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South Asia

Why the Taliban Had to Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Zlatko Hadžidedić is the founder and director of the Center for Nationalism Studies, in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina (www.nationalismstudies.org).

South Asia

The Rise of Non-State Actors in Afghanistan: A Consequence of Political Vacuum

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Terrorism

In recent years, Afghanistan has witnessed a surge in the influence of non-state actors such as the Taliban and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). These groups have exploited the political vacuum in the country to carry out acts of violence and terrorism, creating instability and insecurity for the Afghan people and neighboring countries.

Introduction:

The history of Afghanistan is marked by political instability and conflict. In the 1990s, the country was torn apart by a civil war between rival factions, which created a power vacuum that was eventually filled by the Taliban. The Taliban regime was eventually overthrown in 2001 with the help of international forces, but the country has since struggled to establish a stable and effective political administration.

The absence of a recognized political administration in Afghanistan has led to a power vacuum that has allowed non-state actors, such as the TTP, to exploit the situation and use Afghan soil to launch attacks against Pakistan, thereby threatening its security and stability.

The Political Vacuum in Afghanistan:

In the absence of a recognized political administration, non-state actors have been able to take advantage of the situation to establish themselves as power brokers in the country. The Taliban, for example, has been able to regain control over large swathes of territory and carry out acts of violence and terrorism against the Afghan government and international forces. The TTP, which operates primarily in Pakistan, has also taken advantage of the political vacuum in Afghanistan to use the country as a base for launching attacks against Pakistan.

The situation in Afghanistan highlights the importance of having a recognized political administration in place. A stable and effective political administration is essential for maintaining peace and security in the country and preventing the rise of non-state actors like TTP. It is also essential for preventing the country from being used as a base for launching attacks against neighboring countries.

Furthermore, the lack of a recognized political administration in Afghanistan has made it difficult for the international community to effectively address the challenges facing the country. The international community has been working to support the Afghan government in its efforts to establish a stable and effective political administration, but progress has been slow. The rise of non-state actors like TTP has only added to the challenges facing the international community and made it more difficult to find a solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

To address the challenges facing Afghanistan, the international community needs to continue to support the Afghan government in its efforts to establish a stable and effective political administration. This can be achieved through providing financial, technical, and diplomatic support, as well as through helping to build the capacity of Afghan institutions and encouraging the development of civil society. The international community must also work to address the root causes of the conflict in Afghanistan, such as poverty, lack of access to education, and political instability.

The international community must take a firm stance against non-state actors like TTP, who seek to destabilize the region and carry out acts of violence and terrorism. This can be achieved through targeted sanctions, diplomatic pressure, and military operations if necessary. The international community must also work to disrupt the networks and financing mechanisms that these groups use to carry out their activities.

The Threat to Pakistan:

Pakistan, a country with a rich history and culture, is facing a serious threat from non-state actors operating within its borders. One such group is the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has been using the soil of Afghanistan to launch attacks against Pakistan. This has had a severe impact on the security and stability of the country, making it imperative for a coordinated effort to be made to address this issue.

The TTP, a militant group based in Afghanistan, has been using the country as a safe haven to launch attacks against Pakistan. From Afghanistan, TTP has been able to plan and coordinate attacks on Pakistan, causing death and destruction. The porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has made it easy for TTP to cross over and carry out these attacks. This has resulted in a serious threat to the security and stability of Pakistan, putting the lives of its citizens in danger.

The actions of TTP have had a profound impact on the security and stability of Pakistan. The group’s attacks have resulted in the loss of innocent lives, causing grief and distress to families and communities. TTP’s actions have also had an impact on the economy, as businesses and industries have been forced to shut down due to the insecurity. This has resulted in job losses and economic instability, putting a strain on the country’s already fragile economy. The threat posed by TTP has also had a negative impact on the country’s reputation, as it is seen as a country unable to control its own territory and protect its citizens.

The threat posed by non-state actors like TTP cannot be addressed by a single entity. A coordinated effort between the government, military, and other relevant organizations is necessary to address this issue. The government and military must work together to secure the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to prevent TTP from crossing over. The government must also take steps to tackle the root causes of extremism, such as poverty and ignorance, to prevent the rise of such groups. International organizations must also play their part in addressing this issue, by providing support and resources to help combat the threat posed by TTP.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the rise of non-state actors like TTP in Afghanistan is a direct result of the political vacuum in the country. The use of Afghan soil by TTP to launch attacks against Pakistan has had a severe impact on the security and stability of the country. The situation highlights the importance of having a recognized political administration in place to maintain peace and security and prevent the rise of these dangerous groups. The international community must continue to support the Afghan government in its efforts to establish a stable and effective political administration, and work together to prevent the country from becoming a breeding ground for non-state actors like TTP.

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South Asia

Kashmir – Beyond Solidarity

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Kashmir, a region located in the northern part of India and southeastern part of Pakistan, has a long history of conflict and political disputes. One of the core issues in the region is denial of peoples Right of self-determination guaranteed by 13 UNSC resolution. The situation in Kashmir has further escalated in recent years,when India revoked the autonomous status Under Article 370 and Article 35-A of Constitution in August 2019 and initiated a demographic changes of Muslim majority region. After this unilateral and illegal annexation of occupied territory, India has doubled the war crime and crimes against humanity in the region.

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan- a party to the Kashmir dispute marks February 5th, the annual Kashmir Solidarity Day, to express support for the people of Kashmir and their Just struggle for self-determination. The right to self-determination is a principle enshrined in international law that recognizes the right of a person to freely determine their political status and pursue economic, social, and cultural development. To achieve this fundamental Right of Self-determination, the people of Kashmir have been struggling for more than seven decades and the Indian government has used excessive force and resorted to war crimes against the Kashmiri for suppression of this inalienable right.  

In last 75 years and particularly since 1989 when Indian occupational authorities closed the peaceful and democratic means seeking UN guaranteed Right of self-determination for region. India started mass massacres and multiple abusive mechanization against the civilians and pro freedom politicians. Human rights organizations have documented the widespread use of torture, extrajudicial killings, and other forms of violence by Indian armed  forces in Indian-occupied Kashmir. These actions have resulted in the death of thousands of Kashmiri civilians and the displacement of many others. The Indian occupying forces have also imposed strict restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly in the region, leading to the suppression of dissent and the stifling of Pro freedom political activism.

The new war strategy against the Kashmiris by Indian government is a massive demographic engineering by settling non-Kashmiri Indians in the territory, confiscating their land ,properties  and the ongoing demolition to pave the way for outside industrialist with the aim to change the disputed status of Kashmir, which has been guaranteed Plebiscite by UN and then Indian parliament.

The situation in Kashmir remains a complex and volatile issue that requires the international community’s attention and action. The people of Kashmir have the right to self-determination and must be protected from violence and human rights abuse perpetrated  by 900,000 Indian armed forces occupying the territory . Moreover, the selective approach of international organization on Kashmir & Palestine questions the basic structure of UN Charter which pledges to safeguard the ‘Humanity’ from the wrath of aggressor.  The international community has largely been silent on the issue of Kashmiri self-determination and violence committed by Indian armed forces in the region. Some international organizations and countries have called for an end to violence and for the protection of the human rights of the Kashmiri people, but these calls have been rhetoric which has been rejected by the Indian government.

The responsibility of Pakistan towards Kashmir must be beyond diplomacy and geo-economic interest. On this Kashmir Solidarity Day, we must come together to draw a new road map liberating the people of Kashmir from the Illegal occupation of India and also support their Just Struggle for justice, freedom, and self-determination.

The majority of Kashmirs in the IIOJK consider their struggle against India for the unfinished agenda of Partition and it is a moral responsibly of every Pakistani to become part of their legitimate struggle.

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South Asia

The U.S. raising Engagement in South Asia: New Battlefield of Sino-US rivalry

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Victoria Nuland, the United States undersecretary of state for political affairs, calls on Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal at the latter’s residence in Baluwatar of Kathmandu on Monday, January 30, 2023. Photo: Dahal’s Secretariat

With the new year 2023, the visits of top American diplomats to South Asian countries have increased.  These recent visits are concluded as the counter steps of the US against the Chinese influence in the region.

Recently, from the end of January to a few days in February, the American Under Secretary Victoria Newland visited three countries in South Asia and headed toward Gulf. Recently, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland visited to three South Asian nations including Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, and the gulf nation Qatar for a week starting from Jan 28-Feb 3.

Before her, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu had traveled to India and Bangladesh from January 12-15. Within the span of a week, another senior official from the Biden Administration, Samantha Power, administrator of the USAID is scheduled to Visit Nepal.

Soon after Power’s return, Afreen Akhter, Deputy Assistant Sectary in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) for Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and the Maldives, as well as the Office of Security and Transnational Affairs set to visit Nepal.

These engagements and activisms by the US in Nepal and South Asian Region are focused on Countering Chinese influence and encircling from the South.

Review of Recent Visits

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, the visit was centralized with US-Indo Pacific Strategy and its framework. It was the first visit of any senior US official after the formation of a Leftist dominated government led by Puspa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachand’, the Chair of CPN (Maoist Center). During her Stay in Nepal, she met with Prachanda, foreign minister Bimala Paudel Rai, former Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, and KP Sharma Oli.  During these meetings, she proposed a collaboration to fight against China and Russia.

Let me quote her from the meeting with the press in Kathmandu, “We can see authoritarians from all over the world trying to force them to enforce the rules around the world.” Though she didn’t mention China, her indication was toward China. “So we have to work together to protect democracy,” she purposed to the leaders in Kathmandu. In the term “Urgent Global Issue” all her meeting was focused on China and obviously on Russia too.

In New Delhi, Under Secretary Victoria co-chaired the annual meeting of the India-US Foreign Office Association (FOC). Within the umbrella term “India-US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership” the meeting was focused on US’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.

The statement by the Ministry of External Affairs mentioned that both sides have made their commitment to a free, open, and equitable Indo-Pacific region and discussed in the Quad, Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness Initiative (IPMDA). All these forums are led by the US against China.

The Quad is an informal security alliance comprising India, Japan, and Australia, led by the US. While The IPEF and IPMDA are the ‘framework’ unveiled by US President Joe Biden during his visit to Japan on May 23 last year. The White House’s fact sheet states that the United States is an economic power in the Indo-Pacific region and aims to expand American leadership in the area. India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries are included in this framework.

China had strong opposition to such a framework. On the geopolitical strategy, these frameworks are designed as the new weapon by the US to counter China.

“The IPEF is designed to advance US geopolitical strategy. In the name of cooperation, the framework seeks to exclude certain countries, establish US-led trade rules, restructure the system of industrial chains, and decouple regional countries from the Chinese economy,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s Regular Press Conference on May 25, 2022, had lamented the framework.

Mahathir Mohamad, Former Prime Minister of Malaysia, a member nation of the IPEF had criticized a new U.S.-led economic grouping, saying it is intended to isolate China, and won’t benefit regional economic growth without Beijing. This show that the visit of Under Secretary Victoria was solely focused on US-IPS, and rheostat the Chinese influence in the region.

Colombo was the third and last stop of this visit in South Asia. It was the second visit of Under Secretary Victoria to Sri Lanka, which they called the victims of China’s “Debt Trap”. She with Assistant Secretary Donald Lu and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Amanda Dory visited Colombo last year in March.

Sri Lank a member of BRI, had rejected the US assistance program MCC. The US used to accuse Chines investment in Sri Lank as a “Debt Trap”. the cause of the “debt-trap diplomacy”, Sri Lanka lost Control of a major port- read the report entitled “The Elements of the China Challenge” state.  But, Sri Lank had rejected the western accusations of the “Debt Trap”.

On January 12-15, the US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu had his visit to India and Bangladesh. This visit was also aimed at expanding bilateral relations and preventing Chinese influence from the relevant countries.

It is a controversial interview with an Indian Television, Lu directly accused China of being Aggressive towards Indian Border. “We have said that the border dispute between India and China Should be solved peacefully through negotiations directly between the two parties. Having said that we haven’t seen PRC has taken good faith steps to resolve this border conflict,” he stated.

His Next Stop was Dhaka, where the Newly appointed Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang was stepped in a week before. Though it was called “Technical Stopover” by China, it was his first foreign stop after holding the position. They stopped after a day, US Senior Director for South Asia, National Security Council Rear Admiral Eileen Laubacher landed for four days visit to Dhaka.

Bangladesh, with close ties with China holding an election next year. The United States has imposed sanctions on the Bangladesh Paramilitary Forces ‘Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)’ on charges of human rights violations since 2021. Previously, Bangladesh was not invited on the Summit for Democracy held by US President Joe Biden on December 9 and 2021. During this visit to Dhaka, US Assistant Secretary of State Lu praised the RAB and hinted to lift the ban.

He also held talks with Bangladesh to participate in the Indo-Pacific Strategy.

South Asia as New Battlefield of Sino-US rivalry

These high-ranking US officials’ visits to South Asian countries are in line with the strategy to encircle China, while Taiwan Straits Crisis is ragging the Sino-US tension. The US has a clear interest in South Asia with its defense strategy of IPS. In this case, it seems that the small countries of South Asia will be in the strategic grip of the power centers. India is competing with China as a member of the IPS. The three-tier economy and the Power Centre are competing against south Asia.

The rise of China has challenged the US’s hegemony in global affairs. China plans to overtake the position of the US by 2050. The US fears that Beijing could overtake the US’s global leadership role. To stop China from achieving its goals of 2050, the US has deployed its IPS toward South Asia too.

The center stage of the global affair is shifting towards Asia. And, when the world is divided into two poles, it will have an adverse effect on the small countries of South Asia directly. The US is talking about peace and stability in the region, isolating China, with the largest population in the globe. China is also moving forward to expand its influence in the Asian region. India is an emerging economy in itself, which has supported the US to stop China. India wants to maintain its domination in South Asia by stopping China.

In the rivalry between the three-tier economy and the two polar power centers, underdeveloped South Asian countries have opportunities to gain economic and infrastructure development. Side by side the three are chances of losses of balance and risk of becoming the battlefield of Sino-US rivalry. 

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