Rajat Sharma

Can India trust the orthodox and fundamentalist Taliban ?

rajat-sir The entire world is today watching events unfolding in Afghanistan, even as the ordinary Afghans are keeping their eyes riveted on the world, hoping for help. The bitter truth is that most of the countries which had been aiding this country for the last two decades now want to leave. Nobody expected the Taliban to reach Kabul with such lightning speed.

The US government’s stand has surprised the whole world. The President of USA Joe Biden has bluntly said, “Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation-building. It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy. Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what it has always been: preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland.”

The US President said, “We went to Afghanistan almost 20 years ago with clear goals: get those who attacked us on September 11, 2001, and make sure Al Qaeda could not use Afghanistan as a base from which to attack us again.”

Biden was more blunt in his speech when he said: “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves. We spent over a trillion dollars. We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong. Incredibly well equipped. “

“…We gave them every tool that they could need. We paid for their salaries, provided for the maintenance of their air force, something the Taliban does not have. …We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future”, Biden said.

The question now is: who will save the Afghans from Taliban? What will happen to those Afghans who sided with the US and Nato allies for the last two decades? The bigger question is: What will happen to those who had been living a life of peace for the last 20 years? What will happen to their womenfolk, including their girl children? Those who were fortunate to flee Afghanistan are still worried about their womenfolk. On the face of it, Taliban has assured everybody not to fear, but will the promise hold true in the coming months?

The situation is extremely tense. Six thousand US troops are inside the Kabul airport guarding it with assault rifles, while Taliban have surrounded the airport from outside, armed with the same assault rifles given by the US to the Afghan national army that surrendered meekly to the Taliban. A mere spark can cause a fire. Most of the residents in Kabul are cowering inside their homes waiting for the inevitable. On the roads, the Taliban fighters armed with rifles are patrolling, the Kabul police has just vanished.

On Tuesday, Indian Air Force, in a smooth operation, brought back the entire Indian embassy staff, including the ambassador, from Kabul along with security personnel in a Globemaster transport aircraft. The evacuation was done smoothly, with our National Security Adviser Ajit Doval speaking to his US counterpart, seeking permission for evacuation of our embassy staff. In the last two days, 192 Indians have been evacuated in two Globemaster transport aircraft from Kabul. The C-17 Globemaster avoided Pakistan airspace, and took a detour via Iran and UAE, landing in Jamnagar, Gujarat, and from there it reached National Capital Region.

There was another contrasting image. A US Air Force transport aircraft carried 640 Afghans, packed like sardines inside, and took off from Kabul to land at Doha, Qatar. Many of these Afghans had been working with US troops for the last several years. There are thousands, if not several lakhs Afghans waiting for evacuation. They had helped the US troops during its occupation. They are dreading the worst: retribution from Taliban.

This situation has enraged most of the ordinary Americans about the role played by Biden administration. In his address to the nation, Biden admitted that he hurriedly took the decision on troops withdrawal, but there were no options left. He sought to shift the blame on Afghan leaders who fled when Taliban entered Kabul. There was this iconic photograph of a handful of Afghan women standing on a street carrying posters demanding their safety, as Taliban fighters curiously looked on. Hats off to these brave Afghan women, who did not fear their lives and decided to stage a silent protest.

Taliban leadership seemed to have decided to present its so-called peaceful image, to show to the world that it has changed. At a press conference in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, women in Afghanistan will be given their rights within the Islamic framework. He did not elaborate. Women will have to follow the Shariah, he said.

The end line is this: the situation now in Afghanistan is precarious. Thousands of Afghans are pleading for help so that they can leave their country, away from the scourge of Taliban. I have personally received hundreds of videos and messages seeking help for Afghans.

According to my information, while nearly 1,500 people had applied for coming to India till August 15, 150 more Afghans contacted the Indian embassy in Kabul to come to India. Overall, 1,650 Afghans have sent applications till now, but there are thousands of Indians living in Afghanistan who want to come to India, but are unable to send applications because of the upheaval. The government is in touch with Qatar authorities to start a massive evacuation programme. Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally monitored the programme on Monday night and Tuesday, and finetuned it. Cabinet Committee on Security has met consecutively for two days.

There are several individuals in India who are of the opinion that the Taliban has changed its spots and the Indian government should start talks with the Taliban leadership. I think this expectation is baseless. The sweet words that are now coming from Taliban spokespersons are confusing. The Taliban ideology is based on orthodox Islamic fundamentalism, on carrying the gun and sword, on giving women a second grade citizenship status in society, on preventing girl children from going to schools, on strictly enforcing the social rules as mentioned in Shariah.

We must not forget that the dreaded terror group Al Qaeda took roots during Taliban rule, and it spread death and destruction across the world. We cannot trust the promises being given by Taliban spokespersons about equality for women in society, and a liberal dispensation.

Already, Taliban has released more than 2,300 dreaded terrorists from jails in Afghanistan. The ISIS, which fled from Iraq and Syria, has now taken roots in the hills of Afghanistan. There were media reports recently about Taliban fighters raping or forcibly marrying Afghan girls in the provinces that they occupied. The Taliban youths have gone from house to house identifying girls whom they want to use for their carnal desires. Taliban fighters have maimed and killed those brave Afghan soldiers who refused to surrender.

It is clear that fundamentalist thoughts continue to prevail among the Taliban ranks. This cannot be changed overnight.. No sane and liberal person can trust the sweet promises that are being made by Taliban leaders. The future of common Afghans is desolate. There are top Sikh businessmen of Indian origin presently hiding in the gurudwaras of Kabul, yearning to return to India. They will have to leave their thriving business that they had built over decades.

Similarly, Indian corporates and the government invested Rs 21,000 crore in more than 400 big projects in Afghanistan. There are thousands of Indian engineers, technicians and workers waiting for evacuation. Bringing them back to India in a safe manner will pose a big challenge.

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