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Pakistan’s security issues

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Remarks at ISAS Panel Discussion: Pakistan in challenging times, 25 August 2017

The facetious answer to the question, what security challenges Pakistan faces is where does one start. One place to start is with the structural issues that underlie the multiple dangers Pakistan confronts. What that does, is help Pakistan as well as the various external powers involved in Pakistani security understand drivers and formulate policies. It also lays bare some uncomfortable truths, truths many Pakistanis prefer not to acknowledge.

Jumping the gun, one thing a look at Pakistan’s structural issues does, is explain why US policy has failed and why the course President Donald J. Trump intends to chart will fail. It also leads to the suggestion that the approach of China will fail despite its support for Pakistani rejection of US allegations of Pakistani support for militancy.

The most immediate uncomfortable truth is that it is virtually impossible to separate Pakistan’s domestic security concerns from its external ones. Not because they can be dismissed as the result of foreign interference but because they are often the legacy of past policies.

Pakistanis with good reason point to US and Saudi policies dating back to the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, if not earlier. That is beyond doubt. It however is also an argument that conveniently allows its proponents to distract from the fact that Pakistan was and is a full partner in the execution of those policies, not simply either the victim or the poorly acknowledged facilitator. With other words, Pakistan is and was the ultimate arbitrator of its history and shares equal responsibility for the consequences of its decisions.

Similarly, there is no doubt that Pakistan is located in a volatile part of the world. It shares borders with Afghanistan that has been in the throes of war and insurgency for decades, Iran, and an increasingly nationalist India. It is a stone’s throw from the Gulf and is one of two regional nuclear powers. Having said that, Pakistan’s legitimate security concerns are as much a function of its geography as they are problems of its own making.

There is equally no doubt that Pakistan has suffered significantly and continues to suffer from political violence. And indeed, Pakistan has done much to crackdown on militant groups. The political divide emerges over the question whether the Pakistani crackdown is comprehensive, targeting without qualification all militant groups, irrespective of who they are and what their goals are. It doesn’t. Pakistan, to its credit as well as to its detriment, makes no bones about this. In fact, this approach has become so deeply engrained that it is difficult to reverse, will not be changed by US sanctions, and ultimately will come to haunt Pakistan.

Decades of Pakistani support for various groups in support of its approach to Kashmir, its filtering of much of its threat perception through the prism of challenges posed by India, concern about vulnerabilities that arise from ethnic unrest and neglect in Balochistan, and abetting and aiding of Saudi policies, has created demons that lead their own life. To be sure, US policy, including the prescriptions recently laid out by President Trump do little to help Pakistan work through issues, take a step back, and look at alternative ways of enhancing domestic and external security. In fact, Trump’s policies threaten to harden existing differences and exacerbate regional tensions. In short, one is likely to see more of the same even if in some cases, indications are that Pakistan is adopting innovative approaches.

One such approach is evident in the case of Jamaat ud-Dawa, a group that is widely viewed as a front for Lashkar e-Taibe, a globally proscribed organization, and led by Hafez Saeed, who has been designated a terrorist under international law by the United Nations. For much of the past year, Saeed has been under house arrest rather than in prison. Jamaat-ud-Dawa has been allowed to continue operations. Treating Jamaat-ud-Dawa with kid gloves is but one issue that has raised questions about the sincerity and comprehensiveness of the Pakistani crackdown. Yet, a decision by the group to create a political party has sparked debate about how to deal with militancy in Pakistan. Indeed, a successful transition towards pluralistic, political engagement that involves an absolute rejection of violence would significantly contribute to enhancing domestic security and could serve as a model for others.

The chances of Jamaat-ud-Dawa becoming a model case, however, are undermined by the fact that there is little indication that its transition is embedded in broader policies. There is also little indication that Pakistan has the political will to reshape the environment in which, at least tacitly, militancy is allowed to flourish. Decades of Pakistani and Saudi support of various strands of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism has woven that worldview into the fabric of significant segments of government, the military and society. It is a worldview that does not encourage pluralism, tolerance and competitive, political engagement.

Granted, it is easy to look in from the outside and be critical. Similarly, tackling legacies is easier said than done. It is easy to criticize the US for invading Afghanistan in 2001 and having been engaged in a war ever since that has only served to exacerbate threats to regional and Pakistani security and that the United States ultimately cannot win. The problem is, one has to deal with the cards one is dealt. Without going into great depth, one could argue that the US in 2001 had no choice in Afghanistan in contrast to the invasion of Iraq two years later. Diplomatic engagement with the Taliban would have been the preferred route were it not for the fact that US and Taliban officials had been secretly meeting in various world capitals ever since the 1998 attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-e-Salaam. The negotiations were going nowhere. 9/11 left the US with no choice. The result is a poorly executed war and at best half-hearted attempts to rebuild Afghanistan – a sine qua non for creating the economic, social and political conditions to put an end to the violence. Multiple proxy wars, including the one between Pakistan and India, have only contributed to a situation that progressively deteriorates.

None of this detracts from Pakistan’s inability to project the image of a state that has zero tolerance for political violence and is selective in its confrontation of militancy. Doubts about the comprehensiveness of the Pakistani approach are fed by multiple factors, ranging from the lack of political will to seriously tackle educational reform to failing to even project an image of a state that at the very least goes through the motions of confronting all militancy, to turning a blind eye when it suits the state’s purpose. The risks are huge and could threaten what Pakistan sees as a lifeline, its all-weather friendship with China and China’s multi-billion-dollar investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Reports that Saudi Arabia and Iran are about to exchange diplomatic visits justify a degree of optimism that the kingdom may, at least for now, shelve plans to use Balochistan as a spring plank for efforts to destabilize Iran. The reports are bolstered by leaked emails that quote Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as saying that he would favour US engagement with Iran. Time will tell. There is much that calls into question how serious talk of reduced tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran is, something that Pakistani security would greatly benefit from.

Nonetheless, Pakistani policy in dealing with the potential threat of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry playing out in part in a crucial, but already troubled province raises similar doubts. For much of the past year, Pakistan has turned a blind eye to the flow of Saudi funds to militants, some of whom are associated with outlawed groups such as the successors of Sipah-e-Sabaha and madrassas in Balochistan that nurture, violent anti-Iranian, anti-Shiite groups. The funds are often channelled through Saudis of Baloch descent.

Pakistan’s response to the US Treasury’s designation in May of Maulana Ali Muhammad Abu Turab as a specially designated terrorist is a case in point. The response highlighted the murky world of Pakistani militancy in which the lines between various groups are fluid, links to government are evident, and battles in Pakistan and Afghanistan and potentially Iran are inter-linked. To be sure, the US Treasury’s designation is not legally binding on Pakistan. Nonetheless, Pakistan would have gained much from being seen to take note of the designation and publicly look into the Treasury’s allegations. It did nothing of the kind, putting out at best a meek statement.

Abu Turab is a prominent Pakistani Islamic scholar of Afghan descent who serves on a government-appointed religious board, the Council of Islamic Ideology; maintains close ties to Saudi Arabia, runs a string of madrassas attended by thousands of students along Balochistan’s border with Afghanistan and is a major fund raiser for militant groups. A leader of Ahl-i-Hadith, a Saudi-supported Pakistani Wahhabi group, board member of Pakistan’s Saudi-backed Paigham TV, and head of the Saudi-funded Movement for the Protection of the Two Holy Cities, Abu Turab was designated on the very day he was on a fund-raising trip to the kingdom.

The Treasury described Abu Turab as a “facilitator…(who) helped…raise money in the Gulf and supported the movement of tens of thousands of dollars from the Gulf to Pakistan.”  The Treasury said funds raised by Abu Turab financed operations of various groups, including Jama’at ul Dawa, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, the Taliban; and the Islamic State’s South Asian wing. A suspension of Abu Turab’s membership of the Council of Islamic Ideology pending the outcome of an independent Pakistani investigation would have done much to enhance Pakistan’s credibility. The failure to do so says much about the structural problems that underlie Pakistan’s security dilemmas.

So does the curious case of Masood Azhar, whose group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, has been proscribed by the United Nations as well as Pakistan. It raises questions about China’s approach that frankly I am at a loss to explain. China, at the behest of Pakistan, has for the second time this year prevented the United Nations from listing Azhar as a globally designated terrorist. It strikes me that various justifications put forward, including China honouring a request by the Pakistani military, and seeing Azhar as a way to needle India, do not cut ice given the threat militancy in Pakistan poses to China’s vast interests in the country.

In the short term, Pakistan, which has rejected Trump’s allegations of Pakistani support for militancy as scapegoating, is likely to see its escape route as closer relations with China and perhaps Russia. Ultimately, however, Pakistan’s relationship to militancy is likely to also complicate its ties to Beijing and Moscow amid escalating violence in Balochistan and no end in sight to the militant insurgency in Afghanistan.

As a result, Pakistan’s refusal to confront its demons could in the final analysis leave it out in the cold: its relationship with the United States severely damaged, India strengthened by closer cooperation with the US, and China and Russia demanding that it do what Washington wanted in the first place. Pakistan is likely to have fewer, if any, options and no escape routes once China and Russia come to the conclusion Trump has already articulated.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

South Asia

A Peep into Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Tricky Relations with Afghan Taliban

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To understand the interesting relationship between the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as Pakistani Taliban, and the Afghan Taliban, one must look into the history to know how the linkages were developed between the two entities and why the Afghan Taliban are not responding in equal measures to take the decisive action against the TTP.

The TTP has waxed and waned over the years. Under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud (1972-2009), 13 militant outfits, some estimations guess 50, assembled in December 2007 to exact the revenge of the Lal Mosque operation. The Mehsud tribe of South Waziristan is the largest group in the TTP. There were many precursors group of the TTP, such as Sufi Muhammad (1933-2019) who established the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi and led thousands of militants against the occupational forces in Afghanistan. Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Mullah Nazir also joined the Baitullah-led TTP faction in 2008, both having links with Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan has launched several operations against them, namely Operation Rahe-e-Rast (2009), Rah-e-Najat (2009), Zarb-e-Azab (2014) and Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad (2017). In the past, Pakistan claimed a complete victory against the TTP.

The TTP orchestrated a campaign of suicide bombings against Pakistan from 2006 to 2009. On 16 December 2014, TTP gunmen stormed the Army Public School in the northern city of Peshawar and killed more than 150 people, while 132 of them were children. After the capture of Kabul by the Afghan Taliban, the TTP is active again and claiming it carried out 32 attacks in August 2021 against Pakistan. Islamabad and Beijing held the TTP responsible for the July 14 suicide attack that killed nine Chinese engineers working on a hydroelectric project in Kohistan district. Pakistan accuses the Indian secret agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) of funding and supporting the TTP. Reports confirm that the TTP has sanctuaries in Kunar and Nanghar provinces of Afghanistan.

It is very difficult to measure the relationship between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban. Michael Kugelman, Asian deputy director at Washington Wilson Centre says, “The two groups have been separated from the same ideological cloth.” For the Afghan Taliban, the TTP has boosted their membership. For the TTP, the Afghan Taliban enhanced their resources and legitimacy. The factor of having links with the TTP reduces the Afghan Taliban’s chances to rely on Pakistan.

The TTP is eager to show its relations with the Afghan Taliban. TTP’s media showed the pictures of Hakim Mullah Mehsud and Maulvi Nazir with Mullah Sangeen Zardan, a key commander of the Haqqani network. Thomas Johnson, a professor at Naval Postgraduate School, says, “At one time, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are related groups. The TTP emerged from the Afghan Taliban around 7-10 years ago. Initially, it supported the Afghan Taliban against the USA and the NATO.” Like the Afghan Taliban, the TTP has established its links with Al Qaeda; however, its main branch still adheres to the Afghan Taliban.

The TTP members were trained and educated at the same religious seminaries that produced the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan’s long ties with the Taliban might have generated hopes that the Islamist group would help rein in the TTP’s cross-border violent activities from their Afghan hideouts. But they say those expectations could be shattered, citing the ideological affinity between the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban.

The Afghan Taliban also released 800 TTP militants, including its deputy chief Maulvi Faqir Muhammad. According to a recent report prepared for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan Taliban have carried on “relations mainly as before”. The TTP supported the Afghan Taliban militarily against the Afghan government forces in the recent takeover. TTP’s new rhetoric is consistent with the Afghan Taliban’s position of not recognizing the Durand Line as a legal border and opposing its fencing by Pakistan because it has divided the Pashtun tribes.

Amir Rana, Director at Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), says, “The Afghan Taliban triumph has emboldened Islamic militants, including those in the TTP and boosted their morale. The wooing back of the disgruntled group and release of prisoners have increased TTP’s capability and military strength, hindering Pakistan’s efforts to eradicate terrorism within its borders.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, Spokesperson for the Afghan Taliban, said in an interview, “The relationship between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban will continue to be dictated by religious-ideological convergence, ethnic-fraternal linkages and close camaraderie.” But he denied there was any collaboration between them. The Afghan Taliban and the TTP known to share the ideal of governing by ‘sharia’ or Islamic law. However, the Afghan Taliban have not spoken openly against the TTP.

Michael Kugelman commented, “For Pakistan, getting the Taliban to curb the TTP amounts to a daunting task. The TTP has long been allied with the Afghan Taliban, and it has partnered operationally with them. The Taliban are not known for denying space to its militant allies, and I do not see the TTP being an exception to the rule.”

The TTP has rejected Islamabad’s amnesty overtures. In an exclusive interview with Japan’s oldest newspaper Mainchi Shimbun, TTP leader Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud welcomed the Taliban return to power in Afghanistan after 20 years of absence. “We are hopeful for a strong relationship between two of us. The TTP views the Doha Accord 2020 as a major win for all the Jihadists and their ideology.”

The TTP also differs from the Afghan Taliban in its goals and attitude toward the Pakistan government. In 2009, the Afghan Taliban denied having ties with the TTP attack on civilians. Some Afghan Taliban have sympathies with the TTP. But it is clear that the Afghan Taliban do not want to develop their official ties with the TTP, and nor do they want to be involved in the tussle between the TTP and Pakistan government. Its permissive treatment of the TTP could be a matter of internal politics. Cracking down on foreign fighters might create rifts in the rank and file of the Afghan Taliban who view these fighters as brothers in arms.

Columnist Kamran Yousuf writes in Express Tribune, “Pakistan has handed over to the Taliban ‘a list of most wanted’ terrorists affiliated with the banned TTP. Islamabad seeks a decisive action against them. Hibatullah Akhundzada, supreme commander of the Afghan Taliban, has established a three-member commission to investigate the Pakistan claims. Afghan Taliban leaders Mullah Umar and Sirajuddin Haqqani had repeatedly attempted to convince the TTP to focus on the Afghan Jihad. But these efforts had always been fruitless because waging of the Jihad against Pakistan forms the basis for TTP’s separate identity.

Noor Wali Mehsud said, “We will free our land region from the occupation of Pakistan forces and will never surrender to their atrocious rule. We want to live on our land according to the Islamic law and tribal traditions. We are the Muslims and the Pashtuns. The independence of Pakhtunkhwa and Pashtun tribal areas is national and religious duty of all Pashtuns.” (DAWN, 23 March)

Another possible and perhaps more likely outcome is that the Afghan Taliban avoid interference in the TTP-Pakistan conflict, preferring to stay neutral and maintain their historical ties with the TTP as well as Pakistan.

Zabihullah Mujahid noted, “The issue of the TTP is one that Pakistan will have to deal with, not Afghanistan. It is up to Pakistan, and Pakistani ulema and religious figures, not the Taliban, to decide on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of their war and to formulate a strategy in response.” (Geo TV, Aug 28)

Noor Wali Mehsud said, in a recent interview with CNN, that his group will continue its war against Pakistan security forces and its goal is to take control and free the border region. Mehsud also admitted that his group has a good relation with the Afghan Taliban, hoping to benefit from their victories across the border.

Despite an ideological convergence, there appears many differences between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban condemned the killing of children in APS Peshawar. Condemning the attack, Zabihullah Mujahid said, “The killing of innocent people, children and women are against the basic teachings of Islam and this criterion should be considered by every Islamic party and government.”

The Afghan Taliban emerged in 1990, while the TTP in 2007. The TTP has a separate chain of command. Although the two groups’ aims overlap, they do not match. The TTP, unlike the Afghan Taliban, has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the US. The two has different sponsors. The TTP is closer to the global jihadist agenda of targeting the far enemy. The Time Square bombing in 2010 and killing of Chinese nationals are the examples in this regard.

Both work with Al Qaeda. In the case of the TTP, this relation is stronger. Al Qaeda has played an instrumental role in the foundation, rise and expansion of the TTP. Although both are the Pashtuns, but the Taliban belong to Afghan tribes and the TTP is from the Mehsud tribe. The Afghan Taliban are more unified than the TTP.

Asfandyar Mir, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University for International Security and Cooperation, said, “Both Jalal and Siraj Haqqani mediated ‘jirgas’ to resolve the organizational issues and factionalism in the TTP.”

The TTP has also tried to diversify its recruitment and banned groups like the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) as well as Balochistan insurgency. The TTP makes it clear that ‘it does not entirely agree with the ideology of those movements but has sympathies with those being targeted by Pakistan establishment’. (Faran Jeffery)

The Diplomat reported that the Haqqani-sponsored talks between Pakistan and TTP had failed in 2020. The Taliban have generally been hesitant to push the TTP too hard. Rahimullah Yousufzai, a security analyst, said, “The Afghan Taliban, or for that matter, the Haqqani’s, could have done more to restraint the TTP from attacking Pakistan but that has not happened.” Asfandyar Mir said, “The Afghan Taliban have never meaningfully condemned or restrained the TTP from carrying out violence in Pakistan.” (TRT)

After the withdrawal of US-led coalition forces from Afghanistan, the evolving security situation of the region requires that Pakistan should play a more proactive role in manipulating this delicate balance between TTP and the Afghan Taliban. Otherwise, the chances of peace for the region are not sure.

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The Taliban-Afghanistan Dilemmas

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Source: Twitter

The Blitzkrieg winning back of Afghanistan by the Taliban with the concomitant US pullout established Taliban 2.0 in Kabul. But this has created a number of dilemmas for the stakeholding states. The latter include Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours, viz. Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, China in the northeast and Pakistan to the east. Russia is also affected since it considers former Central Asian Soviet republics like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as its backyard and since Moscow has its own share of extremist-secessionist problems in Chechnya. It is also worried about Islamic fundamentalism spreading to its Muslim population concentrated around its major cities and the Caucasus.

The dilemmas are as follows:

I. If the US-led withholding of economic aid and international recognition continues in essence, then conditions– as it is they are bad enough in Afghanistan—will further deteriorate. This will lead to greater hunger, unemployment and all-round economic deprivation of the masses. Such dystopia will generate more refugees in droves as well as terrorists who will spill out to seek greener pastures beyond the country’s borders.

Such condition will in turn mean a life-threatening headache for not only Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours like Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and Pakistan but also for more distant lands. The liberal democracies of Europe. Germany, France, Italy, the UK and others have already had their share of refugees—and terrorists—when waves from an unsettled Syria hit them way back in 2015. Chancellor Angela Merkel even decided to act magnanimously and opened Germany’s doors to a million fleeing the civil war in Syria. Such acceptance of refugees from Asia and Africa in Europe, however, boosted right-wing parties like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and other movements throughout that continent. As a result the easy cross-border movements within the European Union came to be partly restricted in order to keep unwanted refugees out. Calls went out for hardening the external borders of the EU against more refugee invasion. The EU also made arrangements with Turkey to absorb and manage the refugee onrush in exchange for fat amounts of the Euro.

The prospects of a second such wave of refugees desperate not only to escape the clutches of the medieval Taliban but to find a promising future and remarkably better living conditions in the advanced lands of Europe are giving nightmares to the governments of the latter countries.

There seems to be a growing consensus among many in the international community that not only purely humanitarian but also larger economic aid to the Taliban-run Afghanistan should be extended—and without delay, if only to keep a lid on refugees—and terrorists—spilling across the borders. Islamabad apparently scored a remarkable ‘victory’ over New Delhi when its protégé Taliban replaced the pro-Indian Ghani government. Nevertheless, it is worried about the spillover into its territory across the Durand Line to its west. Pakistan, hence, leads this school of thought most vociferously[i]. It fenced its border with Afghanistan to a significant extent in anticipation of more refugees pouring in.  It has been joined in the chorus by Russia, the EU, China, and others. China, for instance, has emphasized the need for releasing funds to Afghanistan at its talks with the G-20 on 23 September.[ii] However, no such stipulation is seen in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) declaration released at the Tajik capital Dushanbe on 17 September, though the document mentions explicitly the need for an “inclusive” government that includes the left-out minorities. India’s presence at the meet may have prevented the inclusion of a funds-release clause.

II. But even if the US unfreezes the $9.25 billion Afghan assets under its control, and allows the IMF and the World Bank to make available other funds and assets to the funds-starved Taliban’s Kabul, a major problem will still linger. This is the question of ‘inclusive’ government, which the Taliban had promised among other things in its February 2020 agreement with the USA at Doha. The composition of the current Taliban government shows the mighty influence of the hardliners within the Taliban, elements like the Haqqani network and the secretive hardcore Kandahar Shura—as opposed to the seemingly more moderate Pakistan-based Quetta Shura. The Prime Minister of Taliban 2.0, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, is on a UN-designated blacklist; its Interior Minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is on the top of the FBI’s most-wanted list with a multi-million dollars reward hanging over his head.  

Although the Taliban did not officially take a formal position, a member of the new government in Kabul has also defied calls from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and from other quarters for forming a more ‘inclusive’ government. That would mean more Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and women holding important positions in the government, a phenomenon markedly absent in the current governmental setup dominated by male Pashtuns. The Taliban member shot back that the current government was as much ‘inclusive’ as it was possible to make and that the Taliban did not care for others to dictate to it what kind of government would suit Afghanistan.

If Taliban 2.0 remains essentially as it is today, with the minorities ignored, this would still create unrest and insurgency in the country. A civil war in the not too distant a future cannot be ruled out. This is the reason that even Pakistan, which certainly would not like to see its protégé Taliban’s power diluted, keeps harping on the ‘inclusive’ clause along with Russia and others.

A civil war will not be confined within the boundaries of Afghanistan but will attract intervention by neighbouring states and other more distant stakeholders like the USA.  Tajikistan will continue to back the Tajiks living astride its southern border with Afghanistan. Uzbekistan will do the same with the Afghan Uzbeks. Shia Iran will  stand up for the Shia Hazaras while the Western world will, in general, wish to see ‘human rights’ and especially ‘women’s rights’ given full leeway. The Chinese seemed to have cut a deal. They would extend economic aid to Kabul in exchange for assurances that no terrorism or separatism would go out of Afghan territory.

But Taliban 2.0, despite its smooth assurances at Doha and elsewhere, shows no signs of stretching significantly from its understanding of the Sharia law, which it said it wished to uphold as a framework within which all these rights would be respected. There are reports that the US is in talks with Russia seeking a base on Russian territory or again in Tajikistan for its future ‘over-the-horizon’ operations in Afghanistan, starting with monitoring purposes.

In sum, while option I, outlined above, promises an immediate disaster for South Asia and even beyond, option II holds out  only marginally better prospects. It still has the Damocles’ sword of the probability of a civil war hanging over the head. The ideal solution would be to widen the Taliban 2.0 government to include the deprived minorities with an eye on keeping an effective lid on social instability. But the prospects for such a solution seem far-fetched, given the apparent domination of the hardliners in Taliban 2.0 and the long-standing animosity between the northern non-Pashtun Afghans and the Pashtun Taliban.. Also, the attacks by other extremist groups like the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), al Qaeda, and the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) and so on will unlikely cease, even if option II is fully implemented. These extra-Taliban extremist groups will only encourage the radical elements within the Taliban to opt for more aggressive actions, both within and outside Afghanistan’s borders.

The future in and around Afghanistan looks grim indeed.


[i] Incidentally, the Pashtuns living on both sides of the British-drawn Durand Line of 1893  do not recognise it, and that includes the Taliban)

[ii] Reid Standish report, gandhara.org of rfe/rl.org, 27 September 2021, accessed 14 October 2021, 09.07 Indian Standard Time (IST)… All times henceforth are in IST.

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How India utilised the AFSPA to suppress freedom movements?

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The freedom movements in the volatile north-eastern state of India predate the Partition. The Englishman realised importance of the North East as it could provide a corridor to the Japanese in World War II. India applied the Armed forces Special Powers Act first to the north eastern states of Assam and Manipur, a cauldron of unrest. The act was amended in 1972 to extend to all the seven states in the north eastern region of India. The states affected by the draconian law included Assam. Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland, also known as the seven sisters. The forces brutally applied the AFSPA to the states. It ignored outcry by people against has mounting incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, rape and looting. Indian government continued to extend the initial period for imposition of the law ad infinitum sometimes with ex post facto notifications. Its pleas were without AFSPA all the north eastern states will secede from India.  

Gunpoint diplomacy

A large part of the original region that constitutes the seven states of the republic of India had strong political, economic and socio-cultural links with South East Asia. The great Hindu and Muslim empires that reigned over the Indian subcontinent never extended east of the Brahmaputra River. The British colonists were the first to repress freedom movements. . In the early nineteenth century they moved in to check Burmese expansion into today’s Manipur and Assam. The British, with the help of the then Manipur king, Gambhir Singh, crushed the Burmese imperialist dream and the treaty of Yandabo was signed in 1828. Under this treaty Assam became a part of British India and the British continued to influence the political affairs of the region.

The resentment against the Englishman led to the bloody Anglo-Manipuri Conflict of 1891. The British were subdued by the fighting spirit of the local people. So, they preferred not to administer directly but only through the King.

During the Second World War, the Japanese tried to enter the Indian sub continent through this narrow corridor. But back home when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were A-bombed they retreated from the Imphal and Kohima fronts.

A buffer zone

Before leaving India, the British pondered over many proposals for post-Partition of India. The local people were however never consulted. Finally the British divided the region such that some parts went to Pakistan but the lion’s share to India.

Over the years local democratic movements erupted as the people aspired to a new social and political order. One important example is a strong popular democratic movement against feudalism and colonialism in Manipur, led by Hijam Irabot Singh.

The treacherous annexation of Manipur

The post-Partition India reconstituted the kingdom of Manipur as a constitutional monarchy by passing the Manipur Constitution Act 1947. Elections were held under the new constitution. A legislative assembly was formed. In 1949 V.P Menon, a seminar representative of Government of India, invited the king to a meeting on the pretext of discussing the deteriorating law and order situation in the state in Shillong. Upon his arrival, the king was forced to sign under duress. The agreement was never ratified in the Manipur legislative Assembly. Rather, the Assembly was dissolved and Manipur was kept under the charge of a Chief Commissioner. There were strong protests but using violent and brutal repression the Government of India suppressed the democratic movement in Manipur and has continued applying the same methods ever since.

Colonisation of Nagaland

The inhabitants of the Naga Hills, sprawling across Indo-Burmese border, formed Naga National Council (NNC) aspiring for a common homeland and self governance. During 1929, the NNC petitioned the Simon Commission for independence. The Commission was examining the feasibility of future of self governance of India.

The Naga leaders forcefully articulated the demand of self governance once the British pulled out of India. Gandhi publicly announced that Nagas had every right to be independent. Under the Hydari Agreement signed between NNC and British administration, Nagaland was granted protected status for ten years, after which the Nagas would decide whether they should stay in the Indian union or not. However, shortly after the British withdrew, the new Indian rulers colonized Nagaland and claimed it to be Indian Territory.

The Naga National Council proclaimed Nagaland’s independence in retaliation, and the Indian authorities arrested the Naga leaders. The AFSPA was used to violently suppress the democratic aspirations of the people of North East. In 1975, some Naga leaders held talks with the Government of India which resulted in the Shillong Agreement. Democratic forces of Nagaland smelt a rat in this deceptive agreement and rallied the people for national liberation of Nagas. One of the organizations which articulated the democratic demand of Naga people is National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).

Mizoram

Mizo National front was a phenomenal product of a famine. In the Lushai Hills of Assam in the early sixties a famine broke out. A relief team requested for help from the Government of India. But there was little help. The relief team organised themselves into the Mizo National front (MNF) to liberate themselves from the neo-colonial occupation of India. Against the democratic aspirations of the people Indian army moved in. The rebellion was so strong, that the Indian air force had to bomb the villagers. The armed forces compelled people to leave their homes. This devastated the structure of Mizo society. In 1986, the Mizo Accord was signed between MNF and Government of India. This accord was as deceptive as the Shillong Accord made with the Nagas earlier. To promote dominance by high caste Hindus, India clubbed poor non-feudal ethnic groups with Adivasis, cheating them in the name of scheduled tribes and in the process forcing them to be marginalized and stigmatized by the upper caste ruling elites of India.

Gradually it became the neocolonial hinterland for exploitation by the Indian state, where local industries were made worthless and now the people are entirely dependent on goods and businesses owned predominantly by those from the Indo-Gangetic plains. The new Indian unscrupulous businesses pull the economic strings of this region.

Tripura

In Tripura the indigenous population has been reduced to a mere 25% of the total population of the state because of large scale immigration from the North east and Bangladesh.

A series of repressive laws were passed by the Government of India in order to deal with this rising National liberation aspiration of the people of North east. In 1953 the Assam maintenance of Public Order (Autonomous District) Regulation Act was passed. It was applicable to the then Naga Hills and Tuensang districts. It empowered the Governor to impose collective fines, prohibit public meetings, and detain anybody without a warrant. Indian atrocities from 1980 onwards include: the massacres of civilians at Heirangoi thong (Manipur) in 1984, at RIMS Manipur in 1995, at Malom (Manipur) in 2000; the horror of army torture and violence on civilians during operation Blue bird (Manipur) in 1987 and operation Rhino (Assam) in 1991. Indiscriminate firing on civilians by armed forces personnel when their own vehicle burst in the town of Kohina (Nagaland) in March 1995, the shelling and destruction of the town of Makokchung (Nagaland) in 1994, the enforced disappearances of Loken and Lokendro (Manipur) in 1996, and the rape of Miss N Sanjita (who subsequently committed suicide) (Manipur) in 2003.

Concluding remark

After the Partition, India emerged as the new-colonial power. The North East still yeans for freedom.

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