India is best served by being patient. There should be neither any hurry to recognise the Taliban, nor of taking an openly hostile position. There are sufficient cracks and tensions that would present themselves and these could provide opportunities for regaining India’s position as a reliable friend of the Afghan people
The sudden collapse of the Government of Afghanistan, and its army surprised the people of Afghanistan, the world and most certainly India. The last time that India had to close its Embassy was when the Taliban marched in and took over Kabul, without a fight, in 1996. Unlike this time, the world then completely ignored the Taliban takeover. Afghanistan was then a backwater corner of the world, the Cold War was over and there was no strategic consequence foreseen. Afghanistan was largely disconnected from the world. In fact, the world itself, in the pre-internet age, was hardly the global village that it was to become with news reaching everywhere in seconds.
The situation this time is vastly different. Afghanistan and its people are plugged into the world, with horrific images of people falling off planes and falling to their deaths as they tried to cling on to the plane as it left Kabul. The Taliban’s victory has not just been hailed by Pakistan, but both Russia and China have publicly announced that they would work with the Taliban. This is even before the Taliban have formally assumed office. It is not clear at the time of writing as to the type of government that would be formed, which individuals would hold office, etc. Only four Ambassadors remain in place in Kabul – Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran. India was wise enough to evacuate the Ambassador and all Indian staff, since they were potentially targets of attacks from Pakistani elements who are embedded in the Taliban, and other Pakistani assets who have reached Kabul.
The critical point to assess is what would be implications of these developments on the region, and how would the countries concerned react? The last time the Taliban was in power, its opponents, the Northern Alliance led by Ahmad Shah Masoud was supported by a coalition of three countries – India, Iran and Russia. This time both Russia and Iran have emerged as allies of the Taliban. Iran has been helping the Taliban in western Afghanistan with arms and ammunitions and access to safety since the past fifteen years. Russia has played a major diplomatic role in helping the Taliban gain international legitimacy. It organised peace conferences where different sections of Afghan society were invited along with the Taliban but which excluded the government, whose representatives could only attend in their personal capacities.
The Last Hindu in Kabul
It is well known that the Taliban derive sadistic pleasure from barbaric acts of eliminating Kafirs–non-Muslims. Their brutality can be seen from the way former President Najibullah was beaten to death. The Taliban abducted him from UN custody and tortured him by dragging his castrated body behind a truck through the streets of Kabul.
After two decades, the Taliban took over Afghanistan on August 15, our Independence Day. Fearing a reprisal like that of Najibullah, who was mutilated and killed in a barbaric way by the Taliban, President Ashraf Ghani fled the country for Oman
With the Taliban taking over Kabul complete chaos is prevailing in the country. Hindus and Sikhs who have been peacefully living in this Islamic nation for centuries too have either returned to New Delhi or are on their way for a safe exit to India.
Meanwhile, Taliban have made a video in which they have forced Hindus and Sikhs, who had taken shelter in a gurudwara, to say that they feel safe under their Islamic rule. Taliban forced them to say that Taliban reassured that all is well.
Representing the proud Hindu community, Pandit Rajesh Kumar, the priest of Rattan Nath Temple in Kabul, declined to flee Kabul to save his life. He is standing like a Rock of Gibraltar. Several Hindu communities requested him to move out of the capital by extending their support by arranging his travel expenses and stay. But Pandit Kumar has denied the help stating that he will not abandon the temple.
“Some Hindus have urged me to leave Kabul and offered to arrange for my travel and stay. But my ancestors served this Mandir for hundreds of years. I will not abandon it. If the Taliban kills me, I will consider it my seva,” he said.
Ever since he came out with this statement on Twitter, he has become a picture of hope and resilience.
Iran has remained silent this time even as its Ambassador remains in Kabul. Russia has specifically said that it had received security guarantees from the Taliban, based on which they would remain in Kabul. What, however, must be remembered is that Iran’s and Russia’s position in based on geo-strategic concerns, and is not related to either Afghanistan or India. Both are committed to opposing the United States and working to undermine America’s position and interests. In fact, the Iranian decision to help the Taliban was only to make life difficult for the US army, not to see the Taliban win power. Similarly, Russia is faced with a situation that would possibly place it in difficulty in the times to come. Russia is,however,constrained by its considerable dependence on the Chinese market, and China’s position is clear, which is that Afghanistan must be looked at through the Pakistani lens. That does limit Russia’s space for manoeuvre.
However, Russia has moved some troops and tanks into Central Asian countries bordering Afghanistan. Hundreds of troops from the Afghan national army fled to Tajikistan when facing the Taliban offensive as in the northern areas in July. Afghanistan’s borders with its norther neighbours, namely Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, are porous and easy to infiltrate. While the Taliban itself does not export jihad, would it be able to refuse foreign jihadi forces from using its territory as safe havens and to run training camps? No doubt, the Taliban has agreed in the Doha Accord with the United States that it would not allow any terrorists groups to operate from areas in its control, would it live up to its commitments? It has publicly assured China that it would not allow Uighur separatists to operate from its territory. Even as the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi treated Mullah Baradar and his delegation as representing a sovereign government early this month in Tianjin, the Chinese could not hide their nervousness when they said that they hoped the Taliban would break its links with terrorist groups, confirming that 17 months after Doha, the links had persisted.
In these circumstances, the Central Asian countries and their security guarantor, Russia, would have to be wary. They would do well to accept President Reagan’s dictum – trust but verify.
Iran’s position is more complicated. The Taliban had stormed the Iranian consulate in 1998 and killed 11 diplomats. Most observers felt that this was because of Taliban’s anti-Shia policy. While the Taliban was then very strongly a Sunni fundamentalist group that discriminated against Shias, holding them to be apostates, the real reason behind this unprecedented attack was Iran’s support to the Northern Alliance. The situation is marked different now. On the one hand, the Taliban have dropped their anti-Shia stand and have also recruited Shias in their ranks, though in small numbers. On the other hand, Iran too now sees ISIS as its main local enemy. This strategy strengthens Iran-Taliban relations. However, this is not without tensions. While the Taliban leadership has changed its attitude towards the Shias, this may not be true of its field functionaries, who live in a social milieu where the Shia Hazaras are often seen as apostates, and also as a ‘conquered people’ who do not deserve social or political equality. Two, Iran has displaced Pakistan as the largest source of Afghan imports, the completion of the rail line from Mashad (Iran) to Herat, the biggest city and commercial centre of western Afghanistan, would only accelerate Iran’s dominance. This has generated heart burning in Pakistan, and there may be efforts to curb Iranian influence.
Pakistan, too, cannot rest easy. It is clear from the failure to set up a formal governance structure in Kabul that there are many differences to be resolved between the Taliban and Pakistan, and within Taliban itself. Further, the Taliban have released all Tehreek-e-Taliban prisoners, who the Ashraf Ghani regime had imprisoned to satisfy Pakistan. This can only lead to further tensions between the two, particularly if violence levels increase in Pakistan.
A Cheerleader for Taliban
Muslim organisations and political parties that indulge in minority appeasement have openly come out in support of Taliban for taking over Afghanistan unmindful of the atrocities and barbaric acts they would indulge in the name of Shariat.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) lauded the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and highlighted the 'amnesty' offered by them. It has complimented the Taliban for taking over Kabul and other cities “not with means and resources but belief and faith.”
Maulana Umrain Sajjad Nomani, a member of the Working Executive Committee of AIMLB, congratulated the Taliban. He denied all the violence in Afghanistan and highlighted 'amnesty' for allowing people to leave the country.
The President of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), Syed Sadatullah Hussaini showered praise on Islamist Taliban and said that the Taliban takeover will ‘restore peace and order in the region and help to reinstate the rights of the Afghan people.’
While glorifying jihadis, JIH President said, “Twenty years ago, the overthrow of the Afghan government through military action, the brutal atrocities on innocent civilians by colonial and imperialist forces, the series of bombings and raids on its cities and the constant attempts to impose the will of foreign powers on the Afghan people is a reprehensible chapter of recent history. It is gratifying to note that the perseverance and struggle of the Afghan people resulted in the withdrawal of the imperialist forces from their country.”
Much to the embarrassment of Indians, Samajwadi Party leaders showed their narrow mindedness and ability to do Muslim appeasement when Islamist Taliban have been boycotted virtually by the entire world. They showered praise on Islamist Taliban. ‘Afghan takeover is a victory against American oppression’, said SP leader Mohd Rehan Khan.
When the global community is thinking about the human rights of Afghan citizens, Shafiqur Rahman Barq, Samajwadi Party MP from Uttar Pradesh's Sambhal district, has issued a shocking statement about the Taliban occupation of Afghanistan. The SP MP said that the Taliban is a force that did not allow even strong countries like Russia and America to settle in their country. Shafiqur Rahman Barq is notorious for making controversial statements. Singing praise of the Taliban, Barq said as the Taliban wants to free their country and run it, it is an internal matter of Afghanistan.
This does not mean that India and the Taliban can easily establish relations. Pakistan would do its best to keep the two separate, if necessary, by engineering attacks on Indian assets and on Indians so that suspicion of the Taliban remains high in India. India is best served by being patient, continuing the people-to-people contacts and remaining watchful of the situation. There should be neither any hurry to recognise the Taliban, nor of taking an openly hostile position. There are sufficient cracks and tensions that would present themselves and these could provide opportunities for regaining India’s position as a reliable friend of the Afghan people.