Arthashastra is a historical Indian book which covers aspects of state functioning. It is about how economy, politics, military strategy and diplomacy of a state should work. It was written by Kautilya in 300 BCE but was lost at that time and was discovered by Rudrapatna Shamasastry in 1905 CE. He was a Sanskrit scholar. He published it in 1909 and was translated into English in 1915. Arthashastra was written for the King of that reign, Chandragupta Maurya. Kautilya was the Prime Minister of the Maurya Empire. It was a sort of a handbook for Chandragupta to run his kingdom. There are different views regarding the authorship of Arthashastra. Some authors say that it was written by three persons, Kautilya, Chanakya and Vishnugupta while others say that all three were one person. Vishnugupta was his real name and Kautilya/ Chanakya was his surname. So, all have a concord on this and call him Kautilya, the author of Arthashastra. Arthashastra is also compared to ‘The Prince’ by Machiavelli because of its realist approach to the statecraft and politics.
There is a concept in Hinduism called the concept of Purusarthas i.e., four goals in human life. They are Dharma (moral values), Artha (economic values), Kama (psychological values) and Moksha (spiritual values). Artha is one of them and probably the most important one. Arthashastra is the combination of Artha and shastra (treatise). Its main concept is how a state, or an empire can work greatly. For this Kautilya combined 15 old books in Arthashastra and explained different concepts in it like economic prosperity, military strategy, political affairs, external affairs, internal matters of Harem of the King, King’s own characteristics, qualities of a Prince, ministers, spies, civil officers and how to manage the public etc. Following is the summary of the book covering important points related to the government, politics and statecraft of an empire.
It starts with greetings to Sukra and Brihaspati. It is a compilation of all the Arthashastra written by ancient teachers for the perseverance of the earth. It also mentions Kautilya as the author. Kautilya gives the most importance to the four sciences i.e., Anvikshaki, the triple Vedas, Varta and Danda-Niti. Then he determines the position of each science by mentioning different school of thought views. School of Manu believes in only three sciences, excluding Anvikshaki as considering it a special branch of Vedas. School of Brihaspati holds that Varta and Danda-Niti are the only sciences and triple Vedas are only an abridgement for a man experienced in Lokayatravidah i.e., three worlds heaven, earth and atmosphere. School of Usanas say that only science of governments is the only science having origin and end of all. But Kautilya believes in all four sciences from which righteousness and wealth is learnt.
For “Anvikshaki”, Kautilya says, it constitutes the philosophy of Samkhya, Yoga and Lokayata. Samkhya is associated with Yoga school and Lokayata is the philosophical school of materialists. Among the four, Anvikshaki is the most beneficial for dealing with worldly affairs and to get all kinds of knowledge and virtues. For “Triple Vedas”: Sama, Rik and Yajus combine to form triple or three Vedas. These with Atharvaveda and Itihasaveda called as the Vedas. Triple Vedas determine the duties of four castes in Hinduism i.e., Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Shudra. Brahmans are responsible for teaching, studying and taking charge of sacrificial performances. Kshatriyas’ duty is performance of sacrifice, study, giving gifts and military services. Vaisyas do agriculture, cattle-breeding and trade. Shudras have to serve the twice born (dwijati) or Brahman and perform as craftsmen, singers, dancers and poets. Kautilya further explains the duties of other people as well. The duty of a house owner is to earn money, marriage among equals, giving gifts to gods and guests. A student or Brahmacharin should learn Vedas, prayers and respect for his teacher. Vanaprastha or the forest-recluse have to worship gods, self-denial, sleep on grounds and wear deerskin. The duty of an ascetic ‘Parivrajaka’ is self-control, abandoning material gains, living in forests and chastity. The observance of these duties lead man to heaven ‘Swarga’ and disobedience cause disturbance on Earth.
Kautilya now determines the “position of Varta and Danda-Niti”. Varta has descriptions about agriculture, cattle-breeding, trade and labor. It says it is army and treasury obtained through Varta that a King rules over his and rival’s nation. Danda-Niti is law of punishment or science of government on which the well-being of other three sciences depend. It allows man to acquire things or resources, improve them and then honestly distribute them among the people. If it is done nicely, then King can bring people under his control. Kautilya says if punishment is rightly given, then people will respect King and his words but if given under ignorance or anger, then it will only make people furious and rebellious. The absence of law of punishment will only bring imbalance in the society where strong will crush the weak. In the end Kautilya says that people can lead a happy and successful life if governed by the King.
Kautilya says that a student should “learn all sciences” from expert teachers. As for the Prince is concerned, he should be married after 16 and he also should learn all sciences from efficient and aged professors. In the morning, he should learn military art and weapons, and in the afternoon hearing Itihasa i.e., Purana, history, illustrative stories, Dharma Shastra and Arthashastra. When a Prince keenly hears his teachers, he gets knowledge, it leads him to application and self-control. All this makes him efficient in leaning. So, a well-educated and disciplined King would enjoy no opposition on Earth. If a King refrains from his six enemies i.e., lust, anger, greed, vanity, pride and overjoy then he would succeed. But if he fell prey to these then he shall be destroyed along with his kingdom.
Kautilya also sheds light on how “the life of a good King” shall be. If a King refuses to follow those six enemies and restrains his organs of senses, then he would gain knowledge, ensure safety and security of his people, keep himself in discipline and do good for the nation. With his senses under his control, he would refrain from unjust acts and without violating any rules, can enjoy his life, charity, wealth and desires. But, if any of these are overdone, can hurt others and itself too. Kautilya says wealth is the most important among all. Ministers who help the King in keeping away from such enemies, are respectable and hence they assist the sovereign.
Regarding the “selection of ministers”, there are various views from different school of thought. Bharadvaja says that the King should appoint his classmates as ministers because he knows them personally and can trust them well. Visalaksha says if ministers are King’s classmates, then they could dislike him as well. So, ministers should be those whom secrets are known by the King himself so they cannot betray him. Parasara says that King has his own secrets as well. So, he should appoint those who helped him in his difficult times and are trustworthy too. According to Pisuna, ministers should be men tried and tested of their abilities in respective fields. Kaunapadanta says that the King should appoint those whose fathers or grandfathers have been ministers before so that they have an established relationship with the King based on trust. Vátavyádhi says the King should appoint new persons specialized in polity as ministers because they would not offend him and obey him as the King. Son of Bahudanti says that ministerial position needs experience not just theory. Therefore, rather than new officials, the King should select ministers from high families who are noble, brave and have loyal feelings towards King. Kautilya says that indeed man’s efficiency in work shows his ability and such men, after considering their place and time of work, should be appointed as ministers.
For the “Creation of Council”, Kautilya describes the qualities which a minister should have. A ministerial officer should be a high family member, trained in arts, strong memory, health, skills, strong conduct and free from procrastination and hatred. Those who have half or quarter of these qualities, are posted on lower ranks. The King has much work to do simultaneously, so he assigns those works to ministers. As for the appointment of Priest, he should be from noble family, well educated in all sciences and has the ability to prevent calamities from the skies and human doings by performing rituals explained in Atharvaveda. A King should follow the teachings of him.
Kautilya explains another issue which is “Ascertaining by Temptations Purity or Impurity in the Characters of Ministers”. A King, with the help of his Prime Minister and High Priest, shall offer temptations to his ministers to test their character. The King along with a priest set up a situation where the priest disobeys King and is dismissed. Then he, disguised as a classmate, tries to provoke other ministers against King. If ministers do not fluctuate, then they are tested as pure. This is termed as religious allurement. In the same way, a commander of army and a woman spy, as disguised, make ministers go against the King, but if they remain firm then it means that they are loyal to the King and are pure in character. These practices are known as monetary allurement and love allurement, respectively. Kautilya says that the King or Queen shall not themselves take part in that, instead appoint agency of spies to test ministers.
Arthashastra discusses about “Institution of Spies” too. The King with his ministers makes spies. Those spies are disguised as fraudulent believers, hermit, a householder, merchants, colleagues, firebrand, murderers and beggar women. They swear that they would tell King everything they find suspicious. This way they would check the purity of character in King’s people or servants. It further explains who will become what type of spy. Orphans who are solely dependent on state for their food and living, will fight tigers and elephants in battlefield and will become firebrand. Those who are cruel, become poisoner. A Brahman poor widow, who wants to earn money, will become woman ascetic and live in King’s Harem. Women of Shudra caste will be wandering spies. Those spies who are well trained and educated will be assigned to spy on King’s ministers and officials. Dwarfs, eunuchs, dumb will be spies in their own houses and the local spies also have to trace the foreign spies in their lands.
Another concern is about “Protection of Parties For or Against One’s Own Cause in One’s Own State”. Along with set up spies on prime ministers, King shall also espy his people. Classmate spies shall start debates regarding King with opposing arguments in crowded area and see for traitors. They also have to confirm the rumors going on in the public. Spies disguised as astrologers shall look for greedy, angry and suspicious people, then their relationship with each other and foreign Kings. Contented people will be awarded and discontented shall be convinced by giving gifts or by punishments. Hence, a wise King shall guard his people with varying factions of enemy and foreign Kings among them. Another point is about “Winning over Factions For or Against an Enemy’s Cause in Enemy’s State”. There are some people who are against the King due to many reasons. Some are provoked whose rights are not delivered, some are alarmed who are furious and aggressive for King, others are ambitious and haughty. All these people have something against the King. These people are offered to work together with spies under formal terms to get their goals. The friends of foreign Kings can also be persuaded through gifts, threats or by pointing the defects of their Kings.
“Business of Council Meeting” is another point here. After taking care of local and foreign parties, the King then looks at the administrative affairs. The decisions related to administration are taken through deliberations at the council meeting. The subject of the meetings shall be kept confidential from all people even from birds because they used to be the couriers of information too. Therefore, without any back-up guarding force, a King shall never enter into a deliberation of council meeting. Whoever discloses information about council meeting, shall be punished heavily. So, the most important information shall only be known by the King because ministers could leak information through carelessness. So, the members of the council shall learn sciences and Vedas.
Kautilya in Arthashastra also talks about the “envoys”. The successful councilors are made as envoys. Those who have ministerial capabilities are made ambassador. Those who are one-quarter less capable shall be given missions. Whoever has half of the above abilities, convey summon. An envoy shall befriend the enemy’s officers who work on boundaries of cities. He also shall know about the size of enemy’s area and about precious things there. When he enters the fort of enemy King, he shall clearly explain the mission assigned to him. Other than these duties, an envoy maintains treaties, gains secret information and makes enemy’s officers and envoys his friends. Therefore, such envoys shall be appointed by the King and he shall guard himself from foreign spies.
Another most important topic covered in Arthashastra is “Protection of Princes”. King shall take extra care of his princes. There are various arguments about this as well from different scholars. Bharadvaja says that ill-tempered and jealous princes can end up taking the throne of their fathers. So, they shall be punished secretly when they show love for the King. Visalaksha says princes shall be guarded in a safe place because punishing them would be cruel and it would exterminate Kshatriya race. School of Parasara say that fearing from princes seems like fearing from a lurking snake. He may think that his father (King) is locking him up and ends up making his father responsible for his sufferings. So, the prince shall be guarded inside the fort. Pisuna argues that after getting to know the reason of his rustication, he may turn against the King. So, he shall send to the fort of the foreign King. It is like a wolf hidden in a flock of sheep. Kaunapadanta says it is better for a prince to live in his own state in case the foreign king instigates him against his father. Kautilya says a Prince shall learn sciences and refrain from allurements like hunting, liquor or women. If he has good qualities, then he may be appointed as commander-in-chief or the heir. If the King has only son, then attempts shall be made to procreate him a son but never a wicked prince shall be installed on the royal throne.
“The Duties of a King” are also explained in detail. Firstly, a King should be strong and energetic as the whole nation is looking up to him and would follow him. Secondly, if he is weak then enemies can easily hurt him. A King shall divide his time for different activities. He shall check accounts and expenditures, look into public matters, eat and study, collect revenue, attend superintendents, attend assembly of ministers, receive secret information through spies, his me-time, supervise infantry and military operations’ strategy with commander-in-chief. A King shall never make his officials and public wait. If he is inaccessible to them then confusions and conflicts shall happen, or he may end up falling prey to the enemies. So, he shall attend businesses himself and never postpone them. Kautilya says the King shall ever be active, he shall find his happiness in his people’s happiness. Being active is the only way to get wealth and successes or otherwise he shall perish along with his kingdom.
The King shall “make villages” on new land or ruins. Each village shall not be less than a hundred families and not more than five hundred families of Shudra caste. Boundaries shall be demarcated by rivers, mountains, caves or forests. Priests and other people who perform rites shall be given lands with the exemption of taxes and fines. Accountants, administrative people, physicians, horse-trainers and messengers shall be given land which they cannot sell. Lands which are ready for cultivations shall be given to taxpayers and those lands which are in process, shall not be taken away from people. Kautilya says that the King shall not only look after old timber forests, buildings and mines but also make new ones.
According to Kautilya, “finance is the most important thing” as many tasks depend on this. Things which constitute in financial prosperity of an empire are public prosperity, capturing thieves, wealth coming from crops, prosperity of commerce, less calamities, less taxes and income in gold. But things which cause harm to treasury include obstruction, fabrication of accounts, loss in revenue, self-enjoyments, trade-offs, misusage of funds etc. Kautilya also describes their punishments. For obstruction, a fine of 10 times of amount is imposed, lending money of treasury and trading by government’s money is punishable for the fine of twice the amount of profit earned, for fabrication the fine is 10 times, an intentional loss of revenue by someone’s doing is 4 times the loss, miscalculation of revenue collected is punished for 12 times of the total amount. There are forty ways of embezzlement and in case of embezzlement, a public announcement is made if there are any people affected by the offender. If someone comes forward then he is paid equally to the amount he lost, by the King.
Arthashastra also explains “remedies against natural calamities”. Eight kinds of natural calamities are there from which a King has to protect his nation. These are fire, floods, pestilential diseases, famine, rats, tigers, serpents, and demons. To prevent fire, cooking shall be made outside in summers, precautionary measures shall be taken, and offerings and prayers shall be made to the fire. To ward off floods, villagers living near rivers shall migrate to up countries in rainy days, boats and bamboos shall be prepared in case of persons affecting from floods, people who are intentionally neglecting rescue shall be fined 12 panas, rivers shall be worshiped, experts in Vedas and mystics shall perform incantations against rain and in case of drought, Indra and Ganges mountains shall be worshiped. To overcome pestilences or plagues, remedial measures shall be taken. Doctors with their medicines and ascetics with their purificatory ceremonies shall try to avoid floods. Moreover, offerings to God, milking cows on ceremonial grounds and spending nights in devotion to God shall also be observed. During famine, the King shall show mercy on people and provide them seeds from his own collection or seeking help from other friend Kings. Other policies include extracting wealth from rich people or the King emigrating to other green lands with his people. The King shall also move with his people towards seas or rivers where water is abundant, and his people can grow crops there or the King shall buy them food by hunting or fishing on a large scale. To ward off danger from the rats, cats and mongooses shall be let out. Those who kill caught rats shall be fined 12 panas. Same punishment is for those who do not control their dogs except for wild tribes. Rituals shall be conducted by ascetics and rats shall be worshiped on new and full moon. To overcome the danger of snakes, remedies shall be taken, and incantations may be done by experts, experts in Atharvaveda shall perform rites, and snakes may also be worshiped on new and full moon. To get rid of tigers, corps of animals filled with the juice of madana plant may be put in different places. They may be caught using nets and weapons. One who neglects a person in the clutches of a tiger shall be punished 12 panas and who kills a tiger, he will be awarded the same amount too. Experts in Atharvaveda and mysticism shall perform rituals to ward off demons. The King shall protect his people from demons as a father to his sons. Such magic experts shall be honored by the King.
According to Kautilya, “the elements of sovereignty” are the King, ministers, country, fort, treasury, army and friends. Then he describes best qualities of them. The best qualities of a King are member of a high family, brave, divine, righteous, truthful, grateful, has set great goals, enthusiastic, powerful, resolute mind, has assembly of high ministers and highly disciplined. The qualities of a good country or state include having capital cities in center and extremities of Kingdom, can maintain its own citizens along with the outsiders in case of calamities, dominates neighboring kingdoms, free from uneven tracks and wild beasts, has fertile lands, abundant waters, bears vast army and taxation, a population of agriculturalists, intellectuals and loyal servants to the King. A good treasury is justly obtained, rich in gold, silver and gems, and can withstand long time calamities. Kautilya says that a wise King is expert in politics and even though he owns a small territory, will conquer the whole earth with the help of his best elements of sovereignty and cannot be defeated.
Arthashastra also discusses a situation where “a weak King is attacked by a powerful King”. In this situation, Bharadvaja says that the weak King shall surrender, and it is the same as bowing before Indra, the God of Rain. Visalaksha says that the weak King should fight with all of his might because it is the duty of a Kshatriya despite of the fact that he wins or not. Kautilya says that he who completely surrenders, lives his life in despair. When a weak King fights a strong King, it’s like crossing a sea without boat. So, the weak King either seek help from a powerful King or seek refuge in an impenetrable fort. There are three types of invaders defined: just, greedy and demon-like conqueror. A just conqueror is satisfied with only respect, the greedy one needs lads and wealth but the demon-like not only needs wealth and family of the weak king but also his life. So, the weak King shall seek help of the first, satisfy second one with wealth and for the third one, he should keep a distance between them by offering him land and wealth.
In my opinion, Kautilya’s Arthashastra is much relevant in the 21st century. It has discussed so many points which are still present in states too. For example, issue of the purity or loyalty of ministers, institution of spies or now-a-days intelligent agencies, danger of attack of a strong state on weak state etc. States still interact on the basis on their interests, treasury or the finance department is the most important one in state functioning, embezzlements happen, the phenomenon of war is there, new towns have to be made, where monarchy is present those states still have issues related to princes or heirs and throne, public has grievances related to leaders and many more. In short, Arthashastra has everything which could occur in a state and it is a complete book to run a country under proper rules and regulations as it was written for the same very purpose by Kautilya for the King Chandragupta Maurya.
As far as the strengths and weaknesses of Arthashastra are concerned, I think its strengths are unmeasurable as discussed earlier as well. It is a comprehensive treatise beneficial for a country. But the weakness which I came across is that some points are really hard to digest. E.g., the part where the protection of princes is discussed, how can a King enlock his own kid just under the suspicion of future treason or send him to another King’s fort? It is something strange. Moreover, Arthashastra was written on Hindu Ideologies for an Indian Empire. There are various points where Hindu ideology clashes with other religions and ideologies. So, it would be difficult for non-Hindu states to follow those rules in the same sense. It is biased towards Hinduism.
In a nutshell, Arthashastra is a very good example and a guide to achieve a state’s interests inside and outside its boundaries. This clearly defines how a leader, its ministers, cabinet, officials, and people should be to acquire the best in their favor. Kautilya devised a state structure for public welfare which is needed in the 21st century world too where states still vague wars, directly and indirectly. States are struggling hard to survive because their state structure is messed up. If Arthashastra is followed in its true sense, then, I think, states would clearly see a difference in the aftermath of their decisions. The consequences would be good for all whether it is state, officials or the common people. But the states should imply those rules and policies keeping in view their political structure as well, as empires no more exist. But still, its policies are much relevant to gain successes for the state’s betterment.
Turkey’s role in Afghanistan
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on Thursday launched a training program in Turkey for Afghan military personnel. This is the first time when Afghan soldiers are being trained outside their country after the end of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, Pajhwok News reported. “NATO’s continued support to Afghanistan includes out-of-country training for Afghan Special Forces. This training has now begun. For security reasons, we will not go into the details of our out-of-country training for Afghan special forces,” NATO informed. Earlier, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated NATO’s continued support for Afghanistan, noting that this will include funding, civilian presence, and out-of-country training, Pajhwok News reported.
The US, along with its allies of 46 nations, fought in Afghanistan for almost two decades, spent trillions of Dollars, sacrificed thousands of its soldiers, and yet admitted that the Afghan war is “un-win-able,” and finally withdrew from Afghanistan. Afghanistan is known as the graveyard of empires. Historically, British, Russians, and now Americans have been defeated in Afghanistan.
Although the US has destroyed infrastructure, power plants, Industry, Agriculture, and killed millions of innocent Afghanis, made millions homeless, forced millions to live in refugee camps or immigrate to other countries and live a miserable life. But count not control any part of Afghan soil. Almost 90 percent of Afghanistan is under Taliban control practically.
The role of the Afghan Government of Ashraf Ghani or Hamid Karzai was not different from President Dr. Najeeb, Hafiz Ullah Amin, Noor Muhammad Turkey, etc. Under the occupation of the former USSR in the 1980s. One was USSR’s puppets, and now it is American puppets’ governments. Both were not elected by the people of Afghanistan and were not representatives of the Afghan people. Both were imposed on the people of Afghanistan and were backed by foreign forces, i.e., the former USSR, and now it is the US. Both were working on foreign agenda and were not looking after the people of Afghanistan nor the national interests. Both were employees of foreign forces and were working on their dictations and were implementing foreigner’s strategic plans. While President Ashraf Ghani and Hamid Karzai were following their footprints, their end should be similar too. There will be no role of the Afghan Ghani government of Hamid Karzai in the future political setup in Afghanistan.
It is the Taliban who struggled to liberate their motherland from foreign forces, either from British, or Russians, or Americans. Taliban are the real power-pillars, owners of the country, and winners of the decades-old war. They protect Afghanistan and look after the interests of Afghanistan genuinely. They are the winner, and they deserve to rule the country. There will be no share for Ashraf Ghani or Hamid Karzai or any traitor serving foreign masters.
Although the bias and partial media kept on projecting the negative image of the Taliban and portraying them as uneducated, wild, cruel, and uncivilized, but actually, they are well educated, some of them graduated from American or European Universities. They are equipped with the latest knowledge of Economy, Science, Technology, Engineering, Health, and religions, etc. Whatever propaganda is disseminated against them, all turn wrong and counter-productive. At the end of the day, they have defeated the foreign aggressors throughout history and now are in a strong position to rule the country.
As the major part of the country is under Taliban control and Government forces are surrendering with almost no resistance. Taliban are in a position to enter Kabul at any moment conveniently. But, they are wise and smart people and wanted a political solution. Militarily, they are the winner but are struggling to gain recognition from the rest of the world politically. The recent visit of the Taliban to China was part of their diplomatic breakthrough. They have got recognition from Russia and China, and many other countries under their influence. They have close contact with few European countries and middle-eastern countries. Once they are confident that their Government will receive a welcome from the international community, they will enter Kabul without any hardship.
Few countries are trying to harm the peace process in Afghanistan but will never succeed. The American support to the Afghan Government is one tool to keep Afghan unstable and war-like situation. When the US was in Afghanistan, having 150,000 troops, support, and backing of 46 countries, full military might, could not defeat the Taliban. How can they succeed while out of Afghanistan and making airstrikes from far away bases in Middle-East. Afghan Government has no capacity to face the Taliban at all.
It seems that the US has changed its strategy and wanted to involve Turkey in Afghanistan. Post withdrawal, Turkey may be asked to provide security of Kabul airport. Let me share Pakistan’s experience. It might help our Turk brothers. After the 9/11 incident in 2001, Pakistan supported the US in its war on terror. During the Afghan war, Pakistan was with the American side. Taliban believes that Americans were aggressors and any country supporting aggressors is equally wrong and considered an enemy. So, the Taliban turn up against Pakistan and fighting against Pakistan. Terrorism increased in Pakistan, Taliban were attacking Pakistan on and off and harming Pakistan’s interests. Principally, the Taliban should be friendly with Pakistan, but as a cost of friendship with America, we faced enmity with the Taliban and paid a heavy price. On the other hand, Americans also betrayed Pakistan and, after gaining its strategic goals, punished Pakistan in the form of sanctions and blackmailing. Americans have a tradition of punishing their friend and always proved disloyal.
Let’s Turks evaluate and re-asses the benefits of offering training to Afghan Army and cost on enmity with Taliban, and decide in their best national interests.
North-East India Towards Peace and Prosperity: Bangladesh Paves the Way
Bangladesh has always been one of the brightest examples of religious harmony and peace. “secularism” is not only a word that’s inscribed in Bangladesh’s constitution as one of the four fundamental principles of the state, but it’s also an automatism that shapes the social subsistence of Bangladeshi people.
But there was a rise in ripples in the non-perpetual tranquility in the name of terrorism and religious extremism. Although Islamist parties were constantly present in politics, Islamist factions first emerged in 1989 in Bangladesh and they run riot in the following years with the sole desire of establishing Caliphate in the region. The incidents of attack on Udichi, bomb blast on Ramna Batamul, nationwide series bomb blast, target killings of bloggers, rise of Bangla Bhai and Shayokh Abdur Rahman had dished the public morals and compelled the government to form a rapid force to put a stopper on them.
All the efforts and prevalence against terrorism were besmirched on July 1, 2016, after the terrorist attack on the Holy Artisan, a ritzy eatery, just a stone’s throw away from the American Embassy. The Dhaka attack along with a string of attacks afterwards opened a new chapter of terror for Bangladesh. With encrypted communication system the terrorists were trying to engage the state with newer weapons. After that attack, Bangladesh launched a full-fledged war against terrorism and was mostly successful. An early interview of Tamim Ahmed Chawdhury, the mastermind of the Holy Artisan attack, on ‘Dabiq’ (the online magazine of Islamic States of Iraq and the Levant) reveals their reasons of using Bangladesh for terror attacks to be the geopolitical advantage and close proximity to India. Bangladesh has often been used as a launch-pad of attacks against India; not only for Islamist terror attacks from outside, but also for their inside insurgencies.
Bangladesh, the subconscious protector of its closest neighbor, had often played the role of a coadjutor in countering insurgencies of North East region of India. The Chairman of United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) Aravinda Rajkhowa was detained and handed over to India in 2009, the ULFA stalwart Anup Chetia was arrested in 1997 and deported in 2015 after 18 years of imprisonment in Bangladesh, ULFA leader Ranju Chowdhury alias Rattan Sarker was arrested in 2010. Bangladesh handed over the entire ULFA leadership and Bodo insurgent leaders to India. Bangladesh’s zero tolerance policy against terrorism had benefitted India immensely as North-East insurgencies were a real bummer for India.
India might have paid the favor back by covertly helping Bangladesh to arrest fugitive killer of ‘Bangabandhu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It’s known that there is an extra-ordinary real-time co-operation and collaboration between the intelligence agencies of India and Bangladesh.
India repeatedly lauds Bangladesh’s zero tolerance policy against terrorism, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indian President Ramnath Kovind, Foreign Minister, Home Minister and Chief Ministers of neighboring states had often expressed their appreciations and gramercy.
For now, the insurgency is on its lowest in the North-eastern part of India, for which the newly elected Chief Minister of Assam, Hemant Bishwa Sharma has expressed his gratitude to Bangladesh and desire to enhance business and connectivity between Bangladesh and North-East India. It will happen eventually, equally benefitting both the countries, strengthening the ties. Just as Bangladesh extended its hand to establish peace there, India also needs Bangladesh’s assistance for the prosperity of that region. India wants to reach and connect to the hard-to-reach part with transit facility from Bangladesh, which Bangladesh responds with a counter-proposal of transshipment. A trial run had held last year opening a new door of economic potential.
Regional trade is below its potential in South Asia, but leaders of India and Bangladesh are building upon strong bilateral ties for economic growth and prosperity. Maitri Setu, or Friendship Bridge, built over the Feni River is a crucial corridor that will facilitate this. Several connectivity channels were revived, whereas few projects are ongoing, many are on the negotiation table. If a seamless connectivity is established, time and cost will be reduced and both the side of the border will prosper exponentially. This hard-earned fleeting quiescence in NE can only be slacked up if livelihood and trade become exacerbated. Like peace, prosperity in NE may come taking Bangladesh’s hand.
Insurgencies in NE had taken it back by 50 years. It’s high time India concentrated on the betterment of the livelihood of the people of NE. For this connectivity and infrastructure development with Bangladesh is must. This will also open new avenues of transportation through Bangladesh to NE, Bhutan and Nepal.
There is an age-old philosophy that it is the interdependence of economics, survival, stability, progress, and security that reduces the chances of conflicts between nations, especially the neighbors. Stability, peace, progress, and security of India and Bangladesh are interlinked and interdependent due to their common interests, future and destiny.
A peaceful region enhances business, boosts economy. Peace is what the people of Bangladesh and India wants. Peace is everyone’s right.
May peace be upon everyone in the world.
What Does NATO Withdrawal from Afghanistan Mean for Regional Actors?
By September 11, 2021, NATO’s 20-year operation in Afghanistan will come to a close. That date marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on U.S. soil that prompted the invasion of the Central Asian state to eradicate the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda extremist group which used the country as a base for global terrorism.
America’s longest and most expensive war is coming to an end, but the country left behind finds itself in a state of turmoil. Peace talks between the internationally recognized Afghan government based in Kabul and the Taliban held in Doha, Qatar, have stalled. The Taliban’s hand in negotiations is becoming increasingly strong as the group has managed to seize power in roughly ⅓ of Afghanistan’s administrative districts sending Afghan government forces fleeing across the borders of neighboring states. Many districts have fallen to the Taliban without much resistance from the NATO-funded and equipped government forces compounding fears that Taliban influence and power will only grow as coalition forces complete their withdrawal.
The NATO withdrawal creates significant hurdles for regional stability and a power vacuum in Central Asia. There are several players, both internal and external, who are seeking to fill the void left by the Americans and their allies. Pakistan, India, Iran, Turkey, China and Russia seem poised to play the next “great game” in the so-called “graveyard of empires”. Some of these states have a vested interest in the stability of Afghanistan to ensure regional security and foster economic interests as well as mitigate the spread of extremism and narcotics flows from the state. Some actors stand to benefit from the current instability; supporting rival groups in hopes of enhancing influence and having the upper hand on geopolitical adversaries when the dust settles on the Afghan conflict. This paper will identify some of the most prominent outside actors in the current Afghan crisis, what those actors seek to gain in Afghanistan, and how they will try to achieve those aims.
Pakistan is arguably the most active actor in Afghanistan at this point. Pakistan has longstanding ties to conflict in Afghanistan. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan was an important base for the Mujahidin who eventually waged a guerilla war against Soviet invaders. Pakistan aided the United States in promoting opposition to the Soviets in Afghanistan and was incredibly successful in this role. In the contemporary context, Islamabad has maintained close ties to the Taliban offering support in military hardware, intelligence, being a haven for those fleeing NATO coalition advances in Afghanistan. There are cultural links between Afghan and Pakistani communities with Pashtun tribes living along the borders. Pakistan is one of the major actors that is thriving in the current instability caused by NATO’s withdrawal. The links between the Taliban and Islamabad allow Pakistan to wield considerable influence in Afghanistan; Pakistan has been increasingly pursuing a policy separate from its former close U.S. ally, with relations damaged between the two over Pakistan’s support for terrorist groups. Islamabad also maintains a poor relationship with the internationally recognized government in Kabul. Recently, the Afghan government has recalled senior diplomats from its embassy in Pakistan over the alleged kidnapping of the ambassador’s daughter on the Pakistani soil. Pakistan is also in constant competition for influence in the region in opposition to its historic rival, India.
Despite benefitting from the current turmoil in Afghanistan, its ambitions have become more nuanced in recent years. Pakistan has been growing closer with China, described as its “iron brother” and is a major recipient of investment under the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. Pakistan is being forced to re-evaluate its policy in Afghanistan to protect its links to China and prospective projects under the BRI. China is interested in promoting stability in the region, it has been hesitant to invest in Afghanistan due to previous experience with instability damaging economic prospects in the country. Pakistan and China have engaged with the Taliban and Kabul in a trilateral format to promote peaceful resolution in the country, solidifying both states’ role in the peace process and protecting a potential economic corridor. There is also the prospect of a rail line linking Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan for both passenger and cargo freight that will not move forward without security guarantees in Afghanistan.
Despite playing the role of destabilizer for decades, Pakistan now seeks to reimagine its role as one of a mediator and promoter of economic stability and regional connectivity. Pakistan’s ties with the Taliban, although still strong in some groups within the Taliban, are strained by the perception of the Taliban as Pakistan’s proxy in Afghanistan. The two do share common interests and goals in the country, including opposition to the Kabul government; the Taliban is careful to distance itself from Pakistan to some degree in hopes of projecting itself as an independent and legitimate actor. The Afghan Taliban has also refused to distance itself from the Pakistani Taliban despite repeated attempts at pressuring the group to do so by Islamabad. The United States has also put pressure on the Taliban in peace talks to remove military personnel and structures from neighboring countries, a direct reference to Pakistan where the Taliban has a significant presence on the ground.
India’s aims in Afghanistan are very clear: to counter the influence of Pakistan and to reduce the potential for Afghan territory to be used as a base for anti-Indian extremism. India has long been opposed to the Taliban and maintained a policy of non-engagement with the group. This policy has recently changed due to the changing conditions on the ground. This is not unique to India, many states that have formally declared the Taliban a terrorist organization have been forced to accept the likely scenario that the Taliban will remain a consistent force in the country moving forward. The Indian government has supported the U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan and the government in Kabul through investment and diplomatic support. With the Kabul-based government losing control of large swathes of territory and widely seen as corrupt and unpopular, New Delhi has engaged with the Taliban in direct talks.
Indian assets have been targeted by Taliban groups with close ties to Pakistan, such as the Haqqani Group, for years. Indian investment and support in the governance of Afghanistan were also largely contingent upon the (relative) security and stability provided by NATO forces in the country; these investments are now at risk of becoming a sunk cost with little to show. India under BJP Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to take a more active role in international affairs, particularly in countering Pakistan and China’s influence on the Asian continent. India may seek greater involvement in the Afghan peace process; likely through increased coordination and cooperation with Russia and Iran. Besides, India may want to utilize its position as a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), of which China and Pakistan are also members, to find common ground on the Afghan security issue with its traditional adversaries. It is also important to note that if the Taliban seeks to become a legitimate governing force in Afghanistan, cooperation with New Delhi will be important as it is an important regional player with significant economic and political clout. This cooperation may take the form of greater separation between the Taliban and Pakistan’s intelligence services which India views as a hostile actor and promoter of anti-Indian terrorist activities.
Turkey’s position in Afghanistan presents many opportunities for the only Islamic-majority member of the NATO alliance. Turkey’s foreign military presence under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been significant with active involvement in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey’s relationship with the United States and other NATO allies has been tense in recent years. Its military involvement in Syria and Libya has not been received positively by all parties, and its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems drew the ire of the alliance, ending with Turkey’s removal from the F-35 fighter program.
Turkey has recently attempted to restore its reputation with NATO allies and the United States after some viewed Erdoğan as increasingly authoritarian and too close to Russia. It has offered to secure Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, seen as an essential link to the world for international diplomats to remain in Afghanistan following NATO withdrawal. The government in Ankara is also seeking to increase its involvement in Afghanistan as a mediator with the Taliban; Turkey has hosted the Taliban and Kabul-based government for talks in Istanbul earlier this year.
Greater Turkish involvement in Afghanistan as a security guarantor and mediator, welcomed by NATO allies, is not being received positively by all parties. The Taliban have gone on record stating that a continued Turkish military presence in Afghanistan is not acceptable. The group believes that Turkish troops remaining in Afghanistan violate the terms of the 2020 peace agreement with the United States that stipulates NATO troops are obliged to withdraw from Afghanistan. They believe that Turkey, despite being “a great Islamic country”, is still an occupational force that will not be tolerated. Russia may also be unenthusiastic about a greater Turkish role in Afghanistan. While Russia does have a vested interest in maintaining stability in Afghanistan, recent competition with Turkey for influence in its Central Asian sphere of influence (particularly, in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict) means an enlarged security role for Turkey in its backyard may be received coolly by Moscow.
Iran, which shares a 900+ km land border with Afghanistan, also intends to play a greater role in Afghanistan following the departure of its NATO adversaries. Iran, a Shiite-majority nation, has a complicated relationship with the Sunni Taliban. The two have long had ideological differences that have been glazed over due to a common enemy in the United States. The Afghan government has accused both Iran and Russia of training and equipping Taliban militants on Iranian territory for attacks on NATO and government forces. Iran is forced to take a more realist approach to the Taliban. Despite ideological differences, it recognizes that the Taliban will remain a powerful influence in Afghanistan and sees its best prospects for influence in the region through cooperation with the Taliban and traditional allies like Russia.
Iran also has economic and demographic considerations pertaining to the Afghan conflict. Iran is home to 780,000 registered Afghan immigrants and refugees in addition to an estimated 2.1-2.5 million undocumented Afghan migrants. Iran faces a future demographic crisis; its population is aging, its economy is in decline, and fertility rates are far below the necessary levels to spur future economic growth. With the impact of Western sanctions sending the Iranian economy into a tailspin, Iranians are now hesitant to have more children as economic prospects in the country decline. The Afghan crisis provides Iran with a potential surge in migration that may help mitigate population decline and strengthen its negotiating power in resolving the conflict.
Russia’s position in Afghanistan is multifaceted. The historical memory of the Soviet-Afghan War from 1979-89 which is widely regarded as a significant contributing factor to the decline of the Soviet Union still weighs heavily on many Russians. Russia also maintains close security ties to the states that border Afghanistan, namely: Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Iran. Russia’s largest foreign military base is in Tajikistan, while the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led military alliance, figures to play a major role in any fallout from the Afghan crisis to secure the borders of member states. Russia has deployed tanks to the Afghan-Tajik border and plans to hold joint exercises with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in August along the border regions. Russia considers Central Asia and the former Soviet states to be its sphere of influence and maintains this influence through its role as the primary regional security guarantor. The current Afghan crisis represents a significant challenge to this role.
Russia’s long-standing opposition to a NATO presence on its southern flank is well-known, but the “hasty” withdrawal of the coalition forces threatens to provoke instability across the entire region. Russia fears that Afghanistan’s internal instability could spread to fragile neighbor states, such as Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. It also has legitimate concerns about the prospect of Afghanistan being used as a base for extremism targeted towards Russia or supportive of terrorists in Russia’s Caucasus regions. There is also the issue of the Taliban’s role in the narcotics trade in Central Asia. Russia has an interest in the stability of Afghanistan and the ability to reduce the flow of Afghan heroin through Central Asia and into Russia.
Russia will be an important actor in Afghanistan moving forward, and there are unique opportunities to collaborate with traditional allies and old adversaries alike. The Taliban, formally a terrorist organization under Russian law, were invited to Moscow for talks regarding the Afghan peace process in March 2021. Russia will likely coordinate with its allies in the CSTO and SCO to take a larger role in promoting stability in Afghanistan. Direct unilateral military involvement in Afghanistan by Russia is unlikely due to the legacy of the Soviet-Afghan War but collective support vis-a-vis multilateral forums remains in the realm of possibility. It has also recently been reported that Russia has made a surprising bid for cooperation on Afghanistan with the United States. At their summit in Geneva earlier this year, President Putin made an offer to President Biden for U.S. forces to utilize Russia’s Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan military bases for intelligence operations in Afghanistan. The United States has still not committed to acting on Russia’s offer, but after promising greater cooperation at the Geneva summit the potential for enhanced cooperation on Afghanistan is not out of the question despite tensions between the two powers.
China shares similar ambitions to Russia in maintaining the stability of Afghanistan. China considers the Taliban a terrorist organization and is wary of the group due to its previous support for separatist Uighur Muslims in its bordering Xinjiang autonomous region. However, like Russia, China understands that the Taliban presence in Afghanistan is an undeniable reality. It recognizes that a degree of cooperation with the Taliban is necessary to maintain stability and influence going forward. In 2019, Beijing held talks on the Afghan peace process with the Taliban seeking to establish ties with the group it had previously opposed. China is seeking to play an active role in the economic reconstruction of Afghanistan following the NATO withdrawal. The country’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are significant investments that require regional stability to flourish. China has dangled the prospect of greater Afghan involvement in the CPEC as an incentive to maintain stability in Afghanistan where it has previously been hesitant to invest.
Like Russia, China is incredibly concerned about the prospect of Afghanistan being used as a base for exporting extremism into its territory, particularly in Xinjiang. Flows of narcotics into China via Afghanistan are also a cause for concern for decision-makers in Beijing. The Chinese government has maintained its best prospects for mitigating these potential issues through active engagement with the Taliban and the incentive of monetary support in exchange for stability and non-interference in domestic affairs. The Taliban has responded positively to overtures from the Chinese government and has pledged not to interfere with China’s internal affairs, although the level of control they exercise over its various factions is still unclear. China’s unilateral military involvement in Afghanistan is unlikely. Instead, China is likely to utilize its role as a leader within the SCO to pursue multilateral solutions for promoting peace and stability in the region. It will likely collaborate with Russia and other regional players, including the Taliban and the Kabul-based government, to ensure that the conflict does not spill over into Chinese territory and to secure its investments in the region.
What Happens Next?
The power vacuum in Afghanistan left by the United States and its NATO allies is quickly being filled by several regional players. Some states, such as Pakistan, hope to take advantage of longstanding ties to the Taliban to exert considerable influence over the Afghan peace process and to gain the upper hand over regional rivals namely, India. States such as Turkey and Iran stand to benefit (to some degree) from the internal instability of Afghanistan.
For Turkey, a greater role in security in the region enhances its Central Asian presence and appeases NATO allies. For Iran, collaboration with the Taliban allows for a greater influence in a territory previously occupied by adversaries while the flow of migrants may mitigate some of its own internal struggles.
China and Russia, relieved that the NATO presence on their borders has been significantly diminished, still have a vested interest in the stability of Afghanistan. For China, the overwhelming majority of its concerns are economic. Stability will allow for greater investment in the region and the protection of existing assets. For Russia, security concerns are paramount in Afghanistan. It fears that instability may spread to its Central Asian neighbors and that it may be forced to play a greater military role in the region as the primary security guarantor for CSTO allies.
These countries have been actively engaging with the Taliban and the Kabul government, hedging their bets in anticipation of a power-sharing agreement between the two parties in the near future. Despite previously viewing the Taliban as a terrorist organization, both China and Russia recognize the need to engage with the group to secure influence in the country going forward.
For all actors involved in the Afghanistan conflict, there is a certain “wait-and-see” mentality; most actors are engaging with all sides hoping to secure influence regardless of the outcome and to avoid a civil war that may spread beyond Afghanistan’s borders. It remains to be seen how effective this strategy will be and how the situation will develop in Afghanistan following the conclusion of the NATO and U.S. withdrawal from the country.
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