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Why peace in Afghanistan is elusive?

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Afghanistan is commonly known as graveyard of empires. Several rulers tried to overpower it. , but in vain. They had to bite the dust. Genghis Khan lost a son during siege of Bamian. Alexander the Great had to beat hasty retreat. In the nineteenth century `Great’ Britain, at acme of the imperial power, invaded Afghanistan. It was humbled, marking beginning of the British Empire. They never again attacked Afghanistan taking refuge under their strategy of `Masterly Inactivity’.

Erstwhile Soviet Union rushed its troops to Afghanistan in aid of tottering Afghan government. In retaliation, the USA and its allies cobbled up Afghan resistance, mujahideen, to fight the Soviet forces. The Soviet Union had its nosed bloodied on Afghan soil. It retreated. Meanwhile, several component countries under Soviet umbrella rebelled. The Soviet Union broke into congeries of several independent republics, confining the Union to Russia.  A Taliban government emerged at the helm after Soviet departure. 

The sole super power, the USA, attacked Afghanistan to oust the Taliban. The ostensible reason was that the Taliban had sheltered Osama bin Laden, mastermind of 9/11 attack on twin tower of the World Trade Centre at New York. The Taliban had no answer to incessant aerial bombing. Their government collapsed. For a while it looked as if the Afghan invincibility has been proved to be a myth. After decades of fighting, it dawned on the USA that the Afghan intervention was a misadventure.  The Afghan war was the costliest war in terms of dollars and human lives. The USA stopped responding to SOS signals from Afghan forces, under intermittent attacks by Taliban. They held several rounds of talks with Taliban to negotiate safe exit. Why peace in Afghanistan is elusive? Peace in Afghanistan will remain elusive unless complex ground realities are understood. Shortly after meeting Pakistan’s foreign minister, Afghan president dashed to New Delhi with a situation update.

Taliban now well understand the stalemate situation in Afghanistan. They understand frailties of the government forces and the `invading ‘Americans. American soldiers willy-nilly perform duties.  They understand Taliban’s view that they are fighting a holy war to flush out invaders. Afghan troops too are not motivated to fight their own Muslim brothers. President Trump fumed and fretted when an Afghan soldier shot dead a member of a US army training unit in the southern province of Uruapan. Taliban showed their muscle in a sudden attack on Ghazni, and occupied the city centre, 150km from Kabul. It took four days of intense fighting backed by a number of strikes by American war planes to push them back. The operating budget of the Afghan national security forces is to the tune of $ 6.5 billion, more than twice the entire federal expenditure of Afghanistan. Trump may stop funding if American advisers and soldiers continue to get killed in action.

Like American soldiers, Afghan trainees too realize it pays to connive at Taliban presence and let farmers grow poppy. Afghanistan has become a kleptocratic state where every government posting and promotion depends on power and patronage. India fears that if the USA strikes an accord with Taliban, Indians manning spy stations in Afghanistan will be left in the lurch. Besides, Islamic state may emerge another challenge. China too is fearful of rising IS influence in Afghanistan. China, quietly wants access to the rich mineral and oil resources in Afghanistan. China’s National Petroleum Company has won rights to explore and develop oilfields in Amu Dariya basin in Afghanistan, which has enormous oil reserves. India has completed a dam in Afghanistan and constructing 11others. It wants Americans not to leave Afghanistan until 1922. Afghanistan wants India to accelerate work on various India-supported infrastructure projects, including the Chabahar Port and supply of NATO force equipment particularly four helicopters immediately. Pakistan fears India is entrenching itself in Afghanistan to support the rebels in Baluchistan.

China also wants peace and stability in Afghanistan so that there are no unsettling repercussions among the Uyghur’s in Xinjiang province. Russia and Iran are supporting Taliban with a view to counteracting the common enemy, the Islamic State, which is seeking a foothold in Afghanistan. US wanted India to send more troops to prevent a Taliban takeover or a civil war. But, India was nonchalant. Bitter lesson it is the USA, not the Taliban who are weary of the unending fighting. A Taliban commander quipped, `you have the watches, and we have time’. American mothers are no longer fond of contributing body packs to a pointless war.

The USA knows without Pakistan’s whole-hearted assistance, there is no end to Afghan imbroglio. Many a time, India tried to fish in Afghan hot waters. It offered to mediate with the Taliban. But, the USA rejected Indian overtures. India’s hand could have flared up fighting instead of dousing it. Undeterred by USA’s cold shoulder, India is still trying to carve out a niche in Afghan solution. It has sunk billions of dollars in Afghan infrastructure and hydroelectric powers. It built Chahbahar port in Iran to bypass Pakistan transit. Like Pakistan India too had influencer over mujahideen, belonging to Northern Alliance, It trained Afghan Northern Alliance fighters. India’s ambassador Bharath Raj Muthu Kumar, with the consent of then foreign ministerJaswant Singh, coordinated military and medical assistance that India was secretly giving to Ahmad Shah Massoud and his forces in Afghanistan.

The support involved helicopters, ordnance, mortars, small armaments, refurbished Kalashnikovs seized in Kashmir, combat and winter clothes, packaged food, medicines, and funds. These supplies were delivered circuitously with the help of other countries (Aeini and Farkhor air bases in Tajikistan) or throughMasssoud’s brother in London, Wali MassoudIndia opened four consulates at Kandahar, Jalalabad, Heratand Mazar-e-Sharif, besides its embassy at Kabul. India is using these consulates to stoke up secessionist movements in Baluchistan and volatile tribal belt. Current situation (January 2020) Afghanistan’s `president’ Ashraf Ghani won the Afghanistan election. He secured slightly over 50 per cent of the vote. Thus he avoided the need for a run-off election. His rival, Dr Abdullah Abdullah doubts fairness of the election result. President Ghani is rueful at being marginalized in US –Taliban talks. He has demanded a lasting ceasefire as a prelude to the talks.

He has expressed muffled ennui, if not a threat, that without a ceasefire or something akin to it, the Afghan government will have difficulty endorsing a US-Taliban agreement. Ghani’s problem is that Afghan forces are no longer enthusiastic about fighting the Taliban. When Taliban kill about 20 to 40 Afghan troops each day, emitting SOS, the US air force no longer scrambles for their rescue. During 2020, The US air force As for Taliban, they regard Ghani as also his government puppets. Ghani is being supported by India who is rueful at Pakistan’s crucial role in asolution. The USA initially called for India’s role in a solution. But, it is now mum about it. It rather lauded Pakistan’s role in resumption of dialogue, intermittently truncated by hardline demands of the stakeholders. US Air Forces Central Command said in a January 2020 report the US has dropped 7,423 bombs on targets in Afghanistan in 2019as against 7,362in 2018. The figure represents a dramatic increase in bombings in Afghanistan in contrast to 2009 when 4,147 bombs were dropped under former President Barack Obama. Besides, more than 60 civilians were killed or wounded in a US drone attack targeting a top Taliban splinter-group commander in the western Afghanistan province of Herat in January 2020.

At long last, the Taliban have agreed to a ceasefire for about 10 days. During this period, attacks on major cities and highways would be scaled back. Taliban are yet to decide whether they would keep ceasefire while about 13,000 American forces and thousands more NATO troops leave Afghanistan. The US is optimistic that the ceasefire would help strike a deal. War costs The US spends about $4.9billion a year to support the 320,000 Afghan National Defence Security Forces. The US and other donors provide about 53 per cent of Afghanistan’s annual budget. If US hold back the money, there would be no pay for the Afghan armed forces. Besides, many of the schools and hospitals would have to be shut down. The USA needs some plausible justification, like maintaining a counter terrorism presence, to continue the aid after the war ends.

The toll of war: A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post (December 9, 2019) reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the Afghan war. They kept making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and concealed unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable. Since 2001, an estimated 157,000 people were killed in the war in Afghanistan. Afghan civilians 43,074, Afghan security forces 64,124,Humanitarian aid workers 424, Taliban fighters3, 814 and other insurgents, U.S.contractors67 Journalists and media workers 2,300,   U.S. military personnel l42, 100,   NATO and coalition troops 1,145.

Other revelations: The documents were generated by a federal project examining more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.  Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking. ”If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction.2, 400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of U.S. military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. “Who will say this was in vain? “Since 2001, over 775,000 U.S. troops have deployed to Afghanistan. Of those, 2,300 died there and 20,589 were wounded in action.

The U.S. government failed to curtail runaway corruption, build a competent Afghan army and police force, and reduce Afghanistan’s thriving opium trade. Since 2001, the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development have spent between $934 billion and$978 billion, according to an inflation-adjusted estimate calculated by Neta Crawford, a political science professor and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University. These figures do not include money spent by other agencies such as the CIA and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is responsible for medical care for wounded veterans. The documents also contradicted public statements from U.S. presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worthwhile.  Military headquarters in Kabul as also the White House distorted statistics to portray the USA as a winner. 

Afghan government’s connivance at poppy cultivation International media has begun to question what would be the legacy of allied intervention against Afghanistan. Despite spending over US $ 9billion during past 18 years, poppy cultivation is rising. One may have reservations about Taliban’s monopoly of right to issue fatawa (religious edicts). But, there is a silver lining to the edicts. Mullah Mohammad Omar (1996-2001) outlawed poppy cultivation (in 1990s).He declared poppy cultivation to be haram, prohibited, under Islam. Subsequent Afghan governments made it permissible, halal, by collecting ushr (ten per cent deduction on poppy income). Government functionaries strike marriage of convenience with farmers to encourage poppy cultivation in vast swathes of land. According to a 2009 UNODC report on opium production, ushr generates around US$ 22 to 44 million a year.

The pictures of foreign soldiers posing in poppy fields confirm the allegation that the intervening force also is a shareholder in the booty. The US military is paying off the Taliban with bags of gold to prevent them from attacking vehicle convoys, proving that there is no real “war” in Afghanistan, merely a business agreement that allows the occupiers to continue their lucrative control of record opium exports while they construct dozens of new military bases from which to launch new wars probably on Pakistan to denuclearize it .Voracious readers may go through Paul Joseph Watson’s report, November 20, 2009, Afghanistan: Troops Guarding the Poppy Fields. The US government mulled to impose a tax under The Sacrifice Act of 2010 to meet the burgeoning cost of Afghan war (key debaters Dave Obey, Representative John Murtha, Barney Frank). Watson alleged the extra tax would be used for paying, nay `bribing the Taliban, paying off CIA drug lords, and protecting heroin-producing opium fields’. He added: `The Afghan opium trade has exploded since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, following a lull after the Taliban had imposed a crackdown’. According to the U.N., the drug trade is now worth $65billion.

Afghanistan produces 92 per cent of the world’s opium, with the equivalent of at least 3,500 tonnes leaving the country each year. This racket was secured by drug kingpins like Ahmed Wali Karzai, the beloved brother of former president Hamid Karzai, and other influential persons. The essence of UNODC’s policy is that there is a causal (apriori or cause-and-effect relation) between poppy cultivation and the ongoing insurgency. Afghan government handpicks pliable provincial governors for eradication of poppy. These governors feed fictitious figures to the UN agencies about their landmark achievements in rooting out poppy cultivation at its various stages. These focal nodal prodigies have created the euphoria that government-controlled provinces are poppy-free.

RAW’s nod: Aside from euphoric reviews, the factual position is that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is flourishing by leaps and bounds. The governors are motivated more by self-interest than by national objectives. They are minting money from all quarters, including India’s intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing. The RAW is interested in turning influential Afghans against Pakistan, and planting insurgents in Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas, than in poppy eradication. The RAW understands that there is no single fail-safe panacea for eradicating the poppy curse. Exterminating the menace of poppy lies outside the RAW’s mandate.

Poppy, a cash crop: Aside from the RAW’s machinations, the problem of poppy cultivation calls for a closer look in a multi-dimensional perspective. Afghanistan has a predominantly agrarian economy. Opium production contributes35 per cent of Afghanistan’s Gross Domestic Product while cereal crops only about 27 per cent. There is no industrial structure to name, despite its tall claims, India has not been able to lay tangible industrial infrastructure to boost Afghan economy. Afghanistan is the one of the world’s least developed country and the poorest in Asia. In terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, majority of the country’s population is concerned about physical needs (food, clothing and shelter).

Poppy cultivation is the main avenue of physical security. There is a symbiotic relation between the people’s needs forsook-economic security and poppy cultivation. Majority of population is preoccupied with how to survive by ensuring food security by getting employed in poppy cultivation. Yet, they find it difficult to make ends meet. The UNODC’s observation that about 14 per cent of Afghans are employed in poppy cultivation does not reflect the real life situation. The agricultural-production system is mostly dependent on seasonal rainfall and poor water-management. As such, productivity per hectare is low. The centuries-old traditional cultivation system impedes their economic progress. The system if pivoted on salaam that is cash advance given on security of future crop yield. Poppy is the favourite crop by way of security rather than wheat, black cumin or some other crop. Afghan government could veritably be termed a poppy syndicate because of its lack of interest in poppy eradication. The governors look like custodians of poppy-growing lands. How could this coterie axe its own interest? 

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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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