US withdrawal from Afghanistan: India’s challenges of militancy spike in the region

August 30, 2021 2:27 PM

What is likely to happen in Afghanistan post the exit of NATO forces, will unfold, as the various factions are in discussions, bargaining hard for positions of power.

afghanistan crisisIn Afghanistan, as the saying goes - "police by day, Taliban by night" referring to the rapacious nature of the local police. (Photo source: AP)

By LT COL MANOJ K CHANNAN,

The US final withdrawal is taking place this day, two horrific bomb blasts and loss of life of US servicemen is indicative that the Taliban 2.0 while presenting a suave front to the Global Media, has bared its fangs to convey a message that US service personnel must exit on the mutually agreed date of 31st of August, 2021.

What is likely to happen in Afghanistan post the exit of NATO forces, will unfold, as the various factions are in discussions, bargaining hard for positions of power.

Many commentators and think tanks are of the view that Pakistan Army/ISI is likely to ensure that the factions backed by them are in the lead role. There have been media reports of segregation of Hindus and Sikhs by the Taliban and were prevented from leaving Kabul, an attempt by ISI to showcase its control on the Taliban in Kabul; which was quickly resolved by back-channel communications.

Is Taliban inimical to the Indian interests?

A logical answer would be, “yes, of course”.

Let’s get a grip on the ground situation in Afghanistan, to develop a better understanding of what is likely to happen in the near term, midterm and the long term.

The Taliban are surmounted by a number of problems as they settle down to securing their command and control. They are faced with an acute cash crunch as the banks have no money and the US has frozen all aid money.

The country has no food, the Taliban have reportedly been careful of ensuring that their cadres are not seen taking advantage of the situation at hand.

Sanitation and pandemics are adversely affected, with winters approaching; the temperature falling to -10 degrees centigrade is going to make life miserable for one and all.

This is a problem the Taliban are uniquely unprepared and ill-equipped to address in the absence of the international community.

The Taliban have enough on their hands to keep them occupied till March 2022.

Taliban leader Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai, as per a video posted on the Taliban’s social media, in Pashto spoke about the end of the war in Afghanistan and plans for forming an Islamic administration based on Shariah. He also spoke about relations with key countries in the region, including India, Pakistan, China and Russia.

In the near term the fringe elements are likely to target the minority Hindu and Sikh population which will remain beyond the control of the central leadership of the Taliban at Kabul.

In the time frame of six to seven months it can be assessed that the Taliban leadership is likely to consolidate its hold within the country while it will seek to develop its relationships with countries like Pakistan, Iran, China and Russia.

While these countries would offer the succour of giving diplomatic recognition, the ability to address the immediate requirements of providing food, nutrients for children and medical aid can be undertaken by India immediately. The question of recognition of the Taliban Government remains and a delay in this acknowledgement is not very favourable for the Government of India.

India has had investments in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, from roads, dams to even the parliament building. According to reports, it has invested $3 billion in development projects, offered scholarships to Afghan students, and helped construct the parliament building at a cost of $90 million. India in addition offers medical facilities to the Afghans who do not have access to affordable and expert medical care. The existing goodwill of India should not be frittered away by a “freeze” in the decision making.

Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai has been trained at the Indian Military Academy and passed out in December 1982, as an officer of the Afghanistan Army. While over the past decades, there is a need to find common ground to develop amicable terms. Prime Minister Modi and President Putin had a conversation, towards this end to ensure mutual strategic goals are met.

Assuming that India is able to achieve a breakthrough with the Taliban Government, through the various contours of diplomatic initiatives available, may help contain the fears of militancy spreading through Pakistan to the Kashmir valley.

This is desirable, however, needs to be worked upon, by MEA and the NSA.

In the worst-case scenario, if there is an export of terror in Kashmir; there are videos populated by the IT cells of ISI threatening to unleash terror, which will be dealt with vigorously and effectively.

A strategic military expert with over twelve years of boots on the ground experience, a subject matter expert on Taliban, Col Ronnie Rajkumar, 5 ASSAM; has analysed this very well and I quote him, below.

I quote, “The Taliban have fought an ‘analogue’ war and won. The US and NATO have fought a highly ‘digitalized’ warfighting mode and also trained their ANDSF protégés in the same, and lost.

The West was never able to understand how a war is fought the Afghan way. The conflict ecosystem in Afghanistan comprises in the words of the UN – a ‘shambolic array’ of actors from the Taliban, to criminal networks and to the local police. Very blurred lines separate them or distinguish them and the Taliban were able to navigate through this maze and manipulate it to their advantage.

In Afghanistan, as the saying goes – “police by day, Taliban by night” referring to the rapacious nature of the local police. And used by the Taliban to abduct, assassinate and aggregate their control of the human and territorial terrain by terror.

The West never fully grasped the fact that the only way to defeat the Taliban was by fracturing and exploiting their centuries-old tribal fault lines. This fault line is now surfacing as clans (major ones are the Durrani and the Ghilzai) are jostling for leadership positions in the new order.

A core lesson of fighting the Taliban is to know his weakness and what is closest to his heart – first is his family, then his village, next is his clan and then his religion. I asked around quite a bit on this from friends, from acquaintances who inhabit the fringes of the grey zone, from folks from the raw rural areas that I came across and, more or less, this equation holds true.

This cannot be picked up by a ScanEagle Drone but only by the good old Indian soldier in the failsafe pencil and notebook way”. Unquote.

The counter terrorist training establishments will do well to study the modus-operandi of their operations and work out standard operating procedures to ensure that these fringe elements are eliminated as and when they surface.
The counter-infiltration grid and the surveillance of possible infiltration routes are well known. The security grid is well established in Kashmir valley; however, terror strikes can take place in other locations to get the undue attention that is desired, by Pakistan ISI.

Any such terror activity cannot take place without the tacit support of the ISI handlers. The ceasefire along the LoC and other punitive countermeasures need to be worked out and the impact must be delivered without any remorse.

As they say, all bets are open, there is too much at stake for all the stakeholders to include the people of Afghanistan and the countries who seek active interest in the region. Interesting days ahead for strategic watchers and think tanks.

(The author is an Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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