Lt Gen Kamal Davar (retd)
Former chief of Defence Intelligence Agency
On July 28, as many as 20 people were killed in a Taliban attack at the office of the vice-presidential running candidate Amrullah Saleh in Kabul. He, however, was evacuated. Three days later, a bus ran over a roadside bomb, planted by the Taliban on the Kandahar-Herat highway, killing 34 passengers, mainly women and children — an act of inhuman, senseless killing. On August 1, 10 Afghan police officers were killed at the Daikundi province police checkpoint. Overall, in recent decades, one of the nations in the world which has been intensely afflicted with recurring fratricidal violence and tormented with grave externally driven political instability, unquestionably, has been the land of the Hindu Kush, namely Afghanistan.
A victim of America’s inability to bring about a modicum of peace despite the superpower’s involvement in it for nearly 18 years — the longest war in its history — with costs amounting to at least $2 trillion and thousands of fatalities, Afghanistan displays no signs of normalcy returning to it. That the situation inside Afghanistan has been aggravated by regional rivalries, the unholy ambitions of the extremist Afghan Taliban and neighbouring Pakistan’s eternal quest for a pliant regime in Kabul is beyond question.
The major stakeholder in hapless Afghanistan since the launch of Operation Freedom in 2001 to rid Afghanistan of the then alive terrorist kingpin Osama bin Laden and his formidable network of terrorists has been, undoubtedly, the US. However, it is more than clear that, in the last five years or so, the US has shown signs of being militarily fatigued and financially exhausted with its prolonged deployment in Afghanistan. Thus, successive US administrations, including those of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, have been eagerly looking for an honourable exit from Afghanistan. Just the other day, the mercurial President Trump casually stated that if he desired, he could solve the Afghan problem in a week’s time but did not do so as there would be 10 million casualties! That this statement coming from the head of the sole global super power is nothing short of being bizarre and irresponsible is to say the least.
In the last two years, the US has endeavoured to open up channels with the totally anti-Kabul government militant Taliban to strike some sort of a deal which would give the US a face-saving exit from Afghanistan. And now with the US General Election approaching early next year, President Trump appears to be in an ignoble hurry to strike an agreement with the same lot of terrorists, who continue to not only target US soldiers but also innocent Afghan civilians, with impunity and utter disdain. That the Trump administration is negotiating with the Afghan Taliban behind the back of the democratically elected government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, it officially supports, is reprehensible.
The US talks with the Afghan Taliban, spearheaded by its special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (himself of Afghan origin) and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, too, appear to be in haste to arrive at some agreement with the wily, violence-sprouting Taliban. That the latter are more than conscious of the US' tearing hurry to depart from Afghanistan is enabling the Taliban to extract the maximum they can from the US, disregarding the Ashraf Ghani administration in toto. That the Taliban will mount their major offensive against any Kabul government, once the US departs, is beyond question. If that happens, Afghanistan will revert to the dark ages with a highly medieval fundamentalist Islamic government in power. Such an eventuality also portends likely instability and terrorism spreading throughout the region.
Apart from the Taliban, Pakistan, largely isolated by the global community for years and ostracised by its one-time mentor, the US, is now back in business, thanks to its supposedly close links with the Taliban. Just last week in Washington, during his maiden visit to the US, Pakistan PM Imran Khan too was feted by Donald Trump to influence the Pak-friendly Taliban to arrive at a suitable agreement with the US. That the crafty Pakistanis would pull out all stops to extract maximum financial and military aid from the US for any so-called assistance vis-à-vis the Taliban is a foregone conclusion.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has successfully ensured that India, despite having excellent relations with Afghanistan and being a major donor in civil aid to Kabul has been marginalised in the current negotiations being conducted for the future contours of Afghanistan. India also appears to have, after many years, again been hyphenated with Pakistan by the US in regional affairs. Nevertheless, India must endeavour to synergise its Afghan policy with Russia and Iran and not get relegated to regional oblivion, thanks to the US strategic blundering in South Asia.
India must steer clear of the myopic US policies for Afghanistan and the region. Accordingly, it must transform its civilisational links with Afghanistan into a stronger strategic partnership for enhancing peace in the region. God forbid, if the Taliban ever come to power in Afghanistan, terrorism in greater potency, will be a natural outcome to enter our boundaries and give an additional boost to terrorism in Kashmir.
The Government of India may wish to send a strong message to the US not to aggravate Kabul’s misery by any hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan. The security situation demands a strong US presence in support of a democratically elected Afghan Government.