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The Taliban: Barbarians at our gate

February 12, 2019 11:03 IST

'With Taliban rule in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the unemployed jihadis will certainly turn their gaze to India and Kashmir.'
'Despite this imminent danger to national security, defence preparedness does not find a mention in the ongoing electoral campaign,' says Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

IMAGE: Taliban jihadis in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Photograph: Parwiz/Reuters

As the election season heats up in India, the nation's attention is fixated on internal issues like the economy, jobs etc. All this, while a perfect storm is brewing up in our extended neighbourhood.

I am referring to the ongoing talks between the United States and the Afghan Taliban with Pakistan playing the role of facilitator.

All indications are that the US would like to end its deployment in Afghanistan and virtually hand over Afghanistan to the Taliban in lieu of an assurance that the Taliban will not permit Al Qaeda-like international terror groups to be based in that country.

This would fit perfectly into Donald John Trump's re-election campaign. What better plank than 'Getting the boys home' and ending the longest war fought by the US.

Where does that leave India which has spent billions of dollars on Afghan reconstruction? High and dry!

In this scenario, with Taliban rule in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the unemployed jihadis nurtured there will certainly turn their gaze to India and Kashmir.

Despite this imminent danger to national security, defence preparedness and the repercussions of the Afghan situation on India do not find a mention in the ongoing electoral campaign.

 

As a military historian this does not surprise me. At crucial moments in Indian history, we failed to gauge the threat and did not bury our petty internal quarrels. Jaichand Rathore thought of aligning with Mohammed Ghori rather than compromise with Prithviraj Chauhan to present a united front.

At Panipat in 1761, many local rulers failed to join the Marathas and a national cause, thus facilitating Afghan Shah Abdali's victory.

Exactly a decade ago, on February 19, 2009, in these very columns I had warned of the dangers of the likely Taliban takeover of Pakistan.

We were lucky that Pakistan realised the danger and launched a major operation, Zarb-e-Azb, against the terrorist groups.

After the December 16, 2016, attack on the Pakistan army public school in Peshawar in which Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan terrorists killed 132 school children, a national consensus emerged in Pakistan against all terrorist groups.

Learning from that experience, Pakistan is likely to be wary of the Taliban turning its gaze towards itself. As an answer to that, what better option than to turn these hordes to Indian Kashmir for a renewed jihad!

This will kill the proverbial two birds with one stone. It will keep Pakistan safe from the Taliban threat and also fuel more violence in Kashmir and the rest of India as a part of jihad.

Military historians are aware of the lure of the call of jihad. In 1831, Syed Ahmed fought the first Wahabbi jihad at Balakote against the Sikhs. Contemporary British authorities have noted that Syed Ahmed attracted Muslims even from southern Kerala to his cause. The current phase of Kashmir violence has a direct link to the mujahideen's victory in Afghanistan in the early 1990s.

The Taliban will surely portray the potential American withdrawal from Afghanistan as a victory. Like the 1990s, this will be a shot in the arm for terrorists in the Kashmir valley as well as elsewhere in India.

Currently, Pakistan is under pressure from a two front war situation and therefore circumspect in stoking the fires in Kashmir. But once a Pakistan-friendly Taliban takes over in Afghanistan, it will be emboldened to concentrate its attention on Kashmir.

As the Americans withdraw from its Afghan quagmire India will face the brunt. The only country that stands to lose besides India is Iran.

Given the Taliban's past, the Shia Hazaras in Afghanistan's western province will face heat. Russia may feel uneasy, but may well work out a deal with the Taliban that it is no longer aligned with the Americans.

China may deal with the Taliban in the short term, but will be wary of the Taliban's links to its Muslim rebels in Xinjiang province. We may even see Indian and Chinese interests coinciding in Afghanistan.

Whichever way the international equations may develop, India must be prepared for a blowback in Kashmir and the rest of India.

Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)
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