Peace will take its time coming in Afghanistan

Ruchi Ghanashyam Tuesday 31st August 2021 03:57 EDT

Two weeks after the entry of the Taliban into Kabul, the situation remains extremely fluid in Afghanistan. As the people of Kabul try to get used to the new situation, attacks on the airport have started. A suicide bomb attack at the airport killed both Afghans and US Service members. This was followed by several rockets fired at the airport in Kabul, amidst the evacuation of Americans and allies, as US troops raced to complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. Both attacks were claimed by ISIS. US drone strikes claimed to have hit an explosive-laden vehicle, carrying suicide bombers targeting Kabul airport, thus preventing another attack. 

Meanwhile, resistance to the Taliban has gathered from the long time stronghold of Panjshir valley. Lion of Panjshir, Ahmad Shah Masood and his band of fighters had defended the valley successfully during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as well as against the Taliban in the nineties. Panjshir also remained out of bounds for the Taliban during the last twenty years. Masoud’s son, Ahmad Masood, and his fighters have put together armed resistance against the Taliban in Panjshir. The Valley would be harder to defend this time round as the supply routes from the north have narrowed, virtually squeezing the Panjshir valley. The road from Kabul to Panjshir is also said to be more modern and wider. Being young and having lived in a relatively peaceful Afghanistan, Ahmad Masood and his fighters lack fighting experience or the participation of senior commanders of the erstwhile fight against the Soviet forces. They face an uphill battle against Taliban forces, who are supported by Pakistan and bolstered with captured American weapons and equipment. 

As the Taliban neared Kabul, Afghan Vice-President, Amarullah Saleh, who has been a staunch critic of the Taliban and Pakistan, went to his birthplace, Panjshir, where he proclaimed himself to be the rightful President of Afghanistan as president Ghani was no longer in the country. 

Looking at the current situation in Afghanistan, one can not but ask the question of whether the US forces should have stayed in Afghanistan at a reduced number for some more years. Examples are being cited in support of this position.  The haphazard US evacuation has made the US look like a tired and defeated empire, as it seemed to be scrambling to get the last of its people out. It will take years for the US to redeem its image, if at all.  

For India, the situation poses a dilemma. The Taliban have been making statements that indicate their changed approach to human rights and the rights of women. They have said they will allow girls in schools and universities, within the norms of Sharia, in girls-only institutions. The deputy head of the Taliban office in Doha, Sher Mohammad Stanekzai, has said that India is “very important” for the subcontinent and the Taliban want to continue Afghanistan’s cultural, economic, political and trade ties with India “like in the past”. This is being interpreted as an outreach by the Taliban to India. 

On the other hand, India has been a friend of the Afghan people. Indian efforts in Afghanistan have been aimed at capacity building and strengthening democracy, institutions and improving the lives of Afghans.  India also has a long relationship with the Panjshiris. Welfare of the Afghan people will remain a primary consideration in India’s approach to Afghanistan.

India has to weigh the Taliban overture carefully. Taliban’s success is built on the back of Pakistan’s ISI and Pakistani mercenaries. Fighters of the anti-India Haqqani network and even terrorist organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad are known to have supported the Taliban. The latter two are active against India, especially in the Kashmir valley, and have been behind several terrorist attacks in India. The Haqqani network, at the alleged behest of Pakistan’s ISI, is said to have been responsible for the killing of two senior Indian diplomats and two ITBP guards amongst others, in a suicide bomb terror attack in 2008, outside the gates of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. In the first version of the Taliban in the nineties, anti-India terrorist groups could find a safe haven and training ground in Afghanistan. The hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC814, from Kathmandu to Kandahar, in 1999, was carried out by the supporters of Maulana Masood Azhar, founder of Jaish-e-Mohammad.  Taliban sanctuary and support to Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, is well known.

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