Opinion: Impact of Taliban's return

By Dr. Mohan Bhandari  Published on  17 Sep 2021 4:15 AM GMT
Opinion: Impact of Talibans return

" Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of Liberty" - John F.Kennedy

The Quad leaders are meeting in Washington DC after a week. On September 15, the Biden administration has announced a new Trilateral Security Partnership for the Indo-Pacific - between Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. (AUKUS). As a result, Australia will acquire nuclear-powered submarines with help from the U.K. and the U.S.

The trilateral grouping was formally announced by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison who joined U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House via video link. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also participated in the launch via video link.

"The future of the Indo-Pacific will impact all our futures," Mr. Morrison said, adding that AUKUS will enhance Australia's contribution to its other partnerships, including the Quad.

"We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region, and how it may evolve, because the future of each of our nations — and indeed the world -depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead," Mr. Biden said.

The above major development is a pointer to the changing strategic milieu & balance of power in South Asian & Indo-Pacific Command Region as the recent developments in Afghanistan have very wide repercussions throughout the world.

Against the above backdrop & similar equations that may emerge soon, the most significant facet of the developments in Afghanistan is that the strategic and economic interests of most stakeholders are intertwined. In addition, the religious & ideological interests of the Islamic nations, organizations, and terror networks make the situation even more complex.

"Russia was broken into pieces by the students and graduates of Darul Uloom Haqqania and America was also sent packing," beamed Shah, an influential cleric at the seminary that critics have dubbed as the "University of Jihad" - Pakistan's sixth Province. Taliban Movement in Pakistan' (TTP), alternatively referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, is a Pashtun Islamist armed student group that is an umbrella organization of various student militant groups based along the Afghan–Pakistani border. Most Taliban groups in Pakistan coalesce under the TTP. They have vowed to remove Imran Khan & Bajwa.

Among the stated objectives of TTP is resistance against the Pakistani state. The TTP's aim is to overthrow the government of Pakistan by waging a terrorist campaign against the Pakistan Armed Forces and the failed State. The TTP depends on the tribal belt along the Afghanistan–Pakistan border, from which it draws its recruits. The TTP receives ideological guidance from and maintains ties with al-Qaeda.

The Afghanistan economy is in shambles. The Taliban are desperate to lay their hands on wealth for two primary reasons – first, to amass fortunes for themselves and, second, to run the administrative structures of the country. While they will have access to enough ill-gotten wealth through Pak ISI and Islamic terror networks, they need a tremendous amount of legitimate money for governance. Both Pakistan and the Taliban government in Afghanistan will kowtow to the US and its allies - so as to extract maximum resources they can extract on the pretext of rehabilitation and humanitarian relief in Afghanistan. Rogue Pakistan will attempt to swallow most of it, knowing it fully well, that in all probability, as the things stand today, the aid may get routed through them!

For the Taliban, having any visible cozy relations with the Pakistan ISI is bound to rattle the US and the European donors as Pakistan doesn't command even the smallest degree of trust as it did a decade ago by fooling them & the entire world. For similar reasons, Pakistan too will also prefer to feign 'an arm's length relations façade' with the Taliban.

China is a lucrative option owing to its geographical contiguity. Pakistan would have played an important role in bringing the Chinese and the Taliban closer. China is quite concerned about Islamic terror in Xinjiang. Making economic forays into Afghanistan not only strengthens China's economic expansion through access to copper and lithium mines but also helps it to re-establish the Silk Route. In return for its economic investments, China will, for sure, demand that the Taliban gives full assurance of maintaining total silence about the plight of Muslim separatists in Xinjiang.

Though embracing China comes with the risk of annoying the US and its allies, the Taliban is likely to go ahead with that option. The Taliban can please the US only by assuring and showing definite signs of good conduct in all spheres - ranging from not supporting Al Qaeda & throttling freedom and human rights. The Taliban will find this option too difficult and time-consuming as there are far too many conditions involved. Moreover, it is not in their nature to abide by western democratic principles. On the other hand, China doesn't want any 'good behavior bond' with regards to human rights and gender equality within Afghanistan and will disregard all violations there as long as the Taliban keep their hands off Xinjiang. As per the latest reports received, it is reliably learnt that Al Qaeda is planning its resurgence in a big way.

Now coming to stakeholders that are mediators. We need to realize that the primary intent of any mediator in a given situation is to gain influence and/or profit monetarily. In the instant case, the most visible mediators are Qatar and Turkey. Qatar was home to the Doha Deal. The Taliban have been allowed to maintain their political office in Qatar. After the embargo imposed by Saudi Arabia and UAE in 2017, Qatar is desirous to grow in stature. Consequently, it is ecstatic to play a mediator role between the Taliban and the West. It may be recalled that Qatar had provided major assistance to the US and its allies in their evacuation from Afghanistan.

As Pakistan is likely to be avoided, if not shunned, by the West for routing any humanitarian supplies to Afghanistan, Qatar would be more than happy to fill that role. Such a role would also help Qatar by boosting its economy (if it becomes a logistics base for humanitarian supplies and partnering with the West- thus becoming a shield against arm-twisting by UAE and Saudi Arabia) & at the same time, striving not to be seen as a hardcore Taliban supporter.

Turkey has also jumped into the fray. Being the only Muslim-majority country in the NATO, Turkey has volunteered to continue to guard Kabul airport. Turkey has always maintained close ties with Pakistan and Taliban. After Turkey's military hardware purchases from Russia in 2019, it had strained relations with NATO and the US. This is an opportunity for Turkey to undo that blemish.

As far as India is concerned, it will be naive to assume that Pakistan and China will not pressurize the Taliban to gradually downgrade Afghanistan's economic and political ties with India. It will then become extremely difficult to sustain Indian projects in Afghanistan. Moreover, we will soon witness increased infiltration in J&K. Separatists in J&K are already rejoicing and calling the Taliban to step up terrorist activities in J&K. Hizbul Mujahedeen Chief Syed Salahuddin posted online: "I pray to Allah that he strengthens the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan so that they may support Kashmiris against India." Their intent is to establish the Taliban model of governance in J&K.

We already know that the Pak ISI and the J&K separatists work hand in glove. The ISI recruits disillusioned & unemployed youth and criminals from many Islamic countries indoctrinates and trains them and then assigns them to a 'paid tour of duty' in J&K. Afghanistan has for long been a lucrative recruitment zone for the ISI because of its geographical proximity, same religious identity, the economic plight and physical and mental robustness of its people.

Russia too has a lot of uneasiness about Islamic terrorism. It will be sensible for India to turn the screws on China in the BRICS forum in cohort with Russia, Brazil, and South Africa. QUAD is another emerging forum through which deterrence can be achieved. There already are signs that the QUAD members have started engaging themselves to work out their strategy to counter the emerging threats in the region. In a new alliance reached a day before between US, UK & Australia, it has been agreed to provide nuclear submarines to Australia. China has reacted strongly.

It will be in our interest to redefine our relations with the aforesaid mediators and with Iran. Our membership of the QUAD can help in riveting Turkey to be neutral to, if not supportive of, our strategic interests. US and Iran's relationships have always been in the doldrums and adversarial. This doesn't help our interests. China and the Taliban-led Afghanistan cannot be allowed to forge strong ties with Iran in the interest of long-term geopolitical stability.

Iran had worked out an agreement in 2020- that has not as yet been finally approved. If it does, the gravest dangers come from the reopening of the Silk Route through Afghanistan. China will be able to access Iranian ports through land route thus reducing its dependence on the 'Maritime Silk Road' passing through the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea that China sees coming under domination by the QUAD alliance.

Today India faces a triple whammy of threats. While Dragon shall continue to engage India with unnecessary border disputes in the years to come, it has given an open threat that it shall capture Taiwan between 2025 and 2030 and Arunachal Pradesh between 2035 and 2040.

Next Story
Share it