It is perhaps a sign of the times that explosive revelations in a UN report on the continuing links between the Taliban and Al Qaeda have received scant attention. At a time when all attention is focussed on the impact of the Wuhan virus, economic recession, riots in the US, border stand-off between India and China, continuing India-Pakistan tensions, a cyclone, a massive locust attack, who cares about a four-decade-old conflict in Afghanistan, so what if that conflict has had a major impact on glocal security? But because this report completely debunks the premise under which the US has negotiated a ‘peace deal’ with the Taliban and because the implications of what this report contains on India’s security will outlast the things that are currently obsessing everyone, it cannot be ignored.
In the months and years leading up to the signing of the ‘peace deal’ between the US and Taliban, the grounds for abandoning Afghanistan were laid by analysts and academics associated with Western think-tanks and media organisations, as well as government officials. The snake oil they were selling everyone was that the Taliban have changed, they have severed their links with Al Qaeda which they blamed for the downfall of their Emirate, they are Afghan nationalists not jihadist seeking to blow up the world, they will be focused inwards and won’t export their ideological poison to other countries, they aren’t the medieval barbarians of the 1990s but are more worldly-wise and hence more tolerant and moderate in their attitude towards women and minorities etc. Well, guess what? This has been called out in the UN report.
The certificates of good behaviour being issued to the Taliban aren’t based on reality. (File photo: Reuters)
According to the report, “the senior leadership of Al-Qaeda remains present in Afghanistan, as well as hundreds of armed operatives, Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, and groups of foreign terrorist fighters aligned with the Taliban... Relations between the Taliban, especially the Haqqani Network, and Al-Qaeda remain close, based on friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy and intermarriage. The Taliban regularly consulted with Al-Qaeda during negotiations with the United States and offered guarantees that it would honour their historical ties. Al-Qaeda has reacted positively to the agreement, with statements from its acolytes celebrating it as a victory for the Taliban’s cause and thus for global militancy.” Reading the report it is also quite clear that the ‘peace deal’ is unlikely to bring peace because “hardline Taliban believe that they can and will still achieve their aims by force.”
None of this is surprising to those watching developments in Afghanistan. In this space, we have been pointing out that the certificates of good behaviour being issued to the Taliban aren’t based on reality. Some US analysts have also been pointing this out. For example, the Long War Journal analysts have called out the US folly in dealing with the Taliban, but to no avail.
Their argument is simple: if withdrawal is the only option, then it is better to withdraw without a deal with the Taliban than to withdraw after signing a strategically disastrous and morally reprehensible deal with them. The reason is that a deal, especially a bad one, grants legitimacy, even a degree of respectability, to the ‘despicable’ and damages the good fight that will continue even if the war in one theatre ends.
The UN report leaves no doubt that the Taliban were speaking with a forked tongue with the US. According to the report, the Taliban military commission had sought assurances from the Quetta Shura that the deal with the Americans won’t affect the fighting on the ground and that is why military commanders along with Al Qaeda celebrated the deal as a defeat of the US. The report claims that far from being junked, the “Al-Qaeda is quietly gaining strength in Afghanistan while continuing to operate with the Taliban under their protection.”
The stakes for India
What is more worrisome from India's point of view is the fact that the ‘veritable arm of the ISI’ – Haqqani network – is not just part of the Taliban but is also making a force of 2000 terrorists in collaboration with Al Qaeda. The same guys are also believed to be providing ‘technical assistance’ and ‘facilitation’ to the Islamic State terrorists to launch some of their high profile attacks. Adding more spice to this witches brew of terrorism are the Pakistani state’s terrorist auxiliaries like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, which “facilitate the trafficking of terrorist fighters into Afghanistan, who act as advisers, trainers and specialists in improvised explosive devices” and are “responsible for carrying out targeted assassinations against government officials and others.” The report states that these groups “operate under the umbrella of the Afghan Taliban.”
Despite such overwhelming evidence of the involvement of Pakistani state-sponsored terrorist groups like JeM and LeT with the Taliban, the nexus between the Taliban and Al Qaeda (including its South Asian branch which has been hurling threats against India), there are people who advocate that India should open negotiations with the Taliban. Clearly, given that the Taliban remain Pakistani puppets, and given their continued association, even alliance, with all sorts of jihadist terror groups, India must double down on its support for the legitimate Afghan government. At the same time, India needs to work on a fallback plan to protect and defend itself in the event Afghanistan once again becomes Terror Central under Pakistani proxies.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)