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South Asia

India- Bangladesh- Sri Lanka: Preventive Response to Increased Competition in the Region

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For centuries, the Indian Ocean and South Asia have played a significant role in the struggle for leadership between the great powers. The 21st century is no exception. The region is becoming the focus of strategic competition between leading regional and non-regional actors again. It requires a response from India, especially in building relations not only with China, the United States, or Japan but also with its closest neighbors. Under the prevailing circumstances, one of the most promising areas of New Delhi’s foreign policy is the India — Bangladesh — Sri Lanka strategic triangle, which has significant political, defense, and economic potential, and, most importantly, can provide a stronger basis for multilateral cooperation in the region.

Increase of geostrategic competition in the Indian Ocean and South Asia

For centuries, the Indian Ocean and South Asia have faced strong external influence and competition from non-regional actors. Due to its unique geographic location, this region has crucial strategic importance both in terms of trade and defense. The reality is that no country in the world can become a superpower unless it provides dominance over the dual area of the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. For example, China has been trying for decades to gain a presence in the Indian Ocean in an attempt to reduce its dependence on the Strait of Malacca, including due to the implementation of infrastructure projects in Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, etc. In response to the growing influence of the PRC, the United States has replaced its Pacific and African Commands to the Indo-Pacific and supports the ambitions of Japan, Australia, and European states to increase their influence in the region.

In turn, India had accurately predicted this tendency. Moreover, back in 2004, New Delhi’s maritime doctrine stated that “All the major powers of this century will seek a toehold in the Indian Ocean Region”.

However, central to India’s foreign policy vision is the growing influence of Beijing in New Delhi’s traditional «zone of influence». Over the past decade, China has become one of the major trade and investment partners for the countries of South Asia and the Indian Ocean: Chinese companies are actively implementing infrastructure projects aimed at building highways, railways, and ports, and almost all countries in the region have joined the Belt and Road initiative (exceptionally Bhutan and India itself). Despite the economic nature of China’s cooperation with the countries of the region, Beijing’s geostrategic benefits from the rapprochement with New Delhi’s closest neighbors attract the attention of India’s expert, academic communities, and, probably, authorities.

At the same time, in the face of turbulence in the Sino-Indian relations, as well as their tension in Eastern Ladakh, it was widely analyzed the trend of Indian rapprochement with the United States, Japan, and Australia, which allowed New Delhi to increase its credibility, both among its closest neighbors and in the wider Indo-Pacific. However, India continues to adhere to its foreign policy course, taking a more concrete, but still restrained position on the issue of cooperation with Western actors. At the same time, India uses its increased role in the region to build a strategic triangle with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — two intraregional states with high importance in the region’s geopolitics and solid experience of interaction with middle and great powers. If Sri Lanka is an important trading hub of the Indian Ocean and is also suitable for hosting navy vessels, then Bangladesh is a «gateway» for India to Southeast Asia, which will be increasingly opened as relations between Dhaka and New Delhi strengthen, as well as the development of the north-eastern states of India.

The emerging triangle between India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka

Anyway, due to the economic, political, and military rise, China has been able to create a geostrategic space for itself in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. In recent years, China has become one of the leading trading partners and a foreign direct investment (FDI) source for most of the countries of the region, which was undoubtedly beneficial for Beijing. So, in 2017, Sri Lanka joined the «Belt and Road Initiative», opening the doors for China’s companies to implement major infrastructure projects on its territory. In the same year, the parties reached an agreement on the construction of a port and airport on southern Sri-Lanka’s coast in Hambantota as part of China’s loans. The project cost was US$361 million. However, with the increase in the number of Chinese infrastructure projects, as well as the number of loans from the PRC, Sri Lanka faced the inability to independently compensate its debt. As a result, China has leased for 99 years the port of Hambantota on the terms of a debt swap, and the total debt of Colombo to Beijing in 2020 was amounted to about US$5 billion.  Thus, China’s economic influence allowed it to gain more strategic space in India’s traditional region of influence as well as to gain a solid foothold in Sri Lanka.

The current environment caused the retaliatory measures from India, which has intensified the Sri Lankan vector of its foreign policy. Of course, compared to investments from China, Indian financing of projects in Sri Lanka is more modest, but, at the same time, targeted and focused on the sustainable development of Sri Lanka’s territories. New Delhi has already provided about US$1.3 billion for the development of the railway network between the southern and northern regions of Sri Lanka, over US$45.27 million — for the modernization of Kankesanturai Port and Palaly Airport, as well as cooperates with Tokyo on the development of the East Container Terminal (ECT) in the capital port of Sri Lanka. Moreover, in 2018, during a meeting of the Standing Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Relations of India, the Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former Indian Ambassador to China Vijay Gokhale and experienced diplomat stated, and I quote: «So, our efforts are to assist them [ed. the states of the region — A.G.] in building infrastructure projects which will hopefully also be able to reduce the dependency on China in terms of infrastructure requirement».

Against the backdrop of high debt liability and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka received support from India, Bangladesh, and China. Earlier in the year, India offered Sri Lanka to supplement its foreign exchange reserves by US$1 billion, while Bangladesh, whose per capita income is twice as low as Sri Lanka’s, also didn’t stand aside and reached an agreement to provide the Sri Lankan side with US$200 million.

In such a case, it would be important to highlight at least three details. First, the currency swap agreement between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka marked the first time that a country in the region other than India has provided significant financial support to another country in South Asia. Second, the joint actions of India and Bangladesh have balanced a similar agreement between China and Sri Lanka on a currency swap worth US$1.54 billion. Finally, New Delhi’s assistance, combined with Dhaka’s rational approach to its economy (Bangladesh’s external debt amounted to 16-18% of GDP in 2016-2019, and foreign exchange reserves — $45 billion), can facilitate the exchange of experience among the region’s countries in order to avoid situations of excessive dependence and increased debt to more influential partners. A special role, in this case, can be played by platforms for multilateral intraregional dialogue, including the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which includes all parties to the emerging triangle.

At the same time, India and Bangladesh are working towards strengthening not only economic but also defense ties with Sri Lanka. In 2019, New Delhi and Colombo reached an agreement to strengthen defense cooperation, including training of the island state’s military personnel. Moreover, the triangle countries have aт extensive experience in conducting bilateral and multilateral exercises, as evidenced by the recent India — Sri Lanka naval exercises (October 2020) and the joint maneuvers between India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan (April 2021). Given the increased Sino-US rivalry in the region, as well as a large number of non-traditional security threats (drug smuggling, piracy, pollution from navigation and excessive fishing), the multidimensional cooperation of New Delhi, Dhaka and Colombo may be useful.

Analyzing the specific case of Bangladesh, it should be noted its economic success, including high GDP rates of economic growth, as well as the intensification of maritime and land trade. Thus, in 2011, New Delhi and Dhaka resolved a long-standing territorial dispute and demarcate the land border that certainly strengthened the level of mutual trust between the countries. Moreover, Bangladesh has joined the 1360-kilometer India — Myanmar — Thailand (IMT) highway project, becoming part of an ambitious opportunity to link the South and Southeast Asia’s countries.

The growing involvement of Bangladesh in issues of intraregional security, maintaining a stable situation in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, as well as its growing synergy with India, provoked rumors about the possible joining of Dhaka to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). China reacts sharply to the activities of the Quad, openly calling it an anti-Chinese coalition. In the case of Bangladesh, the China’s reaction was also not long in coming. In May 2021 PRC’s Ambassador Li Ziming warned Dhaka that its joining the Quad would cause significant damage to its bilateral relations with Beijing. Responding to this statement, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Dr. Abdul Momen, assured the Chinese side that Dhaka adheres to a balanced foreign policy and non-alignment course. Moreover, the Quad countries haven’t yet approached Bangladesh on this issue but, according to the Bangladeshi official, Dhaka will determine the course of its foreign policy in the interest of its people itself.

Considering the gradual building of the Quad into a military coalition, as well as the growing number of pro-American articles in some of the media in the region, Beijing’s reaction is quite understandable. Moreover, the verbal duel didn’t lead to dramatic deterioration of bilateral relations between China and Bangladesh (the next month after the Quad incident, «Xinhua» reported that Dhaka and Beijing had agreed to expand their already close military cooperation). However, Dhaka’s reaction has become a marker of its growing regional influence, as well as the PRC’s close attention to India’s active engagement as one of the Quad sides with other countries of South Asia and the Indian Ocean, including Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Conclusion

Due to increased competition of non-regional actors in the Indian Ocean and South Asia, India and the regional countries face a number of challenges. On the one hand, the variability of the Indo-Pacific vision shared by the Quad countries gave New Delhi more weight, but led to increased rivalry in its «area of responsibility» and damaged the relations with China. On the other hand, New Delhi is skillfully taking advantage of the opportunity, using its increased influence to strengthen relations not so much with the United States, Australia and Japan, but with its neighbors in the region. The clearest expression of this is the emerging strategic triangle between India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, which has significant political, defense and economic prospects.

In view of the fact that the PRC considers India as its main competitor in the Indian Ocean, and their further rivalry with high probability will take place in the struggle for the loyalty of small intraregional states, the idea of a strategic triangle with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka can be a successful preventive game on the part of New Delhi. Still, it is too early to talk about the full commitment of the two countries to India’s foreign policy vision. Of course, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are interested in a stable and secure environment in the region, but in the short and medium-term outlook, they will continue to avoid the excesses in relations with larger powers, using the competition of India, China and a number of non-regional actors to attract the essential funding.

From our partner International Affairs

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Changing complexion of “militancy” in the occupied Kashmir

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Women walking past Indian security forces in Srinagar, summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Nimisha Jaiswal/IRIN

Two teachers, Supinder Kaur and Deepak Chand, were shot dead in Srinagar on October7, 2021.The Resistance front owned the killing. The name implies that this organisation like the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation front does not have religious moorings. The front explained that “they were killed because they harassed and warned the parents with dire consequences if the students did not attend the school function on August 15 (India’s Independence Day).

In a tweet, the Inspector general of Kashmir police disclosed that 28 civilians had been killed din the valley during 2021”. Five persons belonged to local Hindu and Sikh communities. . Two persons were non-Hindu labourers (pic.twitter.com/j5R2MVWrT3).

Each killing follows massive crackdowns, cordons and searches, and rounding up of innocent people as suspects mostly members of Jammat-e-Islami now banned, and Hurriyat members.

Who the Resistance Front is?

Very little is known about the Front. The Resistance Front publicly emerged in the aftermath of August 5, 2019, when the Central government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of autonomy under Article 370 and split the state into two Union Territories.  The Article 15-A also was abrogated. This article guaranteed special protections to Kashmiri people defined as “permanent residents” of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Front came into limelight when it owned a grenade attack in October 2019. Eight civilians on Srinagar’s busy Hari Singh High Street were injured in the attack. The Front is shy of social posts. But, it did announce its debut on the chat platform, Telegram.

India attributes the April intense gunfight between with security forces in the Keran sector (Kupwara district) to this Front.  It left five personnel of the army’s elite Special Forces dead.

Another encounter has continued for five days until October 19 in Mendhar sector.  India admits having lost several soldiers, including a junior commissioned officer, in the fight The Indian forces dared not enter into the forest. They were content to use heavy guns from the outside. The Indian forces’ initial impression was that the front uses only pistols and improvised explosives. That has been proved wrong.

 To disguise their ignorance about the Front, the forces say, ‘These acts are committed by newly recruited terrorists or those who are about to join terrorist ranks’.  

IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar says, ‘A total of 28 civilians have been killed by terrorists in 2021. Out of 28, five persons belong to local Hindu and Sikh communities and two persons are non-local Hindu labourers.’

India shaken

The non local Kashmiri migrants have no faith in police protection. They are returning to their home towns. The remaining persons are being shifted to army camps.

India’s home minister has planned a visit to Srinagar to familiarize himself with the situation. Indian prime minister Modi is being blamed at home and abroad for emergence of the Resistance Front. The critics point out that Kashmiriat had been the crucible of several civilizations. But India’s reign of terror compelled the native Kashmiri to become xenophobic.  

Modi ventilated his ire at rights criticism in his speech before the National Human rights Commission.

He stressed that welfare measures like providing electric connection, alleviating poverty were more important than human rights.

The NHRC is a statutory body that was constituted on October 12, 1993, under the Protection of Human Rights Act. It takes cognisance of human rights violations, conducts enquiries and recommends compensation to victims from public authorities besides other remedial and legal measures against the erring public servants. However its present chairman is believed to be BJP stooge.

Kashmir, a Guantanamo Bay

Even Mehbooba Mufti, a former BJP ally, has been compelled to call Kashmir a Guantanamo Bay prison. She called for lifting ban on Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Jama’at-e-Islami, withdrawal of `sedition’ or `terrorism’ cases against Kashmiri leaders or ordinary folk. Her voice proved to be a voice in the wilderness.  What else could Mehbooba call Kashmir _ `Kashmiris feel that they are literally imprisoned in a cage from which almost all exit routes are barred save one, to India, which is also not without peril. Kashmiris are distrusted and treated poorly in many parts of India, whether as students or as traders’ (A.G. Noorani, Kashmir, a prison, Dawn January 12, 2019). Trade across the Line of Control has been stopped and `terrorism’ charges slapped on some traders. Even the tyrannical Dogras and their British overlords facilitated Kashmir trade with Central Asian and other states. Kashmiri markets used to be flooded with foreign traders and their merchandise _books, shawls, gold tillas, Russian textiles, Kokandi silk, Bukharan rumals (handkerchiefs) and coral.  Trade from British India would flow through Kulu via the Chang Chenmo route to Yarkand, bypassing the maharaja’s customs officials in Leh. In 1870, Maharaja Ranbir Singh signed a special treaty in Sialkot with Viceroy Lord Mayo to accept this route as a ‘free highway’, later known as Treaty Route.  Central Asians intending to perform hajj used to travel through this route to Karachi or Bombay sea-ports to board ships.  To facilitate pilgrims, highway provided rest houses, and supply depots jointly supervised by British and Kashmir officials. Now, even the Kashmir Highway stands closed to civilian traffic during military-convoy movement.. A minor, violating road closure, was brutally crushed by an Indian army vehicle.”

Mehbooba revealed her government was dismissed for expressing ennui at central-government atrocities, not returning dead bodies of `encounter’ victims and burning them, not allowing funeral prayers, demanding talks with Pakistan, registering an FIR against an army officer, resisting change in Kashmir’s special status, and so on (Indian Express dated April 18. 2019). A cursory look at Kashmir press is horrifying _ Sedition cases were slapped on three Aligarh- university Kashmiri students for trying to hold prayers for Hizb militant Wani, Kashmiri students and traders at Wagah border are forced to chant anti-Pakistan slogans and post them to face book. Kashmir students and traders were attacked or looted throughout India. About 700 students, including girls, fled to Valley. Even holders of PM Modi’s merit-based competitive scholarships had to rush back to Valley for safety. Kashmiri journalists in Indian states were roughed up, mercilessly beaten, and told to go back Meghalaya governor officially directed to boycott everything Kashmiri. Some Kashmiris petitioned Supreme Court to intervene. In its order, the Supreme Court directed 10 states and various institutions to take remedial steps, but in vain.

Fake encounters

People have lost trust In India’s claims of success in “encounters”, mostly fake. In July last year, security forces in Kashmir claimed to have killed three “unidentified hardcore terrorists” in a gunfight in Amshipora village of Kashmir’s Shopian district. They had last made phone calls to their families on July 17, 2020, a day before the purported gunfight had taken place.

An army inquiry and a police probe into the encounter established that the three suspected militants killed in Amshipora were shot dead in a fake encounter.

Indian army stages such encounters to earn reward of Rs. 20 lac per encounter. A year has gone by but the captain accused of masterminding and executing the fake Amshipora encounter is still unpunished.  He abducted three labourers from their homes and shot them dead as “terrorists”. Those killed in Shopian in July 2020 were Mohammed Ibrar of Tarkasi village, Imtiyaz Ahmad of Dharsakri village, and Ibrar Ahmad.

Concluding remark

It is obvious that it is not all hunky dory in Kashmir as India claims. The changed dimension of “militancy” is an incurable headache for the Modi’s government.

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

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

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

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

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

The TTP is eager to show its relations with the Afghan Taliban. TTP’s media showed the pictures of Hakim Mullah Mehsud and Maulvi Nazir with Mullah Sangeen Zardan, a key commander of the Haqqani network. Like the Afghan Taliban, the TTP has established its links with Al Qaeda; however, its main branch still adheres to the Afghan Taliban.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Taliban-Afghanistan Dilemmas

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Source: Twitter

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

The dilemmas are as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The future in and around Afghanistan looks grim indeed.


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

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

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