The more things change, the more they stay the same. This is surely true in Afghanistan. On 11 September 2001, the Taliban ruled the landlocked nation when the jihadist fugitives they had harboured attacked the United States. On 11 September 2021, the Taliban are still the masters of Afghanistan. The story of the Americans can be said in a few words: they came, they saw, they conquered—and finally gave back the country to those whom they had ousted. The mess they left behind is primarily because of President Joe Biden’s gross incompetence and the woke culture that he and his backers have promoted, among other spheres, in the US military.
From India’s perspective too, things may get bad, as the barbaric medievalists, now better armed and emboldened by their audacious comeback, will double their efforts to foment trouble in Kashmir and other parts of India. For this, India has nobody but itself to blame. For too long it watched as a mute spectator to the happenings in the war-torn nation instead of sending troops to train the Afghan armed forces.
Still wedded to the discredited non-alignment policy, now rephrased as the doctrine of “strategic autonomy”, the foreign office has ignored a basic fact: India is not just a big target for the jihadists because it is the biggest nation in the neighbourhood of Afghanistan but also part of their unfinished agenda—conquest of India, Ghazwa-e-Hind.
It needs to be mentioned here that there is no concept of, say, Ghazwa-e-Sri Lanka or Ghazwa-e-Nepal. There is a reason for it: India is the only country, other than Spain, that was ruled by Muslims for over half a millennium but still remains primarily non-Islamic, even though parts of it have become Muslim. This galls Wahhabis.
Within a span of 32 years, the Taliban have forced two superpowers to leave their country. Their morale is sky-high and their arsenal impressive. With American arms and armaments worth $90 bn in their possession—which is twice what India spends on capital expenditure a year—and about 85% of what the US sent to Israel since the birth of the Jewish nation, the Taliban and their jihadist brethren are raring to go.
To go to India.
Some Taliban leaders did make half-hearted efforts to present themselves as “Taliban 2.0”. After taking over Kabul, the Taliban went to the extent of stating that they regarded Kashmir as a “bilateral and an internal matter”. A few days later, however, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen scotched such notions. He told BBC Urdu: “We have this right, being Muslims, to raise our voice for Muslims in Kashmir, India, and any other country.” Talking to Pakistan’s Geo News, he said, “We will raise our voice and say that Muslims are your own people, your own citizens. They are entitled to equal rights under your laws.”
News from and about Pakistan too is not very reassuring from India’s perspective. Neelam Irshad Sheikh, a leader of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), recently said in a television debate that the Taliban would help in “liberating” Kashmir from India. He said, “Taliban have said that they are with us and they will help us in [liberating] Kashmir.”
Khan himself had the cheek to call America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan as emancipation and the Taliban as emancipators: “In Afghanistan they have broken the chains of slavery.” Millions of Afghans, especially women, hate and fear the barbaric Taliban, but the Oxford-educated Pakistani Prime Minister sees liberation in their rule. His world is patently Orwellian: slavery is freedom. Pakistan ISI chief Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed has visited Kabul, evidently to help the Taliban further “liberate” the war-torn nation.
That the Taliban, ISI, Al Qaeda, ISIS, and other jihadist groups will make their obnoxious presence felt in the region is a well-known fact. The signs are everywhere to see, but Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla seems reluctant to accept this brutal fact. He recently said, “Our engagement with them [the Taliban] has been limited. It’s not that we have [had] a robust conversation. But whatever conversation we have had so far, they have been sort of… At least, the Taliban seem to indicate that they will be reasonable in the way they handle this.”
Unsurprisingly, the first virtual BRICS meeting after the fall of Kabul, hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 9 September, expressed concern over “the latest developments” in Afghanistan but didn’t name the Taliban as the source of concern.
This is what happens when a big nation refuses to assert its presence in its neighbourhood. But when it does assert, the results are good. In the 1980s, India didn’t silently watch Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka. New Delhi made several mistakes, which cost us dear. A former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated, but finally we, along with the Sri Lankans, succeeded in all but eradicating one of the most lethal and organized terrorist outfits in the world, the LTTE.
In Afghanistan, however, India has done nothing to safeguard its own interests. So, we are condemned to watch the march of extremism in our neighbourhood.
Ravi Shanker Kapoor is a freelance journalist