NEW DELHI: On the first episode of ‘The Gist’ in 2022, Ambassador Amar Sinha, Former Member of the National Security Advisory Board(NSAB), India’s Ex-Envoy to Afghanistan and Distinguished Fellow, Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) in analysis with StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi.
Editor’s Note: These are quotes edited for space, understanding and conciseness. For the whole context, watch the complete discussion.
India’s short, medium and long-term Afghanistan options
The immediate focus should be humanitarian. The next three months are absolutely critical because of the harsh weather. People dont have food, medicine. Education demand will pick up after winter.
In the long-term, India has to have pro-people policies. But, we shouldn’t accept the radical Taliban regime as a natural template for Afghanistan. We should try to moderate the Taliban’s outlook and try for an inclusive government, if that’s possible, which is very tough. Otherwise we should actively work to make sure that this is as short lived as possible and that it remains an aberration in history.
How to make a radical Taliban an “aberration of history”?
Through national resistance because ultimately the Afghans will have to rise up and change equations in the region. There has been a history of that. There are ways. I don’t think the Taliban is either financially or economically able to carry on ruling 33 million people just out of fear. Ultimately fear also wears off.
India’s engagement with Taliban, reopening missions
India is concerned about Afghan people, and is engaging with the Taliban. That doesn’t mean rushing in to recognise them. Putting people on the ground is a difficult proposition. Taliban security assurances are ironic because the threat to us was from Taliban, Haqqanis.
They’ve entered into agreement with the UN to accept $6 million to provide security. It’s like I’m the chor(thief) and the thanedar(police station head) in the sense they create insecurity but also ask to be paid to be a protector. There is the Islamic State in Khorasan Province(ISKP), the head of their elite Badri unit, who was in-charge of Kabul security was killed. If they can’t assure security for themselves, how credible is their assurance to others? I won’t be surprised if rogue elements, those with grievances against the Taliban continue attacks against foreign entities or presence to discredit the regime.
India’s aid to Afghanistan
It’s a tragedy Pakistan has still not allowed the flow of wheat. But, it’s good they’ve matched our 50,000 M T offer. Pakistan has been delaying for frivolous reasons. They were objecting to Afghan trucks coming to the Wagah border, which is part of the SAFTA agreement.
Pakistan is speaking with a forked tongue. While the world is saying help in the humanitarian crisis, Pakistan is objecting to a simple business opportunity, for some money to flow into the Afghan economy through transportation, logistics. Hopefully, they’ll come around. Or else, we look at the Chabahar, Iran, Central Asia options. Pakistan should not have a veto on our aid, assistance.
Taliban-Pakistan clashes over the Durand Line
Pakistan is trying to have the apple from the centre rather than from the edges. That’s not going to happen because even the Taliban is not willing to accept the Durand Line.
The Haqqanis, who control the Taliban, straddle the Durand line. They’re not going to cut up their own empire just to retain presence in Kabul.
At best, the Taliban can have a borderless frontier. They can’t have the Durand line as a recognised frontier with barbed wire fencing. The Pakistan military will realise that it’s difficult to enforce through just their might.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Qureshi said it will be sorted out diplomatically. Taliban track record doesn’t believe in diplomacy. Regime change in Kabul is the clearest example of failed diplomacy. The Durand line has festered for over 100 years. It can’t go away in months, just because a regime is well disposed to, is a creation of Pakistan. It would delegitimise any government in Kabul very quickly. It has to be a two-way street.
The only negative vote against Pakistan in joining the United Nations came from Afghanistan. This story has haunted them, and is going to stay with them. In a way, Pakistan’s strategic objective in cooperating with the Americans and the withdrawal was that they would have some finality on the Durand line, which obviously has not happened.
Afghan Taliban, Tehreek-e-Taliban(TTP) and blowback to Pakistan
They have been partners in the trenches for the last 20 years. They have used their men, they have shared material, resources, ideology. TTP and others have pledged allegiance to the Taliban.They’re not going to break ranks. Whether they actively promote the TTP or not, it will provide an ecosystem where they will operate, and it will continue to haunt Pakistan.
Videos after the 15th of August had the Taliban rank and file mocking Pakistani soldiers, saying now we’re coming to get you and the Taliban flag will fly in Islamabad. There were Taliban flags in Peshawar and the Red Mosque. It’s like riding a tiger. You can’t get off so easily.
Pakistan has been treating their own Pashtun population in the Pakhtunkhwa area as stepchildren of the state. They have encouraged radicalisation, so it will come back to bite them. The only good thing, from our perspective, is that we will not be blamed like in the past.
Afghan resistance to Taliban
No signs of active global support. There are signs that the sizeable diaspora that left is meeting, looking at options. The Taliban hasn’t consolidated its power base. All its energy is spent in sending out appeals and maintaining internal unity because that’s the starting point to tell the world they’re a credible government. Once spring comes, the picture would be clearer if a lot of sympathy for resistance can turn to active support, providing there are signs of resistance building up on the ground, because you can’t run a resistance only from outside the country. Grievances are accumulating because of the atrocities, revenge killings, hangings. What’s happening in the provinces is absolutely astounding. The reports you’re seeing are really the tip of the iceberg.
Taliban and Afghanistan’s economic collapse
Calling the Taliban a government is a misnomer. It’s a ruling entity that has captured power. The Afghan economy, with a budget that was 70-80% dependent on foreign aid, has completely collapsed. Taliban contributed to insecurity over 20 years, and didn’t allow the government to jumpstart the economy. Now there’s a huge drain, existing capital, businessmen with wealth have fled. Afghanistan faces a huge energy crisis, the entire requirement is imported. How long will Central Asian countries be able to provide electricity without payments?