Rajat Sharma

Why India must speak to the Taliban in Afghanistan

AKBAlmost the whole of Afghanistan is gradually turning into a war zone with the Afghan Defence Force fighting battles against Taliban. India TV Defence Editor Manish Prasad is presently in Afghanistan with cameraperson Balram Yadav, sending updates on the war that is raging after US and Nato forces left. On Tuesday night, thousands of Afghans came to the streets of Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, Jalalabad, Mazaar-e-Sharif and Ghazni, and shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ slogans as a mark of solidarity towards the Afghan government.

The Taliban, in order to create a reign of terror, carried out car bomb attack in Kabul, near the house of acting Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi. The minister survived the attack on his compound in what is regarded as the most fortified locality of Kabul. Late in the night, the Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the suicide attack.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Wednesday night, we showed visuals of Afghan forces carrying out retaliatory attack after the blast carried out by Taliban inside Kabul. The attack on the Defence Minister’s compound was part of a well-coordinated Taliban strategy with the aim of striking terror among the residents of Kabul. It was Bismillah Khan Mohammadi who had appealed to people to come out of their homes and offices at 9 pm on Tuesday night and shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ slogan. The Taliban zeroed in on the minister’s residence, in retaliation. While encounter with Taliban attackers was going on, thousands of Afghans, undeterred, came to the streets and chanted slogans. Among them was Afghan vice president Amrullah Saleh.

Manish Prasad reported that there were four Taliban attackers, one of whom blowed himself up inside the vehicle, while the other three fired at Afghan forces. In the encounter that followed, the remaining three were killed, and four civilians lost their lives. Twenty others were injured. Afghan MP Maryam Kufi’s house was gutted in the fire that occurred after the blast. Her bodyguard was killed. Maryam Kufi appealed for help on social media, even though she was busy taking part in slogan shouting on the streets. Undeterred by the attack, thousands of Afghans came out on the streets of Kabul to express solidarity with the current regime. They came on foot, and in vehicles, carrying the Afghan flag, and were shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’.

On Tuesday, there was fierce fighting in Helmand, Ghazni and Herat provinces. Nearly 200 Taliban fighters have died in aerial attacks carried out by Afghan army during the last 24 hours. In Samangan province, nearly 40 Taliban fighters were killed. Afghan army foiled a Taliban attack to blow up the famous Salma dam, built by India in Afghanistan.

Our defence editor Manish Prasad and cameraperson Balram Yadav spent the whole day on Wednesday with Afghan security forces to witness the fighting that is going on. The Afghan forces are now better equipped with hi-tech weapons, and they are responding to Taliban attacks, bullet to bullet, rocket to rocket. India TV team also visited a centre where Afghan commandos were being trained how to sanitize an area, neutralize the enemy and recapture the locality.

Manish Prasad reports that the Taliban is presently in a strong position in southern and western parts of Afghanistan. They have captured a large territory, but the Afghan forces are fighting back to recapture. In an air strike on Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, a large ammunition depot belonging to Taliban was blown up and several Taliban commanders were killed. Afghan army commandos are leading the operations in the south, killing more than 90 Taliban fighters during the last 24 hours. Pakistani jihadi elements, who have crossed the border to provide support to Taliban, are also being killed in large numbers.

Taliban fighters are using civilians as human shields to avoid attacks from Afghan commandos. Taliban fighters are taking shelter inside shops, homes and markets, taking civilians as hostages, to deflect attacks from Afghan forces. The Afghan army commanders, to whom Manish Prasad spoke, said, their only aim is: One bullet, One Taliban.

The Afghanistan situation, at the moment, seems to be very much complex and complicated. There are several key players: US, China, Pakistan and Russia. India has to walk through this diplomatic minefield, carefully. The US wants India to send its army to join the war inside Afghanistan. It withdrew its army after two decades and wants India to join the war. India’s policy has been clear from the beginning: It is not going to send its army to Afghanistan, but will continue to provide training and weapons to the Afghan forces.

Indian strategists feel that the US is trying “to use” India in Afghanistan, but they cannot overlook the fact that the US had kept India away from the peace talks that were initiated by its envoy Zalmay Kalilzad with the Taliban. Had the intentions of the US been honest, their strategists could have co-opted India into the talks that went on for several years. India could then have played a dominant role in resolving the Afghanistan issue.

On the other hand, Pakistan is leaning on its all-weather ally China for help in Afghan affairs. The Chinese planners are wary. They know that if the Taliban recaptures Kabul, the Muslim Uighur separatists will ensure that Xinjiang breaks away from China. These separatists will surely give a jihad call in Xinjiang. It was for this reason that the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi invited a top Taliban delegation to China and extracted the promise from them that Afghan soil will not be used against China by Uighur Muslim separatists.

Pakistan’s own problem is a bit different. It was Pakistan during Benazir Bhutto’s regime, which had trained, aided and abetted Taliban forces to capture Afghanistan during the Nineties. It is Pakistan which is still providing shelter to the top Taliban ministers and commanders in Quetta, Baluchistan, popularly known as the “Quetta Shura”. It is Pakistan which is helping the Haqqanis in carrying out attacks inside Afghanistan. Pakistan fears that a resurgent Taliban, if it comes to power in Kabul, may lay claim over Peshawar, the nerve centre of Pathan or Pashtun politics.

The Taliban in Afghanistan are not outsiders. They are mostly Pashtun, who believe in medieval period’s fundamentalist Islamic Shariat code, with dreams of establishing an Islamic sultanate. Pakistan send Pashtuns from its own territory to Afghanistan, but in return, the Afghans have killed most of the Pakistanis and sent their bodies back home. Pakistan is, therefore, in a ‘Catch-22’ situation, it can neither withdraw, nor move ahead.

India’s policy is quite clear: We are not a party in this war, nor are we taking sides for and against the present Afghan regime or the Taliban. India stands with the Afghan people. We have centuries-old relationship with the Afghan people. That is why, India has said, war is not the way out of this imbroglio. Nobody can forcibly thrust a regime on the Afghan people. Dialogue is the only way out. Only dialogue can bring peace. I feel, if India has to negotiate with the Taliban, it must do so and must not close its doors. An Afghanistan at peace will be in India’s interest.

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