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[Burning Issue] Rise of Taliban in Afghanistan and its implications for India

The Taliban’s possible triumph threatens not just India’s diplomatic stakes in Afghanistan, but also 20 years and $3 billion worth of Indian investment in various projects — dams, roads, trade infrastructure. India has been becoming more central to the negotiations with the Taliban. In this article, we will discuss and analyze all aspects of rising of the Taliban in Afghanistan and its implications for India.

Background of the Taliban

The Taliban (literally meaning “students”) or ‘Taleban’, who refer to themselves as the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA)’ is a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement and military organization in Afghanistan currently waging war (an insurgency, or jihad) within that country.

Their aims were to end the political chaos that had been ongoing in Afghanistan since the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and to impose a strict interpretation of Islam.

How it came into existence?

  • After the Soviet Union intervened and occupied Afghanistan in 1979, Islamic Mujahedeen fighters engaged in war with those Soviet forces.
  • A while later, the US CIA and the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate (GID) provided funding and equipment through the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI) to the Afghan Mujahedeen.
  • About 90,000 Afghans, including several bountied terrorists, were trained by Pakistan’s ISI during the 1980s.
  • Hence it can be concluded that the Taliban have arisen from those US-Saudi-Pakistan-supported Mujahedeen: ‘The West helped the Taliban to fight the Soviet takeover of Afghanistan.’

What is its ideology?

  • Early Taliban were motivated by the suffering among the Afghan people, which they believed resulted from power struggles between Afghan groups not adhering to the moral code of Islam; in their religious schools they had been taught a belief in strict Islamic law.
  • The military ambitions of the afghans led to it’s the infamous civil war from 1992-96 which ultimately demanded a political emirate.

The 9-11

  • The United States invasion of Afghanistan occurred after the September 11 attacks in late 2001 and was supported by close US allies.
  • Its public aims were to dismantle Al-Qaeda and deny it a safe base of operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power.
  • US demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden and expel Al-Qaeda; bin Laden had already been wanted by the FBI since 1998.
  • The Taliban declined to extradite him unless given what they deemed convincing evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
  • They ignored demands to shut down terrorist bases and hand over other terrorist suspects apart from bin Laden.

Taliban prowess is ever-increasing

  • Every single day since the ceasefire, the Taliban is strengthening and violence is mounting high.
  • Taliban is now more organized as an organization with diplomats on par with modern democratic nations with state apparatus propaganda.
  • The Taliban strategy seems to be to capture power in Kabul by violence and intimidation despite warnings from the international community.
  • At the core of its diplomacy lies the untenable violent extremism based on radical religious ideology.

Afghan Peace Process: A failure

  • The Afghan peace process comprises the proposals and negotiations in a bid to end the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
  • This ‘US-Taliban deal signed in February 2020 was seen in India as a “victory for Taliban and Pakistan”.
  • Besides the US, major powers such as China, India, Russia, as well as NATO play a part that they see as facilitating the peace process.
  • The peace process has not made much headway mainly because violence by the Taliban continues unabated.
  • The Taliban now view this as an important milestone and is busy trying to establish their military superiority on the ground.

What are the implications of the deal for India?

  • India has been backing the Ghani-led government and was among very few countries to congratulate Ghani on his victory.
  • There has not been formal contact with top Taliban leaders, the Indian mission has a fair amount of access to the Pashtun community throughout Afghanistan through community development projects of about $3 billion.
  • Due to so, although the Pakistan military and its ally Taliban have become dominant players in Kabul’s power circles, South Block insiders insist that it is not all that grim for New Delhi.
  • These high-impact projects, diplomats feel India has gained goodwill among ordinary Afghans, the majority of whom are Pashtuns and some may be aligned with the Taliban as well.

What are India’s key investments in Afghanistan?

India’s contribution has been phenomenal in every area in Afghanistan since India built the Afghan Parliament. India has been a major military and developmental assistance partner for Afghanistan. Let us have a look at various projects India has built across Afghanistan.

(1) Salma Dam:

  • It is one of India’s high-visibility projects is located — the 42MW Salma Dam in Herat province.

(2) Zaranj-Delaram Highway:

  • The other high-profile project was the 218-km Zaranj-Delaram highway built by the Border Roads Organisation.
  • India had transported 75,000 tonnes of wheat through Chabahar to Afghanistan during the pandemic.

(3) Parliament building:

  • The Afghan Parliament in Kabul was built by India at $90 million. It was opened in 2015.

(4) Stor Palace:

  • It is the restored Stor Palace in Kabul, originally built in the late 19th century, and which was the setting for the 1919 Rawalpindi Agreement by which Afghanistan became an independent country.

(5) Power Infra:

  • Other Indian projects in Afghanistan include the rebuilding of power infrastructure such as the 220kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri, to the north of Kabul.  

(6) Health Infra:

  • India has reconstructed a children’s hospital it had helped build in Kabul in 1972 —named Indira Gandhi Institute for Child Health in 1985 — that was in shambles after the war.
  • ‘Indian Medical Missions’ have held free consultation camps in several areas. Thousands who lost their limbs after stepping on mines left over from the war have been fitted with the Jaipur Foot.

(7) Transportation:

  • India gifted 400 buses and 200 mini-buses for urban transportation, 105 utility vehicles for municipalities, 285 military vehicles for the Afghan National Army, and 10 ambulances for public hospitals in five cities.
  • It also gave three Air India aircraft to Ariana, the Afghan national carrier, when it was restarting operations.

 (8) Ongoing Projects:

  • India had concluded with Afghanistan an agreement for the construction of the Shatoot Dam in Kabul district, which would provide safe drinking water to 2 million residents.

India’s and the Taliban

  • As the world and India have changed there is an aspiration that Afghan can’t be brought back from the brink.
  • India wants to play a positive role and sabotage those countries that support other terror groups in Afghan.
  • It is visibly clear and Taliban has claimed that the US withdrawal is a victory for them. At the same time, the democratically elected Afghan government is crashing.
  • India is pressing on a peace process all around Afghanistan so that all countries shall be peaceful.

Why Taliban’s control over Afghanistan is a matter of concern for India and the world?

(1) Taliban is strengthening its control in Border areas:

  • The Taliban is occupying the border areas with other countries instead of central Afghanistan and have taken control of the districts bordering Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
  • And this time, the Taliban’s strategy is clear that it will strengthen itself on the border areas so that when its government comes there, the neighboring countries cannot put pressure on it, and once again it can run its brutal rule in Afghanistan.

(2) Taliban’s presence near Indian Borders:

  • The Taliban is only 400 km away from the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. The Taliban have captured the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan, which borders PoK.
  • If Taliban establish their government by capturing all the districts of Afghanistan, then they will be able to easily send their terrorists to Jammu and Kashmir and help Pakistan.

(3) China factor:

  • Apart from Pakistan, China can also become a challenge for India. That is because while Pakistan has influence over the Taliban, China is currently the biggest investor for Afghanistan.
  • At present, there are big Chinese projects going on in Afghanistan and the Taliban knows that if it wants to keep its position strong then it will need Chinese money the most.

(4) Silence of Western countries and UN over the situation in Afghanistan:

  • It is also an irony that the think tanks of Western countries and the United Nations, which give lectures to the whole world on human rights, are not very active about the current situation in Afghanistan.
  • At that time, the Taliban strictly enforced Sharia law. It had issued a Taliban decree for men to keep beards and women to keep their full bodies covered, violating which was publicly punished.
  • Apart from this, there was also a ban on watching music, movies and television at that time and girls above the age of 10 were not allowed to go to school.

(5) Violence and loss of lives:

  • India is concerned over the violence and loss of lives in Afghanistan. Violence has increased manifold after peace talks have started.
  • New Delhi wants an all-inclusive “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled” peace process—not one that is remote-controlled by Pakistan, seen as the backers of the Taliban.
  • It supports zero tolerance against violence.
  • Our EAM has iterated that there is need of double peace i.e., within and around Afghan indirectly pointing towards the terror breeding centre, Pakistan.

(6) India’s investments are at stake:

India, which has committed $3 billion in development aid and reconstruction activities, backs the Ashraf Ghani government in the war-torn country.

What are the stakes for India?

  • Afghanistan is a part  of  India’s extended  neighbourhood and a link to Central Asia. But for PoK, India would have had a direct border with Afghanistan.
  • Despite claims that the Taliban have changed in the past two decades, there is no proof that it has shed any of its obscurantist ideology which leans heavily towards Pakistan’s official foreign policy towards India.
  • A Taliban-controlled government in Kabul would mean Pakistan controlling Afghan policy on India.
  • And a repeat of the past when Pakistan used Afghanistan territory for anti-India activities.

Way Forward

  • India’s role in Afghan’s peace process and the road ahead is difficult as we see more process and less peace. India has urged for a permanent & comprehensive ceasefire in Afghanistan.
  • Durable peace requires peace within & around Afghanistan. India also asserted the need for zero tolerance for terrorism.
  • Diplomatic, policing, and intelligence cooperation with countries that border Afghanistan can help to contain terrorist groups and inhibit their ability to travel beyond the region.
  • International organizations like the UN must come forward to stop Pakistan sponsor of terrorism. The FATF should move beyond grey-listing itself.
  • Aid and developmental cooperation through the UN, India, USA must be done simultaneously for the restoration of democracy.

Conclusion

Terrorism safe havens are mostly a myth. A lot of complexities are involved in the Afghan theatre; tangible demonstration of commitment is required from all stakeholders for a political settlement and to have a permanent ceasefire in Afghanistan.

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