Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan and India's isolation
Speculation that the Afghan peace talks could resume has been around for some time. It got a shot in the arm after the Heart of Asia Conference in Islamabad recently when the “reconcilable” Taliban (pro-Pakistan) were to be given a share in the Kabul power structure.
But it’s important to understand that there’s a war raging in Great Game country, and what is preferable to some (Pakistan, US and China), may not be to others. Like the Afghans, for instance. Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani is on board reaching out to the Taliban and despite being burnt by repeated Taliban attacks, still remains hopeful of Islamabad restraining its Taliban proteges.
Not so, it would seem, are other Afghans in the Kabul power structure. In fact, there’s a view that the attack on the Taliban chief Mullah Mansoor may have been the work of the Afghan intelligence, meaning they have penetrated the Taliban.
The information about the attack on Mansoor came from Kabul a few days before the Heart of Asia Conference opened in Islamabad. Curiously, the information about Mullah Omar’s death also came from Kabul.
Did Afghan intelligence authorize the attack on Mansoor? Was this done in order to pre-empt any move by President Ghani to do a deal with Pakistan? The intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabil quit within hours of Ghani’s return from Islamabad but not before posting scathing observations about Ghani’s efforts on the net.
It underscores another point, about the power struggle underway in Kabul. Nabil is loyal to former president Hamid Karzai, and the latter has been flexing his political muscle. In recent days, a group of mujahideen leaders right from the days of anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s, and close to Karzai, have formed a “Council for Protection and Stability”. They are demanding that the government call a Loya Jirga or grand assembly in the New Year to debate constitutional reform that would allow the creation of the prime minister’s post (parliamentary elections are due next year). They are also vehemently against any deal with the Taliban
The group says it does not intend to destabilize the Ghani government but there’s no doubt it will increase the pressure on him. His government has been struggling to implement reform pledges, add to that the Taliban insurgency which is gathering strength. Helmand province could fall within days, the deputy governor wrote on a facebook post in the second week of December 2015.
Earlier in December 2015 , more than 50 people were killed when the Taliban attacked Kandahar airport around the time when the Heart of Asia Conference opened in Islamabad. There were over 800 casualties in September when Kunduz city was briefly overrun.
On would have expected that at least in the run up to the Heart of Asia Conference, the Taliban would have been restrained in their actions. That they went to the other extreme suggests Pakistan encouragement, or that Pakistan is no longer able to control all the Taliban factions. But Afghan reports say the claims of factionalism among the Taliban is a smokescreen that Pakistan has deliberately played up, to enable it to calibrate the level of violence against Afghanistan.
In fact, Indian diplomats who have served in Afghanistan, believe the Haqqani network is now the “steel frame” of the Taliban and with Pakistani support, it could well win international recognition as the de facto Taliban! Imagine that, the very terror group which attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul twice, in 2008 and 2009, a part of the Afghan government?
But the hard facts are the US wants to exit Afghanistan without leaving chaos behind, and in its view, the Pakistanis are best placed to deliver. The Chinese may share India’s view on extremism and terrorism but also believe the Pakistani hold on the Taliban is the best guarantee of peace. Russia, with memories of the failed occupation of 1979-89 and the bitter exit, has no wish to get involved.
That leaves India out of the Afghan process but not for the first time. It was excluded from that country when the Taliban ruled (although it does not mean India has no links with that group). But not for nothing was the term the Great Game coined: India has no border with Afghanistan but has leverage nonetheless and this game is far from finished.
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