Point Of View

Afghanistan: The other-side of the Mountain


As Taliban on August 16 took over Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, Indian TV and other media, relaying western media with addition of spice, are spreading false and scary stories about Taliban violence.

US occupied Afghanistan for 20 years, and negotiated for years with Taliban for peace and peaceful exit. They spent $85 billion to train, equip, help build an army of 3.5 lakh plus for a population of less than 3.5 crore, bombed and killed (5-6) lakhs of people, but finally faced the worst-ever defeat. Afghan Government casualties were around 70000 dead; anti-Govt.-Talibans 50000 plus died. US and western allies 3600 died, out of more than one lakh at its peak. Who were chiefly responsible for continuing violence in Afghanistan?

Anyone who goes beyond headlines can see reality, buried under scary headlines and visuals. “Mayhem at air Kabul port, 7 died”. But it is while Afghans were fleeing, reported media. Fearing for life, many (pro-US people) rushed to airport to run away from the country, and 7 died in stampede. The scene was worse than when US troops fled from Vietnam in 1975, reported the Times of India. The airport was under control of thousands of foreign, mostly US troops, and utter chaos prevailed there.

Not a single shot was fired by Talibans anywhere in Kabul, news agencies reported. Their represen-tatives went to Gurdwara and assured all Sikhs and Hindus that they need not fear; they gave mobile numbers for any help they may need. They assured an inclusive and peaceful order. (ToI Aug 17, 2021)

Afghan President Asraf Ghani fled with 4 cars and a helicopter loaded with cash. Some cash was left behind on the tarmac, for want of loading space, eyewitnesses said.

Former diplomat and expert on the subject M K Bhadra Kumar said India blundered by appearing to be a supporter of US puppet Ashraf’s government who has very little support of people, and controlled only one third of Afghan territory despite massive US backing. “This only leads to misperceptions that India is party to President Ashraf Ghani’s increasingly desperate fight for political survival… the ruling elite in Kabul are seen by the Afghan people as inept, hopelessly corrupt and merely American puppets and time-servers” he wrote.

VOA reported that on August 15 Taliban engaged in negotiations that led to stepping down by president Ashraf Ghani. Afghan Defence Minister said, without naming but apparently referring to Ghani, “they tied our hands behind our backs and sold the home land, damn the rich man and his gang.”

Women’s rights in Afghanistan are talked about, fine. It is a universal issue, with wide gap between law and ground reality. North Indian zones and communities are more conservative.

Most European, Asian and African countries did not pass women's suffrage until after Russian revolution. Late adopters were France in 1944, Italy in 1946, Greece in 1952, Switzerland in 1971. The nations of North America and most nations in Central and South America passed women's suffrage before World War II.

In Saudi Arabia women were allowed to vote the first time in 2015, to drive a car without a man only recently. Same year Saudis said they would host Olympics but without women. Two women who participated in 2012 London Olympics were branded by clerics as prostitutes. Women were not told of their being divorced until their Supreme Court made a law in 2019. It was only in 2017, women were allowed to access government services of education and health without consent of male guardians. They were not allowed to join Saudi Foundation Day in stadium until recently.

But US, the West and India had best of relations with them thanks to their petro dollars. Afghan women will fight for their rights once the Western masters and their culture are shown their place and domestic contradictions come to the fore.

China said they respect the will of Afghan people about their future, and hoped for friendly relations. Russia welcomed Taliban, said they are restoring public order. Iran said US military failure is a chance for peace. UK said Taliban regime must not be recognised. Indian foreign Minister indicated, with no clarity, ‘we have divergences with US approach’.

Afghan people who defeated the most powerful super power US, can and will build their future. At a time of their liberation from foreign aggression, loot and plunder, and massacre of people including women and children by US and foreign troops, and their Afghan puppets, people should sympathise and appreciate their spirit of srtruggle and resistance.

‘India’s role in construction is welcome, but no military role’ : Taliban
India knows its stand is not to the liking of Afghans. India is welcome to construction activity but is cautioned against a military role, said a Taliban spokesman, ANI reported August 14. India infused more than two billion dollars in various works.

So Foreign Minister Jaishankar said, perhaps in a belated damage control exercise, “India has divergences with US on Afghanistan,” though it is ‘one with America in the East’ (read anti-China and part of QUAD), reported Times of India (Aug 16, 2021). But Indian Big media sails with US with no such fine-tuning.

Taliban would keenly watch India’s role in practice, particularly a strategic and military role, in times to come.

Afghanistan was a “burial ground” for all powers that poked their nose.

It is not mere speculation. The following excerpts from a commentary by M K Bhadrakumar is worth recalling. He is a seasoned former diplomat, who introduced himself thus:

“Roughly half of the 3 decades of my diplomatic career was devoted to assignments on the territories of the former Soviet Union and to Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Other overseas postings included South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, and Turkey. I write mainly on Indian foreign policy and the affairs of the Middle East, Eurasia, Central Asia, South Asia and the Asia-Pacific…”

Talibans are no mad-caps as painted by the Indian Big media.

With such vast experience Bhadrakumar wrote:

“The Taliban are a highly motivated movement. They are not in the business of exhibitionism. Their actions are invariably pinpointed, conveying some distinguishable political message or the other. This has been so all along during the past decade. Anyone who interacted with the Taliban would agree.”

“At any rate, there is a widespread perception in the international community—including former US officials who held responsible positions and even British statesmen—that Afghanistan is the theater of a proxy war between Pakistan and India. But we can certainly do without such a proxy war.”

India Caught In The Taliban Myth, he wrote, 13 years ago (11 July, 2008) :

“Indeed, the great game in the Hindu Kush is a heady, exhilarating game. But it is also a high-risk one. It can even end up tragically, which was what happened to imperial Britain and the Soviet Union—and quite probably will happen to the US.”

Indeed US faced that ignominy now.

India should beware of US Indo-pacific strategy, keep away from QUAD, and Biden’s New Cold War, be friendly toward all neighbors including China and Pakistan. That is in the interest of India and its people. Indian economy is in dire straits, more so post-Covid-19. Co-operation, not confrontation, is what is needed.

The horrendous terrorist attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul has no precedents. Never has the mission there been attacked in this fashion—not even during the darkest periods of the civil war in the 1980s and 1990.

Apart from diplomatic and other staff, several thousand Indians are involved in reconstruction work in the country.

Nor has any other diplomatic mission in Kabul been so targeted in the current phase of the civil war that began with the United States invasion in 2001. The suicide attack claimed the lives of 41 people, with more than 140 injured. Among the dead were Indian Defense Attache Brigadier R D Mehta, diplomat Venkateswara Rao and two Indian paramilitary guards.

Isn't a comprehensive re-look of policy warranted? Something has gone very wrong somewhere. The Government of India owes an explanation.

Even on the eve of the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, they were prepared to deal, but by then the Gorge W Bush administration was bent on the military path.

In the present case of India's embassy, the terrorist attack was carefully targeted. Equally, its timing must also bear scrutiny.

The first point is that the Taliban have once again chosen to target Indian interests, which are located on Afghan soil… (not in India, not in Kashmir). The Taliban message is that they have a score to settle with India's Afghan policy; that it is best settled on Afghan soil; and that they do not have any hostility toward India as such.

Two, the Taliban have ratcheted up the level of their attacks on Indian interests. Targeting the Indian chancery makes it a very serious message. It is unclear whether the Indian defense attache was specifically the target. Conceivably, he was. If so, the timing of the attack is relevant. India has sharply stepped up its military-to-military cooperation with Afghanistan. Media reports indicate that India is training Afghan military personnel and possibly supplying military hardware to the Afghan armed forces. The Indian authorities have not cared to deny these reports.

Three, the United Progressive Alliance government in Delhi has incrementally harmonised its Afghan policy with the US's "war on terror". This is most unfortunate. India ought to keep a safe distance from the Bush administration's war against militant Islam.

Besides, the US has complicated motives behind its intervention in Afghanistan—its geo-strategy toward Russia and Central Asia, its agenda of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's expansion as a global political organisation, its crusade against "Islamofascism", etc.

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh recently revealed in the New Yorker magazine what was an open secret—Washington has been using Afghanistan as a base for training and equipping terrorists and planning and executing subversive activities directed against Iran with a view to speeding up "regime change" in that country.

India does not share these diabolical US policy objectives and hare-brained dogmas. But unfortunately, influential sections within the Indian security community have laboured under the notion that acquiring a sort of frontline status in the US's "war on terror" in Afghanistan would have tangential gains with regard to Pakistan.

Again, some others in India's strategic community hold a belief that it is time India began to flex its muscles in its region. Indeed, US think-tankers routinely encourage their counterparts to believe that India is far too shy and reticent for a serious regional power in the exercise of its muscle power.

It is tragic, immoral and contemptible if India indeed is cynical enough to overlook the suffering that it would be inflicting on the friendly Afghan people—who barely eke out a living as it is—by making them pawns in India's "low intensity" wars with Pakistan… Finally, it is plain unrealistic to overlook Pakistan's legitimate interests in Afghanistan.

Call it "sphere of influence", call it the "Monroe Doctrine", but there are geopolitical realities that cannot be overlooked. Afghanistan poses fundamental challenges to Pakistan's territorial integrity and sovereignty. Therefore, Pakistan is highly sensitive about Afghanistan's external relations. It is inconceivable that Pakistan would take in its stride any Indian activities in Afghanistan, which it perceives as threatening its security interests.

From the Indian perspective at least, its national priorities at the present crucial juncture of economic growth and development should be very obvious. It can do without mindless distractions and extravaganzas. It needs a peaceful external environment. China's fascinating example of national priorities is in front of India—almost mocking it.

(This was written in 2008, but sounds contemporary. Now more relevant with covid, CPC-100, and New Cold War policies of USA.)

The biggest danger is that in the present climate of euphoria over India's so-called strategic partnership with the US, Washington may egg Delhi on to a "proactive" role in Afghanistan.

Nothing would be more foolhardy on India's part than to be drawn into the US stratagem. There cannot be any two opinions that when the chips are down, the US would know that Pakistan is a fundamentally more valuable ally in Afghanistan than India ever could aspire to be. Simply put, geography favours Pakistan, and geography delimits a direct Indian role in Afghanistan.

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Vol. 54, No. 11, Sep 12 - 18, 2021