Rajat Sharma

Are China, Pakistan helping Taliban in Afghanistan ?

AKb (1)The war situation in Afghanistan at the moment appears to be precarious with Taliban controlling nearly half the border outposts and capturing 194 out of 407 districts of the country. American forces have left Afghanistan leaving behind a war zone in turmoil. Taliban forces are capturing more areas in the country side and are gradually moving towards cities which are under the control of Afghan defence forces.
India TV Defence Editor Manish Prasad, along with cameraman Balram Yadav, has reached Kabul and on Thursday night in my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ he gave a broad outline of the ground realities. For India, the victory or defeat of Taliban is important because India has, over the last two decades, invested nearly Rs 21,000 crore in more than 400 projects in Afghanistan. If the war continues, progress on all these projects may be stalled.
Much is at stake because the consequences of a Taliban victory will have bearings on India-Pakistan and India-China relations too. At the moment, bombs, mortars, missiles and bullets are flying in war zone and according to Manish, the situation seems critical. Battles are going on between the Afghan Army and Taliban for the last three weeks. Afghan forces carried out bombardment from air in Nejrab in Kapisa province on Thursday inflicting casualties on Taliban. The Afghan army has also made progress in Kunar, Logar and Paktia, pushing away the advancing Taliban forces. In Mazaar-e-Sharif, Ghazni and Kandahar, the Afghan army is in an advancing position, while in Herat, it is in a strong position.
On its part, Taliban has claimed that it has occupied almost all the bases from which US army withdrew. The US armed forces’ withdrawal on July 2 was secret and abrupt, with the local population caught unawares. On the same night, the Taliban attacked all these bases and captured most of them. At that time, Taliban had occupied 73 districts, but now it has occupied 194 districts, with heavy fighting going on in 20 districts.
Our Defence Editor Manish Prasad says, it will be incorrect to assume that the Afghan army is in a weaker position. In the first two weeks, Taliban had made a strong push forward, but now, according to Afghan commanders, their army has made a big comeback. In Zabul province, the Afghan army inflicted a heavy defeat on Taliban. Abdul Rehman, the self-styled ‘Agriculture Minister’ of Taliban was critically injured and was taken across the border to Pakistan for treatment. Twenty six Taliban fighters were killed. The Afghan army also attacked Taliban in Kandahar, Herat, Jowzjan and Helmand, more than 200 Taliban were killed in attacks by Afghan army. In Jani Khel offensive, six Taliban fighters were killed.
According to Manish, Taliban commanders have now changed their strategy and they are using children as human shields to avoid rocket attacks and air strikes. Afghan security forces are now alert and active, and their two decades of training under US army officers is now paying dividends. They know how to counter each situation instead of fleeing battle fields.
From where are the Taliban getting arms and ammunitions? It is an open secret. On July 16, while addressing a regional Central and South Asia conference in Tashkent, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani blamed Pakistan for the influx of Taliban terrorists inside Afghanistan and for not doing enough to influence Taliban to join peaceful dialogue. He said this in the presence of Pakistan PM Imran Khan, and the Indian, Chinese and Russian foreign ministers. Ashraf Ghani alleged that over 10,000 ‘jihadi’ fighters have entered Afghanistan from Pakistan in the last one month. He said, “contrary to repeated assurances from the Pakistani PM and his generals, outfits supporting the Taliban are openly celebrating destruction of assets and capabilities of Afghan people and government”.
At the moment, according to Manish, night curfew is in force in almost all big cities of Afghanistan, and Afghan army units have been moved to those cities which are in danger of being captured by Taliban. Firearms are being distributed among Afghans for self-defence. Afghanistan has 12 border check posts with Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and out of these six border check posts have been captured by Taliban. In plain words, Taliban is controlling almost half the border of Afghanistan. However, most of the major cities like Jalalabad, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kunduz, Kabul and Kandahar are present under control of Afghan forces.
China is trying to fish in troubled waters. On Wednesday, in China, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met a top Taliban delegation led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar signalling warm ties with Taliban after the withdrawal of US forces. There were nine Taliban representatives in the delegation, with indications that China may give recognition to a Taliban government if it comes to power in Kabul. There are reasons behind this. The Chinese foreign minister said, he hoped Taliban will crack down on the separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement, as it is a direct threat to China’s national security in Xinjiang region.
China fears that the Uyghur Muslim militants could use neighbouring Afghanistan as a staging ground to carry out attacks on Chinese army. Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang are fighting for their basic human rights. Chinese authorities have prohibited Uyghur Muslims from growing beards, offering namaz in public and have destroyed several mosques. More than four lakh Uyghur Muslims have been imprisoned in “correction centres”.
The Taliban leaders have promised the Chinese foreign minister that they would now allow Afghan territory to be used against China. On its part, the Chinese FM has promised that his country will not intervene in the domestic affairs of Afghanistan. It was Pakistan which brokered the talks between the Chinese FM and the Taliban delegation. The Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was in Beijing prior to these talks. When Qureshi took the return flight to Islamabad, the Taliban delegation took off for China.
The entire world is now keeping a close watch on Afghanistan. After the US troops withdrawal, Russia has not shown much interest in Afghan affairs. For India, much is at stake. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was in Delhi recently, clearly said that both US and India want there should be no violence in Afghanistan. Both India and the US want that an elected government remains in power in Afghanistan, women must continue to get equal rights and access to education and jobs, and Taliban must not come to power.
The people of Afghanistan also do no want the return of Taliban rule after two decades. During Taliban rule, men were prohibited from trimming their beards, women were forced to wear veils in public, women were prohibited to move in public in the absence of close male relatives, and TV and radio programmes were banned. While India and the US want a democratic government to remain in power, Pakistan and China are trying hard to install a Taliban government. The Pakistani PM Imran Khan is describing Taliban fighters as “good citizens” and “civilians”, who do not want bloodshed. China went two steps forward and invited the top Taliban delegation according them the respect that is normally accorded to representatives of a sovereign government.
India’s views about Afghanistan are clear. India-Afghan relations span several decades and India has always provided support to the Afghan people. However, India does not want to meddle in affairs relating to who shall form a government in Kabul. I feel, India should also carry out an initiative and start a dialogue with Taliban. If India helps in bringing Taliban and the other Afghan leaders to the negotiation table, it would be an ideal situation.
An inclusive Afghan government, acceptable to all, is the need of the hour. This will be in the best interests of the Afghan people. If there is peace, Indian projects can be completed within the stipulated deadlines, and China and Pakistan may not be able to meddle in Afghan affairs. This may be wishful thinking, because, on the ground, fierce fighting is going on between Afghan army and Taliban in several districts. India TV team is present in the war zone and is sending detailed updates. Let us all hope for the best. Let peace prevail.

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