INTERVIEW: "For the Taliban in Afghanistan, it is all about territory and Islamic Sharia"

July 21, 2021

"For the Taliban in Afghanistan, it is all about territory and Islamic Sharia."

Vicky Nanjappa OneIndiaJuly 21, 2021…

New Delhi, July 21: The situation remains fragile in Afghanistan with the US troops pulling out. What does this mean for India and the neighbourhood?

In this interview with OneIndia, Animesh Roul, Executive Director of the Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict, says that the investment and infrastructure would be in jeopardy once the Taliban takes over Kabul. He also says that India should keep its engagement with the Afghan government and other regional players such as Iran to remain relevant and effective.

The situation is extremely fragile in Afghanistan. Do you think the US pulled out too quick?

After 20 years of war with the estimated cost of over $1 trillion and over 23000 US troop casualties (including over 2300 deaths), the US has no option but to move out and end this conflict. Ironically, perhaps symbolically, it chooses September 11, 2021, to mark the occasion.

It is not wise to say that the US / NATO pulled out too quickly. Those who are criticising the 'hasty' withdrawal now (e.g. China and Russia), fearing the return of violence, should have come forward earlier or now to support any legitimate Afghanistan government and armed forces to fight the marauding Taliban and other insurgents.

 With Taliban readying scores of suicide bombers with Lashkar’s help, Pak intends keeping Kabul bloody

In any case, the US was determined to discontinue this long war much before this pull-out process, very well knowing the risks involved. The expectations for a limited US military or counterterrorism support for the Afghan forces are also diminishing further. Without vital Air support, Afghanistan forces would be largely ineffective against the Taliban. Uncertainty about Afghanistan's future has increased manifold definitely, but time is to keep faith in Afghanistan's government and its armed forces to secure the political and military situation in Afghanistan.

What, according to you, should India do in a situation like this?

Undoubtedly, India's position is vulnerable at present. The investment and infrastructure would be in jeopardy once the Taliban takes over Kabul. India should keep its engagement with the Afghan government and other regional players such as Iran to remain relevant and effective. Ideally, it should move its human resources (Embassy staffs, Engineers and expatriate citizens) to safer (government-controlled) places, even out of Afghanistan, while keeping its strategic support to Afghanistan intact. This is when India needs to extend and (continue) active military and intelligence support to Afghan National Security Forces. It could trigger or lead to a new military-cum-development alliance, with subsequent involvement of other regional and global powers, to safeguard Afghanistan. Expectedly, Pakistan would be a spoilsport for India in any case. It would be eager to see Indian built assets destroyed by the Taliban or any Non-state forces under its influence.

What role do you think China is playing in Afghanistan, or what role would you expect it to play?

China, Russia, India, Iran, and Turkey all have a role in Afghanistan securing peace and rebuilding process, post US/NATO troop withdrawal. Also, the future role of central Asian countries such as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan can't be ruled out. Neighbouring countries cannot afford to remain fence-sitters anymore.

Two options for Chinese in Afghanistan: 1) Either join any regional military-development coalition in Afghanistan to safeguard Afghanistan and its people as well as its own interests; 2) Extend support to any future Taliban regime to secure its own interest (e.g. belt road) with the help of Pakistani pro-Taliban agencies. Imran Khan government would ultimately be pressurised to play a role between Taliban and China.

If a hostile Taliban comes to power, Chinese interests in the region (Pakistan and Afghanistan) would be in danger (including its Belt Road project. Fortunately, China has its strongest ally in Pakistan, which in all possibility could be a facilitator between the two. However, it won't be a cakewalk for Pakistan always to play the role of mediator or facilitator. The Uighur issue will haunt China and Pakistan as extremist elements would play this card to target the Pak-China alliance. In all possibilities, China would be a fund generator for the Taliban as 'kidnapping for ransom', and extortion will increase. For Pakistani agencies, China would be the next proverbial 'milch cow'. The money would flow to Pakistan to protect Chinese citizens and secure them from Taliban or Al Qaeda elements.

In the current situation, how important are ties between India and Iran?

Very vital. Chabahar port and Zahedan city would play important bilateral links in future. Fortunately, India nurtured and maintained its bilateral ties with Iran despite US opposition. That historical Indo-Iranian ties and trade relations (Oil and gas) would now play a role in the region.

Do you think the Taliban is fighting for control or political recognition?

Taliban aims for Islamic Rule in Afghanistan (Emirate). Political recognition would come anyways afterwards, either from Pakistan or Malaysia or Qatar. For the Taliban, it is all about Territory and Islamic Sharia. Even if the Taliban agrees to any Doha, Teheran, or Moscow mediated power-sharing deal with present or future Civilian administrations in Afghanistan, it would eventually weaken the ANSF and Civilian governance structure for a smooth transition to Power. To Note, most of the countries engaged in Afghanistan affairs for the last several decades (including Russia and the US) have realised the power and resilience of the Taliban. So accepting or supporting Taliban ruled government in Afghanistan won't be difficult for these countries. The US departure/pull-out was considered a victory for the Taliban and its support groups Al Qaeda and Haqqani's and their worldviews. It immensely encouraged all extremist elements in the Af-Pak region and elsewhere.

How would Pakistan react if the Taliban raises the issue of the Durand Line?

Durand Line is a geopolitically important border. Taliban never recognised the British era division. On the other hand, Pakistan would not allow the Taliban to claim or dilute the frontline. Either it would strike a deal with the Taliban to secure the 2600+ km border or succumbed to whims and fancy of Taliban elements on both sides of the borders. It would remain a sticky issue between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Animesh Roul, OneIndia, July 21, 2021