Afghanistan

The Indian fear of ‘Taliban returning to power’ in Afghanistan

By Durdana Najam

In his usual style, Donald Trump, mocking Modi’s desire to build libraries in Afghanistan, asked the regional stakeholders to play a more active role in resolving the Afghan crisis. He said that countries close to Afghanistan, and not the one 6,000 kilometres away (the US), should be helping the war-torn country in its rehabilitation.

Trump’s jibe at Modi, for his desire to build libraries in Afghanistan, perhaps stems from the president’s continuous allegation on the allies for draining US treasury on fighting “lost wars”, of which the Afghan war takes the cake because of being the longest and the costliest in history. This jibe might also have stemmed from the US desire to see the wisdom of books played out on ground in the form of a shareholding solution to the Afghan crisis, with India accepting each partner wholeheartedly. Overall, the mood in Washington is that of allowing Afghanistan to move in the direction proposed by its stakeholders, rather than to what the US deems fit. 

A few days back, in a sudden foreign policy shift, Trump announced on December 20, 2018, to withdraw 7,000 troops from Afghanistan. The decision was preceded by a series of meetings held between the US officials and the Taliban. This sudden departure, from being the sole scriptwriter of the Afghan conflict to allowing other actors both at home and in the region to find solution to the conflict, has staggered India. 

Not that India does not want peace in Afghanistan, in fact, India has invested heavily in economic and development projects in the war-torn country. What irritates India is the prospect of Taliban taking the centre stage in a new set-up. India worries that the return of the hardliners could also mean a return of post-Soviet Union Afghanistan, when the county was allegedly used to plan insurgency in Kashmir.  India’s another fear emanates from Pakistan regaining “a strong position in Afghanistan”.  

India’s fear of Taliban is based on the received wisdom that the group has not changed over the past two decades. It also feeds on India’s refusal to accept its mishandling of the Kashmir issue. At a time when Russia and China have accepted the Taliban, despite apprehensions about their Islamist demeanour, India is stuck with viewing Taliban only as “an enemy”.

Indian right wing’s obsession with preserving the so-called “holiness of the cow”, which is in turn spreading hatred for people eating beef has earned the country a bad name both at home and abroad. The former Chairman of Press Council of India and retired Supreme Court judge, Justice Markandey Katju voiced a similar view in a TV interview.  He reprimanded Modi’s government for making India a laughing stock world over for allowing killing of Muslims on eating beef.  

Moreover, the recent banning of Namaz in open by the Yogi government in UP, said Katju, was unconstitutional. He said that Article 19 of the Constitution of India gave full rights to any community for a peaceful gathering. To support his argument, he mentioned the daily gathering called Shahkhaas of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s stalwarts held in parks for an hour at anytime of the day.  These gatherings, according to Katju, were never stopped. 

India’s fear of the Kashmir insurgency getting worse in future because of the Taliban backed freedom fighters is deceptive, to say the least. India’s self-destructive Kashmir policy is enough to breed freedom fighters. Taliban or Pakistan, as the allegation goes, does not have to export them.  Each Kashmiri is resisting India’s brutal campaign to hunt down freedom fighters.

In the first week of December 2018, seven civilians lost their lives, when they intervened between freedom fighters and advancing officers. Sheikh Showkat Husain, an international law professor, while talking to the New York Times, has called it a “new phenomenon.”  He said “Civilians have always supported militants, but never with such conviction.” According to human rights groups, around 148 civilians were killed in 2018 alone, with most of them being teenagers.  

Instead of taking a cue to improve its way of handling the Kashmir conflict, India has hardened its position. The Indian Chief of Army Staff, Bipin Rawat, was found saying that all those people “obstructing our operation” would be “treated as over-ground workers”, or collaborators. 

According to the Kashmiri police, of the 250 known freedom fighters, only 50 or so are from Pakistan. The rest, they said, neither had ever left Kashmir nor trained for insurgency. Even the abnormal ratio of 1,000 army officer to one insurgent has not dissuaded the Kashmiris from joining what is now being called an indigenous fight to free Kashmir of Indian atrocities.

Rather than fearing the Taliban or Pakistan’s “growing role” in Afghanistan, India should fear its polices in Kashmir. The world has changed manifold since the Soviet Union left Afghanistan. Its time for India to seek an antidote for its fear in the implementation of real secularism in Kashmir and the rest of India.

In the emerging scenario, following the US involvement in Afghanistan receding considerably, India or any other country, including Pakistan, should only play a facilitative role in building peace in Afghanistan. The country has a long history of breaking apart under the weight of its tribal and ethnic skirmishes. With each ethnic group having relations to the bordering countries, be it Tajik or Uzbek or Pashtuns or Hazaras, it has been easy to loop in those ethnic groups in the conflict. This geographic reality cannot be ignored and could revive in today’s milieu of popular politics. The solution lies in regional countries abandoning any policies that might foment ethnic sentiments and should therefore play a role towards “rebuilding” Afghanistan.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore (durdananajam1@gmail.com)

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