Remnants of the Taleban are regrouping in Afghanistan with the backing of a neighbouring country, National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra said on Friday.
"This is a dangerous situation," Mishra warned, adding that India is concerned about recurring evidence of the Taleban regrouping in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
"No one can afford the return of these regressive forces," he said at the release of India Abroad/rediff.com Senior Editor Shyam Bhatia's book Contemporary Afghanistan on Friday.
Recalling the many challenges confronting the Afghan regime, Mishra said Bhatia's book makes an "important contribution" to understand these challenges.
"It has a very useful collection of documents" which may "truly prove to be of historical significance in the future development of Afghanistan," he said.
Despite having been based in the UK and US, Bhatia has continued to "retain a keen interest both in the Middle East and Afghanistan," Mishra said. Not only his experiences as a writer and journalist but also Bhatia's "personal exposure to Afghanistan" is reflected in the book, the NSA added, terming it a "valuable effort."
"We want Afghanistan to be a united, secular country," Mishra said. India does not want Afghanistan to be in the hands of those who spread fundamentalism, extremism and terrorism outside Afghanistan.
India wants all neighbours of Afghanistan to have a cordial friendship with it "without interfering in the affairs of Afghanistan," he said. India has no "sense of rivalry" with any of these neighbours in its relations with Afghanistan, Mishra declared.
Afghanistan must remain non-aligned "and indeed a neutral country," which is not the objective of some of its neighbours, who had "grandiose objectives," he said.
"We want the writ of the government in Kabul to run all over Afghanistan," Mishra said. "Interference from outside has not yet stopped."
India wanted all foreign forces to ultimately leave Afghanistan in the hands of the Hamid Karzai government, he revealed, pointing to the complex war over oil and attempts by foreign powers to control the region.
"We are committed to the reconstruction of the country and rehabilitation of the refugees," Mishra said. He reaffirmed India's pledge of $100 million to Afghanistan. Over $30 million has already been released; India is also donating 1 million tonnes of wheat.
India's special envoy to Afghanistan S K Lambah recalled that nation's roller-coaster ride through the past century: From a monarchy to dictatorship, then to a client state, then to a chaotic revolutionary regime, then to medieval theocracy and finally now to a fledging democracy.
"Time has no meaning for today's battle hardened warriors who speak of Alexander and Babar as if they stepped out of their palaces only last week," Bhatia, who covered Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 and the Loya Jirga last June for rediff.com and India Abroad, said.
"I first visited Afghanistan at the end of 1979 to report on the Soviet takeover," he recalled. Forty-eight hours after landing, "I was kidnapped by a gang of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar loyalists."
Thus began his discovery of Afghanistan.
The gang took Bhatia "on a forced march across the frozen countryside and only released me several days later after protracted negotiations which included a request from a local village elder that I stay behind and teach his children English."
Bhatia returned to Afghanistan 22 years later. From London, where he is presently based as a rediff.com/India Abroad editor, he flew to Istanbul from Almatty in Kazakstan to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. "There I stayed for two weeks pleading with local officials to help me cross the border," he said.
Once inside Afghanistan "two Swedish colleagues urged me to stay with them and watch the looming battle of Kunduz in late 2001. I resisted. Fortunately. One of them was shot dead the following day by Taleban gunmen who stormed the guesthouse" where the journalist was staying.
Bhatia pressed on to Kabul "driving like a lunatic across dry river beds and uncharted roads" to reach the "ruins of Kabul."
"I did not recognize the buildings. My friends from earlier years had disappeared," he said. It was then he had the epiphany to write a book on the changes he had seen, "to chronicle the changes in Afghanistan over the past 25, 30 years, including a who's who" of Afghanistan's great modern game.
"In many ways this is a book of reference, a modest first step" to what he hopes will be a larger reference work in years to come.
"Many Afghans helped me. They are all patriots," Bhatia recalled. Some were puzzled, "how come an Indian living in London, working for India Abroad, published from New York, be so interested in Afghanistan?" Bhatia answered the question himself, improvising in Dari, an Afghan dialect, the legendary Raj Kapoor's song "Mera Joota hai Japani..."