In realist paradigm of International relations, one shall not solely trust the words of another state when it is a matter of a threat to national security. States can abrogate even a mutual pact when it is conflicting with their national interests. For instance, in December 1940, several sources warned Stalin about the imminent threat of a Nazi invasion, but he remained oblivious and assumed that Hitler would abide by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.
Keeping this in mind, how one can believe that a state having nuclear weapons will keep its words not to use these weapons in the time of crises? Indian’s pledge of No First Use (NFU) must be seen in the same limelight.
Since the inception of nuclear thinking in South Asia, Pakistan always questions the credibility about Indian nuclear doctrine and in recent years, there is a debate emerging within India to rethink the policy of NFU. BJP let the cat out of the bag by questioning NFU in its 2014 election manifesto and suggested the need to revise the nuclear doctrine because “the strategic gains acquired by India during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime on the nuclear programme have been frittered away by the Congress.”[i] Then after 2 years of silence on the subjected former defence minister Manohar Parrikar Stirred up a hullabaloo and challenged the pledge of NFU. Parrikar said, “Why a lot of people say that India has No First Use policy. Why should I bind myself to a…? I should say I am a responsible nuclear power and I will not use it irresponsibly.”[ii]
Most Recently, Vipin Narang a nuclear strategist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that India would preempt Pakistan’s first use doctrine and the preemptive first strike will aim for counterforce targets. He strengthens his argument by referring a book of Shivshankar Menon, who was National Security Adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.[iii] Whereas, Menon in an interview with Ajai Shukla said “India’s nuclear doctrine has far greater flexibility than it gets credit for”.[iv]
The revelations of Menon and Narang do not come as a surprise to Pakistan academic circles. Dr Mansoor Ahmed, postdoctoral Research fellow at Belfer Center of Harvard Kennedy School, already in June 2016 pointed out the transformation in New Delhi nuclear doctrinal thinking. He linked specific pattern of India’s force modernization with India willingness to preempt Pakistan’s tactical first use by counterforce strategy. Mansoor deliberated the developing tendencies in India strategic thinking and branded Pakistani tactical nuclear weapons TNWs as a force multiplier for India to rethink its dubious NFU and comprise flexible response options in its nuclear strategy.[v]
Dubious History of Indian Bomb
India always has had a perplexing association with nuclear weapons. Since 1947, the leaders of India especially Jawaharlal Nehru, was reluctant to pursue nuclear weapons and supported the cause of nuclear disarmament.[vi] Despite this stringent stance, on 18 May 1974, India conducted its first nuclear explosion with the code name “Smiling Buddha”.[vii] After this test, India marched towards an openly declared and operational nuclear capability and finally, on 14 May 1998 India tested five nuclear devices under code name “Operation Shakti”.[viii]
In a Statement to the parliament regarding Operation Shakti on May 27, 1998, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee categorized India as a responsible nuclear weapon power with the objective to use these weapons against aggressions from any country. He subjected these weapons for self-defence and displayed intend to not get involved in any arms race.[ix] Later, in December 1998, PM again addressed the parliament to elaborate some significant facets of country’s nuclear policy and formally announced a policy of No first use and non-use against non-nuclear weapon state. He added that India is not going to enter into any arms race with any country. India nuclear policy will be a minimum credible deterrent, which will safeguard India’s security, the security of one-sixth of humanity, now and into the future.”[x]
Foreign Minister of Vajpayee government Jaswant Singh in an interview clarified the concept of a minimum credible deterrent. He said that the word minimum in defining credible deterrence is not constant in terms of physical calculation. This type of policy approach will always be dictated by determining security environment, in the context of emerging threats. Therefore, minimum demand will be reassessed and altered according to needs of the security establishment. The only principle to determine the policy regarding nuclear weapons is “national interests.”[xi]
In 1999, the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) was the group responsible for creating the Indian nuclear policy generated a doctrine. This group was comprised of non-governmental experts. The government of India then declared the recommendations given by experts as an unofficial doctrine. The advisory board recommended credible minimum nuclear deterrence and adhered a policy of NFU. The drafted report had legitimated a reserved right of using nuclear weapons against those non-nuclear weapons state allied to adversaries containing nukes. Meanwhile, the report depicts that, “India will not resort to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against States which do not possess nuclear weapons, or are not aligned with nuclear weapon powers.”[xii] The angle of using nukes against non-nuclear states was a close copy of concept related to negative security assurances of U.S. presented in the 1980s.[xiii]
In December 2002, the NSAB was praising a comprehensive desertion of NFU by New Delhi.[xiv] However, in January 2003 the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had reviewed India’s nuclear doctrine with respect to operational arrangements. The CCS recommended credible minimum deterrent and allowed NFU posture. Whereas, the committee explicitly stated that India would not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states unless a major biological or chemical weapons attack took place against Indian forces anywhere will invoke a retaliating with nuclear weapons.[xv]
A critical analysis of 2003 CCS recommendations reveals numbers of important shifts in India’s nuclear policy. First, there was a major swing from strict minimum posture to a more flexible approach of credible nuclear deterrence. Including the word “credible” in deterrence posture means that India in future will review its nuclear arsenal size accordingly to the strategic environment and postures of India’s nuclear neighbours. Second, India claims of following a strict unconditional NFU policy fell apart when NSAB allowed First Use of nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear weapon country who are not aligned with a country possessing nuclear weapons. Third, alteration in India’s nuclear policy was the clear stance to use nuclear weapons first in response to biological or chemical weapons attack.[xvi]
First Use versus No First Use
A nuclear doctrine defines a specific framework for a country that entails a set of contingency plans for the use of nuclear weapons in harmony with the changed strategic environment, both internationally and regionally.[xvii] In the broader context, a nuclear doctrine could be separated into two main categories “the first use” and “NFU” of the nuclear arsenal, in order to guarantee the existence and augmentation of credible deterrence. Although NFU comprises a persuaded instinctive moral appeal, Pakistan is unconvinced to this type of nuclear policy thinking. All other nuclear nations, with the exception of India and China, has a policy of first use of nuclear weapons as a reaction to any crisis or any misadventure against their sovereignty.
The major difference of nuclear doctrines between India and Pakistan can be quantified by answering one question; how these rivals will use nuclear weapons whenever a crisis emerge? Pakistan corresponded with the policy of using nuclear weapons first. Whereas India responded this question with NFU pledge.
Utilizing nuclear arsenals to compensate with conventional asymmetry is not something new and it has been obvious with policies of many nuclear weapons states. Using nuclear weapons first to balance conventional asymmetry was a long-standing nuclear policy of NATO amid the Cold War.[xviii] When USSR disintegrated and with inferior conventional forces, Russia emerged on the world map; Moscow expressly renounced the NFU promise guaranteed by the USSR.[xix] Whereas, France holds a strategy of calculated ambiguity with respect to the first use of nuclear weapons.[xx] The more accurate instance of using nuclear weapons to offset the misbalance in conventional strength is Pakistan and it took the path similar to NATO, Russia and France.
Islamabad seems to view its strategic weapons as a balance to India’s huge conventional gains. Whereas, even Israel may fall into the classification of using nuclear weapons to counter conventional superiority of rival states. Despite the fact that Israel still not in a position to categories as an inferior state compared to its neighbours in the military sense, but it is encompassed by threatening states who are much bigger and possibly more intense, particularly in the event of alliance formation against Tel Aviv.[xxi]
Hypothetically, the first use of nuclear weapons will probably prompt an uncontrolled escalation of events to the extent that rivals could decimate each other. Notwithstanding the will to employ nuclear weapons ‘first’ can be used as a deterrent against conventional and nuclear aggressions from a hostile state. It is very difficult to develop a proportional conventional symmetry to compete with a rival, who has larger resources to feed its conventional forces; in this sense, the will of early utilization of nuclear weapons is a compensation to inferior conventional forces.[xxii]
The threat of using nuclear weapons cannot be simply eradicated by a declared policy of NFU. However, the uncertainty and trust deficit related to NFU would perhaps have some deleterious impact on deterrence. While NFU has an assured innate fascination for strategists, it is a flawed idea. First, nuclear deterrence can only be established when there is a considerable threat of nuclear escalation during any crisis. Second, NFU is a dangerous deception and there is no assurance that even a country that has given such a pledge will not use nuclear weapons in a crisis. For instance, the Soviet Union in June 1982, had taken a unilateral pledge for not relying on the first use of nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, the Warsaw pacts records related to military accords fell into German hands clearly demonstrate that Russians were at the onset of their operation plans in using nuclear and chemical weapons against Germany.[xxiii] Similarly, Barkha Dutt in her book revealed that despite NFU, India had been threatening Pakistan with the use of nuclear weapons during Kargil conflict.[xxiv]
Even many who considered the first use of nuclear weapons as unwise and unnecessary by any state still oppose the NFU’s commitment to the grounds that it would reduce enemy’s uncertainties. For example, Seth Corpse, argues against the dependence of nuclear weapons or the use of it, however, asserts that U.S. should not rule out the use of nuclear weapons altogether. Uncertainty about U.S. nuclear retaliation still forces an adversary to ruminate seriously and this argument has some merit.[xxv]
Deterrence is psychological approach and envisioning threat of First Use as a nuclear warfighting doctrine is an effort to oversimplify the situation. Whereas, the signalling to use nuclear weapons first will certainly demotivate a rival to initiate a conventional attack. Critical analysis of historical conflicts manifested that nuclear weapons have no practical utility and these weapons thwarted many conventional wars and nuclear attacks.[xxvi] In this context former Air Force Chief of Staff, General Larry Welch adeptly summed up that “I would argue that we have used the nuclear forces every second of every day for 50 years.”[xxvii]
There is a constant debate persists within India to depart from the strict nuclear NFU policy and to adopt a doctrine that comprises the obvious threat of first use, especially to address the asymmetry with China and for countering Pakistani TNWs. There was a pressure building up on Indian government since 2002 to reject the assurance of NFU. The board, headed by C V Ranganathan, recommended in 2002 “India must consider withdrawing from this commitment as the other nuclear weapons’ states have not accepted this policy.”[xxviii] If India reconsiders its nuclear posture then this will not be the first time that a state altered its nuclear doctrine. For instance, two nuclear states Russia (in the 1990s) and India (in 2003), have already changed their NFU doctrinal proposal as compared to their initial policy position regarding nuclear weapons.[xxix]
The idea to exploit nuclear weapons as a deterrent against conventional attack is the more honest one than the hypocrisy of NFU pledge. The NFU is merely a pretext to portray an image of responsible nuclear state since no state actually wants to start a nuclear war. No matter how one will elaborate this concept, under a “no-first-use” commitment, the deterrence will be effective when a state will admit that the use of nuclear weapons is indispensable be it a second strike.
In near future, this is highly possible that India vacates its pledge of NFU against Pakistan and China. In spite of India’s pledge of NFU, Indian domestic politics and changing strategic dynamics are contemplating an alarming change in the strategic thinking of India to shift its approach towards NFU. Whereas, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons policy, in spite of any claim tossed by its authorities, will remain intricately associated with India’s strategic thinking. Therefore, any alteration in India military or nuclear posture will directly effect on Pakistan security doctrine.
[i] “Will Revise India’s ‘No First Use’ Nuclear Policy, Says BJP”. 2017. Indiatvnews, 8 April 2014. http://www.indiatvnews.com/news/india/will-revise-india-s-no-first-use-nuclear-policy-says-bjp-35247.html
[ii] “Manohar Parrikar Questions India’S No-First-Use Nuclear Policy, Adds ‘My Thinking.” The Indian Express. 11 November 2016 http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/manohar-parrikar-questions-no-first-use-nuclear-policy-adds-my-thinking-4369062/
[iii] Raj, Yashwant. “India Could Strike Pakistan With Nuclear Weapons If Threatened, Says Expert.” Hindustan Times, 21 March 2017. http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-could-strike-pakistan-with-nuclear-weapons-if-threatened-says-expert/story-P5N8QuKOldxAJ9UPjboijM.html
[iv] Shukla, Ajai. “Will India Nuke Pakistani Cities, Or Go For Its Nuclear Arsenal?” Business Standard 20 March 2017. http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/will-india-nuke-pakistani-cities-or-go-for-its-nuclear-arsenal-117031700921_1.html
[v] Ahmed, Mansoor. “Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons and Their Impact on Stability.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 30 June 2016. http://carnegieendowment.org/2016/06/30/pakistan-s-tactical-nuclear-weapons-and-their-impact-on-stability-pub-63911
[vi] “India’s Nuclear Weapons Program – The Beginning: 1944-1960.”Nuclearweaponarchive.Org, 30 March 2001. http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/India/IndiaOrigin.html
[vii] “18 May 1974 – Smiling Buddah: CTBTO Preparatory Commission.” Ctbto.Org, 2016. https://www.ctbto.org/specials/testing-times/18-may-1974-smiling-buddah/
[viii] John F. Burns, “India Sets 3 Nuclear Blasts, Defying a Worldwide Ban; Tests Bring a Sharp Outcry,” The New York Times, May 12, 1998, World edition, sec. News http://www.nytimes.com/1998/05/12/world/india-sets-3-nuclear-blasts-defying-a-worldwide-ban-tests-bring-a-sharp-outcry.html
[ix] Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, “Suo Motu Statement in Parliament.” 27 May 1998. http://www.acronym.org.uk/old/archive/spind.htm
[xi] Interview with Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, “India not to Engage in Nuclear Arms Race.” The Hindu. 29 November 1999; also see Krepon, Michael. “Pakistan’s Nuclear Strategy and Deterrence Stability.” Deterrence stability and escalation control in South Asia (2012): 41-64.
[xii] “Draft Report of National Security Advisory Board on Indian Nuclear Doctrine.” Ministry of External Affairs, 17 August 1999. http://mea.gov.in/in-focus-article.htm?18916/Draft+Report+of+National+Security+Advisory+Board+on+Indian+Nuclear+Doctrine
[xiv] Dutta, Sujan. “Rethink on no-first-use doctrine.” Telegraph India, 14 June 2003. https://www.telegraphindia.com/1030114/asp/nation/story_1571767.asp
[xv] Press Information Bureau Releases, “Cabinet Committee on Security Reviews Progress in Operationalizing India’s Nuclear Doctrine.” 4 January 2003. http://pib.nic.in/archieve/lreleng/lyr2003/rjan2003/04012003/r040120033.html
[xvii] Khan, Zafar. “Emerging Shifts in India’s Nuclear Policy: Implications for Minimum Deterrence in South Asia,” Institute Of Strategic Studies Islamabad 34, no. 1 (2014). http://issi.org.pk/?p=2362
[xix] “Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation,” Approved President of the Russian Federation V. Putin, 26 December 2014. https://www.offiziere.ch/wp-content/uploads-001/2015/08/Russia-s-2014-Military-Doctrine.pdf
[xx] “White Paper on Defence and National Security.” RP France, 29 April 2013. http://www.rpfrance-otan.org/White-Paper-on-defence-and
[xxiv] “India Was Ready To Cross Loc, Use Nuclear Weapons In Kargil War.” Business Standard. 3 December 2015. http://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/india-was-ready-to-cross-loc-use-nuclear-weapons-in-kargil-war-115120300518_1.html
[xxvi] Creveld, Martin. “These Nuclear Weapons Are Preventing A War.” Telegraph. 26 May 2002. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/3577065/These-nuclear-weapons-are-preventing-a-war.html.
[xxvii] Pampe, Carla. “Conference Room Dedicated To Former AF Chief Of Staff.” Air Force Global Strike Command, 29 August 2012. http://www.afgsc.af.mil/News/ArticleDisplay/tabid/2612/Article/454795/conference-room-dedicated-to-former-af-chief-of-staff.aspx
[xxviii] Praful Bidwai “Nuclear South Asia: Still On the Edge.” Frontline.In, January 2003. http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2002/stories/20030131007211600.htm
[xxix] Sagan, Scott D. “The Case for No First Use.” Survival 51, no. 3 (2009): 163-82. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00396330903011545
Opposing Hindutava: US conference raises troubling questions
Controversy over a recent ‘Dismantling Global Hindutava’ conference that targeted a politically charged expression of Hindu nationalism raises questions that go far beyond the anti-Muslim discriminatory policies of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and ruling party.
The conference and responses to it highlight a debilitating deterioration in the past two decades, especially since 9/11, of the standards of civility and etiquette that jeopardize civil, intelligent, and constructive debate and allow expressions of racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes to become mainstream.
Organizers of the conference that was co-sponsored by 53 American universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers, insisted that they distinguish between Hinduism and Hindutava, Mr. Modi’s notion of Hindu nationalism that enables discrimination against and attacks on India’s 200 million Muslims.
The distinction failed to impress critics who accused the organizers of Hinduphobia. Some critics charged that the framing of the conference demonstrated a pervasiveness of groupthink in academia and an unwillingness to tackle similar phenomena in other major religions, particularly Islam.
The campaign against the conference appeared to have been organized predominantly by organizations in the United States with links to militant right-wing Hindu nationalist groups in India, including some with a history of violence. The conference’s most militant critics threatened violence against conference speakers and their families, prompting some participants to withdraw from the event.
Opponents of political Islam noted that Western academia has not organized a similar conference about the politicization of the faith even though powerful states like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have lobbied Western capitals against the Muslim Brotherhood and its Turkish and Qatari supporters with notable successes in France, Austria, Belgium and Britain.
Academia was likely to have been hesitant to tackle political Islam because Islamophobia is far more prevalent than Hinduphobia.
Moreover, perceptions of political Islam, are far more complex and convoluted. Islam is frequently conflated with political expressions and interpretations of the faith run a gamut from supremacist and conservative to more liberal and tolerant. They also lump together groups that adhere and respect the election process and ones that advocate violent jihad.
Scholars and analysts declared an end to political Islam’s heyday with the military coup in Egypt in 2013 that toppled Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brother, who was elected president in Egypt’s first and only free and fair poll. Political Islam’s alleged swansong loomed even larger with this year’s setbacks for two of the most moderate Islamist political parties in Tunisia and Morocco as well as hints that Turkey may restrict activities of Islamists operating in exile from Istanbul.
A more fundamental criticism of the framing of the Hindutava conference is its failure to put Hindutava in a broader context.
That context involves the undermining of the social cohesion of societies made up of collections of diverse ethnic and religious communities since Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
The attacks fueled the rise of ultra-nationalism and politicized expressions of religious ultra-conservatism not only in the Hindu world but also in the worlds of other major religions.
These include politicized ultra-conservative Islam, politicized Evangelism and Buddhist nationalism. Right-wing religious nationalism in Israel, unlike Islamism and politicized Evangelism, is shaped by ultra-nationalism rather than religious ultra-conservatism.
The worlds of religious ultra-nationalism and politicized expressions of religious ultra-conservatism are often mutually reinforcing.
Scholar Cynthia Miller-Idriss’s assessment of the impact of Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on the United States is equally true for India or Europe.
“In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the rise of violent jihadism reshaped American politics in ways that created fertile ground for right-wing extremism. The attacks were a gift to peddlers of xenophobia, white supremacism, and Christian nationalism: as dark-skinned Muslim foreigners bent on murdering Americans, Al-Qaeda terrorists and their ilk seemed to have stepped out of a far-right fever dream,” Ms. Miller-Idriss said.
“Almost overnight, the United States and European countries abounded with precisely the fears that the far-right had been trying to stoke for decades,” she added.
The comparison of politically charged militant nationalist and ultra-conservative expressions of diverse religions takes on added significance in a world that has seen the emergence of civilizationalist leaders.
Scholar Sumantra Bose attributes the rise of religious nationalism in non-Western states like Turkey and India to the fact that they never adopted the Western principle of separation of state and church.
Instead, they based their secularism on the principle of state intervention and regulation of the religious sphere. As a result, the rejection of secularism in Turkey and India fits a global trend that conflates a dominant religious identity with national identity.
Sarah Kamali, the author of a recently published book that compares militant white nationalists to militant Islamists in the United States, notes similar patterns while drawing parallels between far-right xenophobes and militant Islamists.
Militant Islamists’ “sense of victimhood […] is similar to that of their White nationalist counterparts in that [it] is constructed and exploited to justify their violence… Both mutually – and exclusively – target America for the purpose of claiming the nation as theirs and theirs alone, either as a White ethno-state or as part of a global caliphate,” Ms. Kamali writes.
Similarly, the Taliban defeat of a superpower energized militant Islamists, as well as proponents of Hindutava, with Islamophobic narratives spun by Mr. Modi’s followers gaining new fodder with the assertion that India was being encircled by Muslim states hosting religious extremists.
“Modi is essentially helping the recruitment of…jihadist groups by taking such a hard, repressive line against the Islamic community in India, who are now being forced to see themselves being repressed,” said Douglas London, the CIA’s counter-terrorism chief for South and South-West Asia until 2019.
Panjshir – the last stronghold of democracy in Afghanistan
The Taliban’s rapid advance in Afghanistan has briefly stalled only in the face of strong resistance mounted by the people of the country’s recalcitrant mountainous province of Panjshir. Whoever controls the region’s passes controls the routes leading to China and Tajikistan, but to seize this mountain valley and, most importantly, to keep it permanently under control has always been a problem for all invaders. Eager to let the international community see for the first time in 40 years a united Afghanistan as a sign of their final victory, the radical Islamists were prepared to make any sacrifices, including filling the approaches to the Panjshir Valley up with dead bodies. Moreover, the Taliban’s longtime ally Pakistan, which, regardless of its status of an ally of the United States, has provided them with direct military support. In fact, Islamabad admitted its less than successful role when it proposed signing a truce to find and take out the bodies of its special Ops forces who had died during the attack on the valley. However, drones flown by Pakistani operators, professional commandos (possibly once trained by the Americans), air support and other pleasant gifts from the allies eventually bore fruit letting the Taliban be photographed in front of the mausoleum of Ahmad Shah Massoud Sr., the famous “Lion of Panjshir,” who controlled the valley from 1996 to 2001. The Islamists also took control of the province’s central city of Bazarak.
Having deprived the province much of its Internet access, the radicals, who control most of the Afghan territory, found it easier to wage an information war. Their claims of victories were now more difficult to contest, even though information about their retreat did reach the outside world. Reflective of the heavy losses suffered for the first time by the Taliban and their allies – the Haqqani Network and other remnants of al-Qaeda, as well as by the regular Pakistani army is the brief truce arranged by Islamabad. Looks like the mountain passes leading to Panjshir were literally filled up with corpses…
As for Massoud Jr., the young lion of Panjshir, and his supporters, they retreated to the mountains. In fact, they had nowhere to fall back to. The problem of Afghanistan is its ethnic diversity. Thus, the country is home to 23 percent of ethnic Tajiks, most of whom live in the Panjshir Valley. However, the Taliban rely mainly on the Pashtuns, who account for over 50 percent of the country’s population. As for the new masters of Afghanistan, they are ready to carry out ethnic cleansings and even commit outright genocide in order to bring the valley into submission. To make this happen they are going to resettle there their fellow Pashtun tribesmen. Local men aged between 12 and 50 are already being taken away and, according to the National Resistance Front, no one has seen them again. However, due to the information blockade, the Taliban will not hesitate to refute such facts. One thing is clear: Massoud’s Tajik fighters and the government troops that joined them are fighting for their lives, and there will be no honorable surrender!
The main question now is whether the young lion of Panjshir will receive the same support as his father once did, or will find himself without ammunition and food. After all, the Taliban leaders have reached certain agreements with the United States. Suffice it to mention the numerous remarks made, among others, by President Biden himself about the Taliban now being different from what they were 20 years ago.
But no, the Taliban`s remain the same – they have only hired new PR people. Meanwhile, hating to admit their defeat, Brussels and Washington will have to engage in a dialogue with those who are responsible for the tragedy of September 11, 2001, and for the numerous terrorist attacks in Europe. The Taliban are pretending to make minor cosmetic concessions. Minor indeed, since they are still depriving women of the opportunity to work and study, destroying higher and secondary education and brutally clamping down on people who simply do not want to live according to religious norms.
The United States is actually helping the “new-look” Taliban. Their potential opponents, including the famous Marshal Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, left the country under various guarantees, and Washington is trying to keep them from any further participation in the conflict. Democratic politicians naively believe that by creating an Islamic state and ending the protracted civil war in Afghanistan the Taliban will ensure stability in the region and will not move any further. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan do not think so and are strengthening their borders and preparing to protect their Afghan compatriots, because they know full well that the Taliban`s are not a national political party; they are a radical Islamist ideology.
It knows no borders and spreads like a cancerous tumor, destroying all pockets of Western culture. It can only be stopped by force. However, the two decades of US military presence in Afghanistan showed that Washington, which quickly took control of the country in 2001, simply had no strategy to keep it. The Afghans were given nothing that would appear to them more attractive than the ideas of radical Islam. As a result, the few Afghans who embrace European values are fleeing the country, and those who, like Massoud Jr., decided to fight for their freedom, now risk being left to face their enemy all by themselves.
Misjudgements in India’s Afghan policy
India’s Afghan policy has always been obsessed with the desire to deny Pakistan the “strategic depth” that Pakistan, according to India’s perception, yearns. If India had a pragmatic policy, it would not have found itself whimpering and whining like a rueful baby over spilt milk.
India supported the invasion of Afghanistan by both the former Soviet Union and the USA, both losers. President Trump mocked Modi for having built a library for the Afghan people. Trump expected India to contribute foot soldiers, and by corollary, body packs to the Afghan crisis. India played all the tricks up its sleeves to convince the USA to make India a party to the US-Taliban talks. But the USA ditched not only Modi but also Ashraf Ghani to sign the Doha peace deal with the Taliban.
India’s external affairs minister still calls the Taliban government “a dispensation”. Interestingly, the USA has reluctantly accepted that the Taliban government is a de facto government.
The United Nations’ Development Programme has portrayed a bleak situation in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is faced with multifarious challenges. These include prolonged drought and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, upheaval caused by the current political transition: frozen foreign reserves, and rising poverty.
About 47 per cent of its people live below the dollar-a-day poverty line. If the poverty line is pushed to $2 a day, 90 per cent of Afghans would be poor. About 55 per cent of Afghans are illiterate.
Ninety seven percent of the population is at risk of sinking below the poverty line, As such, Afghanistan teeters on the brink of universal poverty. Half of the population is already in need of humanitarian support. The UNDP has proposed to access the most vulnerable nine million people by focusing on essential services, local livelihoods, basic income and small infrastructure.
Currently, the gross national product of Afghanistan is around $190 billion, just a little more than the $160 billion economy of Dhaka city. The country’s legal exports of goods and services every year account for $1 billion. It imports$6 billion worth of goods and services every year.
About 80 per cent of world production of opium comes from Afghanistan. Every year, Afghanistan produces nearly 10,000 tons of opium and the revenue generated from it amounts to $7 billion approximately. About 87 per cent of the income of opium producing farmers comes exclusively from this single product. The illicit opium export by Afghanistan is worth $2 billion every year. The role of opium is significant.
About 80 per cent of public expenditure in this country is funded by grants. Since 2002, the World Bank has provided Afghanistan with a total of $5.3 billion as development and emergency relief assistance. The IMF earmarked for Afghanistan $400 million in Special Drawing Rights (SDR) for combating the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.
The United States has frozen about $10 billion worth of Afghan assets held at various banks in Afghanistan. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has withdrawn the $400 million worth of SDRs allocated earlier to Afghanistan for addressing the Covid-19 crisis. The World Bank has not said anything as of yet, but it may also put restrictions on its funding to Afghanistan.
India’s lip service to Afghanistan
India provided around $3 billion in aid to fallen U.S.-backed Afghan government. It trained the Afghan army and police. But now it is not willing to pay or pledge a penny to the Taliban government. Look at the following Times of India report:
“India did not pledge any money to the Taliban ruled Afghanistan probably for the first time in 20 years. That it has not done so as Jaishanker declared … (At UN, India offers support to Afghanistan but does not pledge money. The Times of India September 14, 2021).–The Hindu, September 11, 2021
India’s tirade against Afghanistan
Indian policymakers and experts say they see no guarantees that Afghanistan won’t become a haven for militants. “Afghanistan may be poised to become a bottomless hole for all shades of radical, extremist and jihadi outfits somewhat similar to Iraq and Syria, only closer to India,” said Gautam Mukhopadhaya, who was India’s ambassador in Kabul between 2010 to 2013. He added that the Taliban victory could have an “inspirational effect” not only for Kashmir’s rebels but wherever religiously-driven groups operate in the broader region… Lt. Gen Deependra Singh Hooda, former military commander for northern India between 2014-2016, said militant groups based across the border in Pakistan would “certainly try and push men” into Kashmir, following the Taliban victory in Afghanistan (With Taliban’s rise, India sees renewed threat in Kashmir, Star Tribune September 14, 2021). “Meanwhile, Rajnath Singh conveyed to Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton that the rise of the Taliban raises serious security concerns for India and the region. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appealed for an injection of cash into Afghanistan to avoid an economic meltdown that would spark a “catastrophic” situation for the Afghan people and be a “gift for terrorist groups.”). Afghan economic meltdown would be ‘gift for terrorists,’ says U.N. chief” (The Hindu, September 11, 2021)
India’s former envoy to Kabul, Ambassador Gautam Mukhopadhyay is skeptical of the conciliatory statements by the taliban government. He advises: “We should welcome recent statements by Stanekzai and Anas Haqqani that suggest some independence from the ISI. But we should also ask some hard questions and judge them by their actions and words, and not let down our guard, both with regard to our multiple security concerns such as whether they can protect us from the Ias and ISI, sever ties with other terror groups, especially those supported by the ISI against India, deny Pakistan strategic depth, and preserve and build on our historic P2P and trade ties; and a genuinely inclusive govt in Afghanistan that accommodates the majority of Afghans who want the rights and freedoms enshrined in the 2004 Afghan Constitution or at least acceptable to the Afghan people.” (Taliban move to form govt, Naya Afghanistan brings new challenge for India, September 2, 2021).
India wants a “central role’ to be given to the UN in Afghanistan. India’s mumbo jumbo implies that Afghanistan should be made a UN protectorate. Indian media is never tired of calling the Afghan government a bunch of terrorists. They have even launched video games about it.
India needs to rethink how it can mend fences with Afghanistan that it regards a hothouse of terrorists.
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