Afghanistan has been in turmoil since the Taliban took over in August 2021. Series of bomb blasts, repeated torturing of females and widespread violations of human rights are significant concerns for the world. While speaking to Central Asian states, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval expressed his thoughts. Afghanistan challenges peace and security for India and the five Central Asian states. At least seven people were killed in Afghanistan on Tuesday when a blast hit a vehicle carrying oil workers in the northern province of Balkh.
In comparison, another shot in the eastern city of Jalalabad injured six people. Several students are among at least 15 people killed in a bomb blast at a religious school in northern Afghanistan’s Samangan province. The country has witnessed several deadly attacks in the past 15 months under Taliban rule. Madrasas are the main centres of recruitment for the Taliban. The religious schools are also strongholds of Taliban leadership at the provincial level. They are affiliated with the local Taliban governor or police chief. So the attack on the madrasa is a way to challenge the Taliban’s control over security.
The Taliban, a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist and predominantly Pashtun movement, controlled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Following the U.S.-led invasion, Taliban leadership relocated to southern Afghanistan and across the border to Pakistan, from where they waged an insurgency against the Western-backed government in Kabul, Afghan national security forces, and international coalition troops Girls are once again barred from secondary schools. Women must have a male-relative companion when travelling significant distances and cover their faces in public. Music has been banned, flogging, amputations, and mass executions have been reintroduced. According to a think tank investigation, the Taliban has killed or forcibly disappeared nearly five hundred former government officials and members of the Afghan security forces in just its first six months in power.
In January 2022, the United Nations launched the most considerable single-country aid appeal in its history to finance humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan. By March 2022, 95 percent of Afghan households did not have enough to eat, and more than 3.5 million children needed nutrition treatment support. By August 2022, six million people were “on the brink of famine.”
Pakistan is a lynchpin of Terrorism in Afghanistan
Pakistan not merely engineered Doha Peace Deal but nurtured and guided the Taliban during the American onslaught since 2001. The current Chinese role in Afghanistan made Pakistan more viable. The ISI (Inter-State Intelligence) is the main body of Pakistan which trained and strategized the Taliban. Therefore, it is quite natural to see that Pakistan’s military and ISI will design the future roadmap of Afghanistan.
Pakistan-Afghanistan relations had not been very cordial. Both countries were on the verge of war twice in the 1960s and 70s on the issue of boundary disputes. The Afghanistan-Pakistan boundary is spanned almost 2600 KM long, called Durand Line, sketched in 1893. Afghanistan never recognized this boundary line. Pakistan’s government has been fencing the boundary since 2017, which Afghanistan opposed. The Pashtun factor is another canker in bilateral ties. There are bad Taliban and good Taliban in Pakistan. The evil Taliban is Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which has vital sanctuaries in Afghanistan. The current external powers, like China and Russia, support Pakistan and have been very apprehensive of Islamic terror outfits. The drama is scripted to a large extent by Pakistan, but actors in the lead role in the game are not under the control of Pakistan. An excellent possibility is that following civil war-type conditions in Afghanistan will spin out from the basket and hit Pakistan badly.
Let us examine each factor in detail. The Pakistani Taliban, called the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), operates in the country’s northwestern region. The Pakistani army had forced the TTP fighters to retreat, but they felt encouraged by the changing dynamics in Afghanistan. Since the start of the year, the TTP has claimed 32 attacks inside Pakistan. A UN report last year stated that more than 6,000 TTP fighters had taken refuge in Afghanistan. Pakistan, which helped the Taliban rise to power in the 1990s, is now worried about a resurgence of the TTP, a group that has been blamed for 70,000 deaths of civilians in the country since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. TTP may see an opportunity to attack Chinese projects to influence policy in Islamabad.
As the Taliban gains, many Afghans are fleeing villages for the relative safety of bigger cities. Pakistan expects 500,000 refugees from Afghanistan, and authorities have said they will be kept in border camps. More than 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees are already in Pakistan, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Not only will refugee camps be eye shores for Pakistan’s military, but many TTP fighters will also move in disguise as refugees. This could trigger ongoing terrorist attacks in different places in Pakistan, including Chinese projects. The CIPEC could be the prime target. It will have a chain reaction in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province and tribal areas probably will continue to be poorly governed and the source or supporter of cross-border instability. With a population of about 39 million and growing at 2.33 per cent annually, it has a GDP of $19 billion, placing it among the world’s poorest countries. It ranks 173 out of 177 in the world HDI rankings. Almost 45 per cent of the GDP is due to grants from America and its allies, Saudi Arabia and some from countries like India. Afghanistan’s revenues are less than 10 per cent of its GDP. The other numbers in Afghanistan are equally distressing. In 2015, the country produced nearly 7,000 tons of opium and converted almost 670 tons of heroin. Afghanistan now has 87 per cent of the world’s heroin. Pakistan’s terror strategy will derail Afghanistan’s economic and social status post-U.S. withdrawal.
Taliban has close links with as many as 20 terror groups who operate across the region from Russia to India. Their activities are already visible on the ground and pose a significant threat to the area. The resulting Kingdom of Afghanistan remains ethnically, linguistically, and religiously diverse. Today, Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group within the country, but they represent only 38 percent of the population. An almost equal number of Pashtuns live across the border in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. Ethnic Tajiks comprise a quarter of the people. The Hazaras, who generally inhabit the country’s centre, represent another 19 percent. Other groups — such as the Aimaks, Turkmen, Baluch, Uzbek, and others comprise the rest. Linguistic divisions are also focused. In addition to Dari (the Afghan dialect of Persian that is the lingua franca of half the population) and the Pushtun’s own Pashtu, approximately ten percent of the people. Afghanistan shares its boundaries with three Central Asian states. Tehran cannot ignore the Sunni extremism of the Taliban and its oppressive record in dealing with the Shia and Persian-speaking minorities. America has left but still holds the sway. If things become worse American pressure tactics can twist Pakistan’s arms.
India Central Asia relations have huge potential. There are deep cultural relations between the two. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s venture spoiled the roadmap of the Indian trajectory in Central Asian states. Since India is leading Sanghai Cooperation till September 2023, there are possibilities to increase the trade volumes. It will also control relentless Chinese expansion. But the bottleneck is Pakistan. The different terrorist groups operating from Pakistan are the drivers of the Taliban. India has a better understanding of many Islamic countries. India must use its connection to weaken Pakistan’s hold over the Taliban. The G-20 presidency and SCO could be practical tools. The NSA dialogue with five Central Asian countries is the beginning of a fresh understanding.
Satish Kumar, Political Science, IGNOU New Delhi