabahar port as a transit hub for Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Additionally, India is developing two gas fields, namely Farzad-B gas field located in Tehran and the South Pars field located between Iran and Qatar. These projects clearly highlight India’s long-term engagement with Iran. However, India’s muted response to US pressure has been causing slight tension in the bilateral relationship. Even though the top-level bilateral meeting between Indian premier Modi and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani was successful to diffuse tensions to an extent. The crisis in Yemen, oil trade and even India’s action in Kashmir continue to affect the relationship.
In this context, the challenges emanating from Turkey are also a sign of worry. Even as Turkey has remained an old ally of Pakistan and a supporter of the ‘Kashmiri’ cause, its open support for a rather lonely Pakistan should cause some worry in India’s strategic circles. This is because India has fine diplomatic relations with Turkey and has considerable economic and trade interests.
However, oil being an important consumer and agricultural good in India’s economy, it is important to secure its interests to have access to reliable and affordable Iranian crude oil. The trade negotiations and engagements with the US haven’t had any headway even as the threat of sanctions for buying oil from Iran continues. India could emerge as a trouble-solver in this context especially since this KSA-Iran conflict in oil supply context has global implications. PM Modi’s personal chemistry with the US leadership could be useful in this context.
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