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In Another Lifetime: A Roadmap to Peace for Pakistan and India –part 2



The second part of this 3-part series continues with the two remaining “Opportunities” that both countries can utilize to improve relations. After this, it delineates the pre-requisites to the proposed roadmap to peace.

Collaboration in Different Sectors

This although related to trade (more specifically trade in services), has little to do with the transference of tangible goods across the border but more with direct participation and collaboration between, and in both countries – such as FDI (foreign direct investment), JVs (joint ventures) and investments in different sectors.

There are a plethora of distinct areas where both countries can work together – however, the paper touches upon just three such areas, namely IT (information technology), sports, and tourism. The IT sector in India has experienced enormous growth in the past two decades or so due to a shift of jobs from the West to the East as India offered lower business costs. IT in India consists of two major components i.e. BPO (Business process outsourcing) and IT services.

According to NASSCOM, the IT sector accumulated revenue of $160 billion in the year 2017. India is considered one of the hubs of IT in the modern-day world. Pakistan, although, not on par with India is rapidly accelerating in the IT sector as well. Some authors claim that Pakistan is paralleling India’s past growth in the sector.

According to a New York Times article, Pakistan’s IT sector is carving a niche for itself as a preferred destination for app designers, freelance IT programmers, and coders. Tens of thousands of Pakistani IT graduates enter the IT market every year. Pakistan’s IT sector is experiencing exponential growth and has reached $3 billion; it has doubled in size in the past two years and experts anticipate a further 100% growth in the next 2-4 years’ time.

Outlook India reported that low end IT jobs are now shifting to Pakistan from India. Rather than adopting a competitive approach, both countries should look to take advantage of each other in the IT sector. Pakistan should take advantage of India’s established IT market while India should reap the benefits of Pakistan’s nascent yet quickly growing sector and ride its wave.

Highlighting future prospects, scholar, Maria Syed, states that India should invest in Pakistan’s growing IT sector. Once better bilateral trade relations have been established, it can facilitate cross-border investments in areas such as IT. Furthermore, he notes that establishing research and development facilities across Pakistan and India would benefit the BPO and IT industries of both states.

Sports, especially cricket, has always been a massively popular past time for both Pakistanis and Indians. Although all of Pakistan would want to win against India and vice versa in a cricket match (or any sport for that matter), the cricket stars from both nations are highly respected in their home and neighbour country. Thus, cricket should be used as entrainment but more importantly, a unifying cause for both countries – cricket stars should be ambassadors of the game.

Cricket has even been used as a diplomatic tool when Pakistan’s President General Zia UlHaq was the first to execute “cricket diplomacy” when he made an impromptu trip to India to watch a cricket match between both countries amid escalating tensions in 1987. This visit eased the strains that arose from an Indian military exercise on the Pakistan-India border.

Unfortunately, even before the current high-level tensions between both countries, India refused to play cricket with Pakistan in Pakistan, India, or any neutral venue such as the UAE. This has deprived Pakistanis, Indians, and the rest of the world of one of the biggest rivalries in sports history and sends an extremely negative message to the world. Sports has always been a great equalizer for countries especially ones that are on negative terms.

Pakistan-India cricket matches should be held in both countries to display goodwill. An annual “Pakistan-India Peace Tournament” could work well to bring both countries closer together. A similar kind of initiative should be taken for Kabadi, hockey, football, and other popular sports in the subcontinent. The stratagem employed by Pakistan tennis star, AisamUlHaq, and Indian tennis star Rohann Boppana to compete together in men’s doubles was well received and sent a positive message to the world.

Both countries’ ministry of sports should make a joint team to create, manage, and oversee Pakistan-India tournaments in various sports. Other than sports, Pakistanis and Indians love each other’s film, TV, and music industries. Pakistani music and dramas are enjoyed to a great extent in India, while Indian movies and soaps are extremely popular in Pakistan. Pakistanis, in particular, are pulled to Indian movie stars while Indians seem to adore Pakistani musical sensations.

More lately, however, there has been an increase in stereotypical movies and television shows about one another that propagandizes the reality of each country. It must be contemplated that cooperation in the film industry can bridge the gap of contentiousness between both countries. Harmful movies and soaps depicting a false and exaggerated image of each country should be avoided.

In times of extreme tensions, akin to the present, Indian movies and channels are blocked in Pakistan and vice versa. Joint peace initiatives on established Pakistani and Indian channels should be started and aired to promote cultural and political harmony. For example, the Indian channel “Zindagi” was launched to air the best Pakistani shows throughout the years in India.

Movies and TV shows with both Pakistani and Indian actors, directors, and producers should become a symbol of collaboration and goodwill. It is not only the job of the governments to improve relations but the civil society, NGOs, and different sectors like TV and film to play their respective roles. Other than the aforementioned sectors, cross-border tourism (religious and familial) should be highlighted.

For example, the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor (a visa-free corridor near the border) which allowsSikhs from India to visit a religious site in Pakistan was hailed as a momentous move.Visa regimes should be liberalized, akin to Kartarpur, to an extent to allow people to visit shrines; meet relatives and loved ones – and even indulge in tourism where people could visit each beautiful country, immerse themselves in cultural festivities and socialize with the locals.


Subsequent to the departure of the U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan in 2014, and the demise of large economic and military payments to Pakistan, China filled this gap with CPEC. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC is the star project of President Xi Jinping’s mega Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

BRI is a series of infrastructural networks (roads, railways, and ports), trade projects, and financial institutions meant to encourage economic activity in Africa and Eurasia and to connect China to the latter. CPEC is a Pakistan specific mega-project within the aegis of the BRI that will consist of a 3,000 km network of roads, railways, and oil and gas pipelines from Gwadar port in the South of Pakistan to China’s Kashgar city.

Unfortunately, India is not a part of the BRI or CPEC due to its severe reservations about these projects – mainly that CPEC passes through disputed territories, and if successful, it will increase Pakistan’s relative power and will allow China geostrategic influence over India. Although India and China are currently engaged in a border flare-up in Ladakh, trade has not suffered. Therefore, CPEC has become another cause of contention between Pakistan and India but this is a myopic consideration of the situation.

CPEC is a once in a lifetime opportunity for both countries to increase trade, energy cooperation and eventually improve bilateral relations. Through CPEC, Pakistan will become a stronger entity with respect to infrastructure and its economy while China will benefit by gaining a gateway to Central Asia.

Pakistan can use the incoming Chinese investment to improve road and rail links with India and get augmented access to Indian markets – and concurrently, China could achieve improved access to Indian economic and energy markets via Pakistan. India, on the contrary, will not only get improved connectivity to Pakistan and China, but also to Afghanistan and Central Asian states – which has been a policy goal of India for decades.

As CPEC has the potential to cement Pakistan as a regional trading hub, India should look to take advantage of this. While India opposes BRI and CPEC, it is on board with the BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar) economic corridor that looks to connect all four countries. The Chinese have offered to include the BCIM into the aegis of the BRI, but India has opposed this vehemently.

However, work on the BCIM has been very slow on this and the future remains uncertain. The BCIM is a 2,800 km economic corridor that would connect Kunming with Kolkata while crossing Bangladesh and Myanmar. The preliminary reason for this initiative is to expedite trade and enhance connectivity with north-eastern India and south-western China. The last BCIM forum was held in 2019 after years of slow progress, if any at all – however, things have turned sour due to border clashes between India and China in Ladakh that began in May 2020 and are still ongoing.

China, before the border skirmishes, stated that India should shed its misgivings regarding BRI and join the megaproject – furthermore since Beijing endeavours to connect the CPEC and BCIM together to synergize the BRI, it is a prime opportunity for India to fulfil its east-west connectivity goals (i.e. get a direct route to Afghanistan and Central Asia and vice versa).

In December 2017, China revealed plans to expand CPEC into Afghanistan; a move that Pakistan has embraced. Economies of scale can be achieved if CPEC’s north-south (Kashgar to Gwadar) linkages are complemented with an east-west corridor (India to Afghanistan and Iran). This signifies how an east-west corridor can benefit Pakistan, China, and India if such an endeavour is undertaken under the BRI.

What India must comprehend is that due to its active opposition to the BRI, it will cause further stalling of the BCIM as well (as China seeks to pursue BCIM under BRI’s framework), which will eventually lead India isolated vis-à-vis improved connectivity. Like China, India is a regional hegemon, is energy-hungry, and desires to connect itself with surrounding countries (with road, rail, and sea links) to placate its energy security.

India’s issues with the BRI have a degree of validity, but in maintaining their current stance of antagonism, the country under the economically-oriented BJP government will only suffer. India cannot rival China and its economic endeavours and corridors in the regional landscape, and so the obvious choice would be to reach an agreement and insert itself into the BRI initiative. India should learn from how the GCC states responded to the BRI.

The GCC countries, although initially concerned about BRI due to their major rival, Iran’s, substantial role in it, later opened their doors to this mega initiative to further their own relative power. China released the “Arab Policy Paper” which details, among other things, how they want to continue and expand their relations with the Arab world, particularly the GCC, under the framework of BRI. This includes but is not exclusive to infrastructure construction, nuclear energy, agriculture, new energy, and trade, etcetera. Since then, the GCC and China have built a better understanding and have initiated various projects under the BRI framework. To think that Pakistan and India, two rivals, cannot initiate or be on board with interconnectivity projects, would be a huge mistake. Pakistan and India, despite their issues, have realized the importance of interconnectivity.

Initiatives like the TAPI pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) which will carry natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and finally into India, are initiatives that will mend broken fences and be a symbol for progress amid escalating tensions. TAPI was expected to be completed by 2019 but work has been slow. Despite slow progress, TAPI signifies that there is hope that Pakistan and India can find a compromise with regards to other interconnectivity projects specifically China’s BRI.

South Asia is one of the least integrated regions and trade experts cite the trust deficit, along with other factors, as the primary reason for poor connectivity. Therefore, dialogue and strong-willed initiatives at interconnectivity must be pushed, as these economic endeavours, if successful, will help deter conflicts and political tensions in the future.

Roadmap to Rapprochement

Before the roadmap is outlined and expanded, some pre-requisites and sequencing of events are necessary to enable a stronger chance for the roadmap to succeed in its objects. The sequence of the events should be conducted/unfolded in the order written.


Strong leadership in Pakistan and India

Pakistan’s Imran Khan is a relatively strong Prime Minister. He is considered a forward-thinking and honest politician – seen in Pakistan after decades – and wants Pakistan’s dependence on loans to end. His political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) controls the federal government, the Punjab government (the most politically significant province of the country), Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and is a junior coalition partner in Balochistan.

Only in the Sindh province is the PTI in opposition. This means that Imran Khan and his PTI has been given a strong mandate to govern the country. Imran Khan, after becoming Prime Minister, invited India to discuss peace even though the Indian media had lambasted Imran throughout Pakistan’s election process. However, a caveat must be mentioned here that Pakistan’s opposition forces have recently come together (late 2020) to topple the government and have amassed quite a lot of support.

Many of Pakistan’s public are tired of the high inflation rate in the country and so there is legitimate opposition. Since 2014’s landslide victory, Modi enjoys an even stronger mandate than Imran Khan. The BJP won even more seats in the 2019 Indian general elections. The BJP not only controls the federal government (302 seats out of 543 in the lower house) but also 18 out of 31 states and union territories of India.

Modi’s base is very strong in India but many have turned against him due to unpopular decisions such as the revocation of Kashmir’s special status, the passing of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a struggling economy, as well as not being able to control the coronavirus. Regardless both leaders are still considered strong (but not as much as they were before) and strong leadership is mandatory when it comes to peace.

Kashmiri Protests Subside/Resolved

The resolution of Kashmiri angst, at least in the short term, is an important pre-requisite before a proper peace engagement is initiated. Currently, there is little hope of initiating any dialogue with India, since India unilaterally changed the status of a disputed territory – India revoked the special autonomous status of J&K and made two union territories out of the region.

This incensed Kashmir’s Muslim population as well as Pakistan and China. India also initiated a lockdown in the valley to curb the anger of the Kashmiris, which is ongoing and has been for over one and ahalf years. Besides this, the human rights violations in Kashmir, which the UN has called out India on, remain unabated.

Since the roadmap suggests that Pakistan should not discuss the territorial aspect of Kashmir for 10 years, this kind of news might not go down well with the Kashmiris, and the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC)who might see this as Pakistan selling them out – although, this is further from the truth and will be discussed ahead in detail.

In this paper’s opinion, a peace dialogue should only be initiated when tensions and emotions are not at boiling point in Kashmir. Therefore, before a roadmap is presented, India, as the international community has been clamouring for months, must try to resolve the Kashmiri angst (the Kashmiris had been protesting before the curfew was imposed).

Pakistan can, of course, make India aware that they are willing to start a historic peace dialogue with India, but the Kashmiri protests must be handled delicately and humanely and the hardliner approach (such as extended curfews, shooting protesters, disabling communication links, and so on) must cease.

Support of the International Community

The support of the international community especially China and the U.S. is required if a peace process is initiated. If these powers do not play their part, the peace process can easily be undermined no matter how pure the intentions and actions of both Pakistan and India are. China would welcome such an endeavour, but it is difficult to predict how they would react now since its border flare-up with India.

America under Trump showed positive intent when the president did mention eagerness to mediate the Kashmir situation, but only time will tell if Biden will be as keen. Nonetheless, as much international support should be raised for the roadmap to succeed.

This paper continues in part 3.

Sarmad Ishfaq works as a research fellow for the Lahore Centre for Peace Research. He completed his Masters in International Studies and graduated as the 'Top Graduate' from the University of Wollongong in Dubai. He has several publications in peer-reviewed journals and magazines in the areas of counter-terrorism/terrorism and the geopolitics of South Asia and the GCC.

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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.

Humanitarian crisis

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).

Concluding remarks

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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Afghanistan: Hazaras in danger of extinction



As reported on August 30, 2021, Taliban shot dead 14 people belonging to the Hazara community in Khadir District of Afghanistan’s Daykundi Province. Among those killed are 12 soldiers, who reportedly surrendered, and two civilians.

Earlier in between July 4-5, Taliban tortured and killed nine men of the Hazara community and looted their homes in Mundarakht village of Malistan District in Ghazni province. Reportedly, six Hazara men were shot while three of them were tortured to death. The entire episode was part of a ‘door-to-door’ killing operation as orchestrated by Taliban.

On May 8, 2021, explosions outside Syed Al-Shahda school for girls in Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul, killed at least 68 people and wounded over 165. The majority of victims are girls attending school. The attack targeted Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazaras who live in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood.

The Taliban are yet to spell out finer details of how they will impose the Sharia law in Afghanistan. Interestingly, on August 17, Taliban ‘spokesman’ Zabihullah Mujahid said that Afghanistan’s new government would be “inclusive.” On the same day, Taliban officials visited a Hazara neighborhood and attended a Shiite mourning ceremony for the death of Hussein ibn Ali, the third imam of Shiites and the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. But, on August 18, 2021, sadly, after ‘coming to power’, the Taliban forces destroyed the statue of prominent Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari in Bamiyan. Mazari was tortured and killed by the previous Taliban regime in 1995.

Comprising roughly 10-20 percent of Afghanistan’s 38 million population, Hazaras speak a dialect of Dari (Farsi dialect) called Hazaragi and the vast majority follow the Shia sect (Twelver Imami) of Islam. A significant number are also followers of the Ismaili sect. Hazaras have long been persecuted for their largely Shia faith in a country racked by deep ethnic divisions. Their distinct features make them easy prey for Sunni hardliners, both Taliban and the Islamic State, (IS) that consider them “infidels”. The Hazaras are also accused of being too closely allied to Shia Iran, and tens of thousands have moved over the years as economic migrants to work mostly menial jobs.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan: UNAMA’s “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Midyear Update: 1 January to 30 June 2021”, suggests that in total, 20 incidents targeting Shia/Hazara, resulted in 500 civilian casualties (143 killed and 357 injured). The report also states:

…a resurgence of deliberate sectarian motivated attacks against the Shi’a Muslim religious minority, most of whom also belong to the Hazara ethnic minority, nearly all claimed by ISIL-KP. These included a string of non-suicide IED attacks and shootings, including at least eight IEDs in May-June alone that targeted buses or similar vehicles carrying members of the Hazara community…

Reportedly, a large number of Hazaras live in Hazarajat (or Hazarestan),’ land of the Hazara’, which is situated in the rugged central mountainous core of Afghanistan, in the Bamiyan province and in cities such as Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif. With others living in the Badakhshan province. Many Hazaras settled in western Turkestan, in Jowzjan and Badghis provinces. Ismaili Hazaras, a smaller religiously differentiated group of Hazaras, live in the Hindu Kush Mountain region.

Hazaras in Afghanistan have faced decades of abuse and state-sponsored discrimination, most recently under the Taliban regime between 1996-2001. Hazaras have been singled out for killings, beheadings, suicide bomb attacks, and kidnappings. They have been targeted at weddings, schools, mosques, sports clubs, and even at births.

As reported on September 1, the killing of Hazaras, are a tiny fraction of the total death toll inflicted by the Taliban to date, as the group had cut mobile phone service in many of the recently captured areas, efficiently controlling which photographs and videos are then shared from these regions. Habiba Sarabi, a Hazara political leader, told she had proof of more atrocities but could not share the details, as it might endanger surviving eyewitnesses. Sarabi was the first female Governor of Afghanistan (in Bamiyan Province) and one of four women representing Afghanistan in the negotiations with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. Unfortunately, soon after the interview, Sarabi sent a link to a short, grainy video, which showed two Taliban militants. Speaking into the camera, one of them said they are waiting for permission from their leaders to “eliminate” all Hazaras living in Afghanistan.

More worryingly, over a period of time, out of the dire necessity of self defence and mistrust over government and administration, many Hazaras have either formed or joined armed militias to counter radical forces operating within Afghanistan. One of the examples is that of Zulfiqar Omid, a former lawmaker turned resistance leader. He has reportedly established an armed Hazara resistance in Central Afghanistan, comprising some 800 regular fighters and 5,000 volunteers. Abdul Khani Alipur, is another such militia leader from Maidan Wardak province. As reported on July 13, 2021, his militia boasted of patrolling roads and launching brazen raids on Taliban areas to abduct the relatives of militants, later used as bargaining chips to release Hazara hostages. Such developments would only bring more bloodshed in Afghanistan.

Further, the Hazaras have also taken refuge in Pakistan since many decades, due to violence meted against them. As reported on September 1, 2021, up to 6,000 refugees, among them many Hazaras, have already made their way to Quetta, Balochistan in Pakistan, a city with a sizeable Hazara community. But unfortunately, Pakistan also has a history of frequent attacks on the minority Hazara community, due to the exact same reasons of their different religious and ethnic identities, as in the case of Afghanistan. According to the 2019 report of Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights, about 509 Hazaras were killed since the year 2013. Moreover, according to partial data collated by South Asia Terrorism Portal, since 2001, 386 Hazaras have been killed, 480 injured in 80 incidents in Pakistan. Therefore, the danger of death and persecution doesn’t end when these people take refuge in Pakistan.

The Hazaras are victim of a double-edged sword of religious and ethnic differences, causing their death in Afghanistan. The Taliban ‘takeover’ of the political structure of the country can only ensure one thing vis-à-vis the Hazara population- their absolute annihilation. They will either die or flee the country in whatsoever means. The practice of ‘othering’, as preached by the militant Islamist groups, be it a religious minority, or a woman, or non-Pashtun person, would cause harm to the Hazara community. Along with the Taliban, other terror groups of IS, Al Qaeda and their various affiliates are definitely going to have their own game plan for Afghanistan, of which ‘persecution of Hazaras’ be an important constituent.

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Why the Taliban Had to Change



The fall of Kabul to the Taliban, pre-negotiated with the US in Doha, Qatar, has launched yet another fruitless enterprise, as fruitless as the US effort to keep Afghanistan under its own control: all sorts of IR scholars, pundits, and journalists, in all sorts of specialized and unspecialized publications in the US and Europe, are trying to prove that the 2021 version of the Taliban has not changed in comparison to the version of the Taliban which seized control of Afghanistan in 1996 and that they will again make Afghanistan a cradle for all kinds of terrorists. If they use facts rather than hollow phrases, they commonly seek a confirmation of this thesis in the names of the 2021 Taliban leaders appointed to the interim government, the names which are not particularly different from those of the Taliban who governed the country from 1996.

Yet, all these would-be experts have somehow failed to notice that the times have changed, and so has the geopolitical environment in which the whole overturn took place. Indeed, how can the Taliban remain the same, if the entire world has changed so profoundly, comparing the year of 2001, when the Taliban were overthrown by the US forces, with the year of 2021, when the US forces withdrew before the Taliban’s advance?  No matter how rigid they are in their faith as a religious movement, the Taliban as a political organization had no choice but to adapt to the tide of change, if they wanted to seize and exercise power in a changed geopolitical context.

There are many symbolic signs of this new context which are directly linked to the second arrival of the Taliban. First, both the Taliban and the US sat down to negotiate the withdrawal of the US forces and transfer of power to the Taliban, which signals that the US is no longer the same hegemonic power that refuse to ‘negotiate with the terrorists’, as the Taliban were characterized by the US diplomacy for so many years. Second, the Taliban have adopted a different political philosophy, which gives precedence to diplomatic – rather than military – means, whenever the former proves more efficient. Third, the negotiations took place in Qatar, a country that used to be the most isolated among the Arab countries due to its alliance with Iran, which shows that the Americans have accepted not only Qataris, but also Iranians, as mediators and potential partners. Fourth, despite their ambiguous relations and deep ideological differences, Iranians have also accepted the Taliban as a potential partner, which is also mirrored in the fact that their only Arab ally, Qatar, played the role of the mediator and host to the US-Taliban negotiations. Fifth, China, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan did not close their diplomatic missions in Kabul after its takeover by the Taliban, which demonstrates that two global and two regional powers intend to cooperate with the Taliban-led government; moreover, that these four powers asses that they can benefit from such cooperation and accept the Taliban as a relevant regional partner of potential strategic significance. Therefore, at the very least, the Taliban are not going to be so isolated as they were during their first incarnation, which will certainly open them up, for the first time, to various foreign policy options.

However, there is one important question that is rarely posed by those who pretend to write and speak about the Taliban. This question is the most basic one: who are, in fact, the Taliban and who actually created them? In a recent interview, the former National Security Advisor to the US President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, proudly admitted that the US intelligence agencies inserted a number of Islamist fighters’ cells into Afghanistan by the end of the 1970s, with the task to penetrate the territory of the then Soviet Union and perform military actions, so as to provoke the Soviet regime to invade Afghanistan. The idea was to turn Afghanistan into the Soviet Union’s Vietnam-like catastrophe and thus bring the communist empire to a collapse. As we all know, the Soviets had fallen into that trap and the rest is history: they were eventually defeated and expelled by the well-organized Islamist fighters, better prepared for a guerrilla war than the Soviet army. However, no matter how Brzezinski now prides himself for this idea, it is well-known that its execution and implementation were in more than 90% left to a non-American agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan, the country that was the most faithful British and American ally at the time. In an exceptional analysis Forever Friends? Pakistan and the Taliban Still Need Each Other, written by Zahid Shahab Ahmed and published in the National Interest, we can see it clearly:

After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Washington approached Islamabad to become its frontline ally in a proxy war against the Soviets. During the Afghan-Soviet War (1979-1989), thousands of mujahideen were recruited from around the world and trained in Pakistan, and then deployed into Afghanistan. In addition to receiving billions in economic and military assistance from the United States, Pakistan expanded its influence in Afghanistan through close relations with the Afghan mujahideen as they later united into the Taliban in the 1990s. In 1994, Mullah Mohammed Omar founded the Taliban with fifty students in Kandahar. By 1995, the group’s control increased to twelve provinces and its size to 25,000 fighters. Due to its quick territorial gains, the Taliban managed to seize control of most of the country and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in 1996. To date, their first takeover of Kabul is attributed to Pakistan’s strong backing.

Therefore, the Taliban’s recruitment from among the Afghani and Pakistani Pashtuns and their military training for guerrilla warfare and religious indoctrination with the mixture of Pakistani Deobandi and Saudi Wahhabi Islam are to be treated as a special intelligence operation conducted by the ISI, and the same may be applied to their military victory. Of course, this operation would not have been viable without adequate coverage by the American CIA and British MI6, and assistance by Saudi Arabia’s GID (General Intelligence Directorate). Thus the Taliban and their hybrid ideology were created for a particular purpose and their heavy-handed policies upon the seizure of power also served a particular geopolitical agenda. It would go beyond the scope of this article to analyse in detail what this agenda was or might have been. Let us only notice that the Taliban in those times prepared the ground, both ideologically and literally, to legitimize the future American ‘War on Terror’, which has brought 20 years of continuous instability to the central part of Eurasia. In other words, there is no reason to look at the Taliban as a genuine occurrence – they had been created as a proxy and were left with no option but to remain a proxy. Whose proxy, that is the only question.

There is no doubt that the second arrival of the Taliban has been prepared and backed, again, by the ISI and Pakistan. On the operative level, the Taliban have clearly remained Pakistan’s proxy. However, in the meantime, Pakistan has totally changed its geopolitical orientation and switched loyalties. Initially created by the British Empire through religious partition of the post-colonial India to enable continuous Anglo-American control of the heart of Eurasia, Pakistan found itself abandoned and cornered by its former sponsors and allies, when they invested their capital and geopolitical weight in the strengthening and rise of its archenemy, Hindu-controlled India. Of course, this was not the first time that the British-American axis supported India against Pakistan, just as they were supporting Pakistan against India. However, this time it happened in the context of the rise of the most extreme form of religious nationalism promoted by the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, designed to eliminate Muslims as a constituent part of the Indian nation for good, which would force Pakistan to enter yet another conflict with India over a definite line of Muslim-Hindu separation. Ostensibly, it was a rational calculation by the British and Americans, to support instant economic rise of India and foster a redesign of Indian policy towards extreme, religiously based nationalism, so as to make India capable and willing to confront China, as India’s old and their new geopolitical adversary. However, such a tricky game has only pushed Pakistan to turn towards China as a potential ally and geopolitical patron. Thus the British and Americans have eventually pushed Pakistan away and lost their most faithful ally, and China has been delivered an entirely new leverage to fundamentally change the geopolitical balance in Eurasia.      

With Pakistan under the US-UK patronage and Afghanistan under American control, China had a huge problem to secure its most important strategic project, the Belt and Road Initiative, in particular its China/Pakistan and China/Central Asia/West Asia Corridors. Also, the direct access of the Anglo-American intelligence agencies to the very borderland of China, through their stronghold in Afghanistan and the porous borders of the post-Soviet Central Asian republics, made it possible to instigate China’s own ‘Muslim problem’ in the form of the Islamist radicalization of Uighurs in Xinjiang. This, predictably, provoked the Chinese regime to respond in an extremely oppressive manner, which almost put in question its relations with the entire Islamic world, especially the countries of Central Asia, thereby undermining the prospects for their participation in the Belt and Road Initiative. As this problem proved to be too difficult to solve on the internal level, China’s imperative was to take Afghanistan out of the American control and reverse this trend that gravely threatened Chinese strategic interests. In these circumstances, Pakistan’s well-known proxy, the Taliban, appeared on the horizon as the best suited instrument for that purpose. In this context, it is not difficult to imagine why the Taliban were so quickly and efficiently restored by the ISI and why they suddenly became so politically pragmatic and militarily strong.

So, the Taliban’s 2021 takeover was also decisively supported by Pakistan, as it had been the one in 1996. However, this time it has all happened in a totally different geopolitical environment, with Pakistan under China’s geopolitical umbrella, which implies a totally different geopolitical orientation on Pakistan’s, as well as the Taliban’s, part. Instead of serving the goals of Halford Mackinder’s doctrine of permanent destabilization of Eurasia, so as to secure British-American control over the world’s sea-trade routes, now Pakistan and its proxies have become open to promoting the opposite geopolitical agenda, the Chinese doctrine of building Eurasian land-trade infrastructure as an alternative to the Anglo-American hegemony over sea-trade routes. Such a doctrine, embodied in the Belt and Road Initiative, requires a long-lasting stabilization of the Eurasian geopolitical space, and Afghanistan occupies a strategic place within this constellation.       

Of course, most the Chinese officials could do in their public activities was to keep the embassy in Kabul open, recognize the Taliban, and send their Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, to meet the Taliban delegation in Tianjin. On their part, the Taliban described China as a ‘friendly country’ and invited it to participate in reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, guaranteeing the safety of Chinese investments. However, there is no need to make vain guesses about whether the new version of the Taliban will really prevent various Islamist militant groups to penetrate China’s territory, as well as the territory of the post-Soviet Central Asian republics: this time, the Taliban have been resurrected and installed as a watchdog, to serve no other than this very purpose, so as to eventually make Afghanistan a part of a potential strategic alliance of China, Pakistan, and Iran. All in accordance with the Chinese strategic vision to make the Eurasian land-mass stable for transcontinental development of infrastructure, trade, and industry, designed to lead to economic, and eventually political, unification of the Eurasian continent.

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