As the US troops prepare to thin themselves out of Afghanistan starting from next year, India has to worry whether 1996 can repeat itself in Afghanistan, when the Taliban, with the help of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), captured power from the Afghan Mujahideen in Kabul and enforced its rule.
In searching for an answer to this question, one has to remember what happened after the Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988:
1989: The Afghan Mujahideen, with ISI’s help, tried to have Najibullah’s army defeated at Jalalabad, so that they could set up a base there. They were defeated by Najibullah, who demonstrated the strength of his army.
1992: The Afghan Mujahideen succeeded in overthrowing Najib by taking advantage of a US-encouraged split between Najibullah and Rashid Dostum and setting up their Govt in Kabul.
1994: Naseerullah Babar, Benazir Bhutto’s Interior Minister, promoted the formation of the Taliban in Kandahar to escort Asif Ali Zardari’s cotton convoys from Turkmenistan. The US established secret contacts with the Taliban to secure its support for a gas-oil pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan being planned by UNOCAL.
1996: The Taliban, with the ISI’s support, overthrew the Mujahideen Government in Kabul and set up its Government.
1996: Ahmed Shah Masood set up his Northern Alliance to counter the Taliban.
1996: Osama bin Laden shifted from Khartoum to Jalalabad and from there to Kandahar where Mulla Omar, the Amir of the Taliban, was based.
1998: bin Laden formed the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People for fighting against the US and Israel.
1998: Al Qaeda carried out explosions outside the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam.US carried out reprisal Cruise missile attacks on Al Qaeda camps in Jalalabad. Not successful.
1999: The US demanded that the Taliban should hand over bin Laden to it. It also demanded that Pakistan should force the Taliban to hand over bin Laden to it. Both the Taliban and Pakistan evaded the US demand
11/9/2001: Al Qaeda carried out its terror strikes in the US homeland.
October, 2001: The US declared its war on the Taliban and Al Qaeda and ordered military action in Afghanistan. The Taliban was overthrown, but Omar and bin Laden crossed over to Pakistan, where they were given shelter by the ISI. The Northern Alliance collaborated with the US in its operations.
The sequence of events mentioned above was due to the following reasons:
What is the position now as the US prepares to thin itself out?
Qualitatively, the ground situation post-2014 will differ from that which prevailed in 1988 as follows:
From 2014, the US will have the limited objective of preventing a come-back by a Neo Al Qaeda that could again pose a threat to the US homeland. The Neo Al Qaeda is presently focusing on Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Africa. After the US thin-out, it might be tempted to re-focus on the Af-Pak region. To prevent this, the US will need a continued capability to maintain a limited ground presence in Afghanistan and operate its fleet of Drones.
What should be India’s options and policies? If the post-1996 events are repeated in Afghanistan, India may again face serious security problems in Jammu & Kashmir and even in hinterland India. To prevent this, Indian policies should be focused on the following:
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. Twitter: @SORBONNE75
One hopes the modest gains made by Afghan women and girls in terms of employment and education will not be rolled back.
Can 1996 Repeat Itself In Afghanistan?
No. The actors ( USA, Aghhan, Taliban, Pakistan ) are now different with different strenths and weaknesses.
India and Pakistan could realize, that religion is not a point of difference, but of understanding. It seems, Benazir Bhutto is a Muslim, and perhaps Shia and Sunni Muslims visit Ajmer, from Pakistan. The issue of Pakistan seems to be, whether the Shia is relevant, if the Taliban does not believe the Shiite Muslim to so be. The Shia Muslim is very much a part of the armed forces, and of the establishment. Soldiers are selected in Pakistan, regardless of being a Shiite or Sunni Muslim.
The idea of the Muslim not belonging to India, was pretty much redundant when Maulana Azad became a leader of the Congress. He might have migrated to India, and he was, if I am not wrong, a descendant of the Prophet of his religion. He was certainly a Muslim scholar. The issue seems to be, that perhaps the Muslim in U. P., and Bihar constituting a number, were reticent that he wasn't an 'ethnic' Indian, and didn't stay in India long enough, to understand the Muslim community in India. The Hindu in the Congress didn't care about the fact that Maulana Azad had parents from perhaps Damascus, or where the seat of the Caliphate once was represented.
About Kashmir, the idea seems to be represented by an Indian writer, that Pakistan believes Kashmir to be a Muslim majority state, and hence a natural part of Pakistan. Geographically, the west of the Kashmir valley is mountainous. The valley is connected to the plains of India. If the Kashmir valley had been a part of Pakistan, it would have been a logistical nightmare for Pakistan. The Indian subcontinent doesn't perhaps need to make an effort to connect to the valley of Kashmir, as does Pakistan. The south of what would have been Pakistan, would be India, and plains. I mean to say plainly, that it would be impossible for Pakistan to communicate with Kashmir through mountains, when the west of the mountain range is Afghanistan. There would be a narrow mountain range, connecting Pakistan to Kashmir, and a part of a side of the range would be Afghanistan, or China, as it might be.
The Indian Army might withdraw from the borders, but they would only withdraw inland, into the valley. The armies of the respective nations might stop patrolling the Kashmir borders, and make the boundary irrelevant. The issue is, that the Pakistan army cannot withdraw very far. That the area near the boundary is not a priority, seems to have the reason that the Chinese P. L. A. is in the nearabouts, or perhaps is in Pakistan.How important are the mountanous regions of Pakistan, when the Chinese are maintaining security there? It very reasonably could be, that Pakistan wants India to feel, that people are not crossing the border, and the Chinese govt. also wants the same perception, of people not entering Ksahmir from China, and vice versa. Pakistan perhaps feels that the frequent bomb blasts in her territory were because of Indian concern there. How long can differences in religion, be any focal point in the relations between the nations?
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