Taliban’s Victory: Implications for the Region
Amb D P Srivastava, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

The Taliban victory in Afghanistan in the 90s had displaced Rabbani government from Kabul. It was a slow process; they could not establish control over the North, which remained under the control of the Northern Alliance. This time they have achieved a lightening victory. Though Panjshir valley remains outside their effective control, they have won the rest of the country. They have been restrained in their statements. However, they have made clear that they remain committed to establishing the Islamic Emirate. This is not merely a regime change, but complete reversal of the Afghan constitution, and the state structure created in the aftermath of 9/11. With its many faults, Afghanistan’s society had taken first steps towards a democratic order and civil society during past two decades. This will soon become history.

The Taliban victory has been welcomed by Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran khan described it as ‘Afghans breaking the shackles of slavery’.1 His comments reflect a widely shared sense of triumphalism. Maulana Fazlur-Rehman, leader of JUI (F) sent a congratulatory message to the Taliban’s Emir Haibutulah Akhunzadeh. 2 While this could be expected of a man credited with creating Taliban, what is more surprising is the reaction of the Federal Minister Shirin Mazari. As a woman, and as the Minister in charge of promotion of human rights, she should have shown some concern about women’s rights under a Taliban regime. She exulted at the set-back to the Biden Administration describing the event as a Saigon moment. 3 After joining America’s war on terror, and receiving more than $ 20 billion, Pakistan is happy to see the failure of America’s efforts in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has been consistent in following a dual policy since inception. Musharraf in his speech of September 2001, had described his decision to join the American led coalition in tactical terms. He claimed that the choice was dictated by the concern to safeguard Pakistan’s nuclear assets. A decade later, General Gul, the former ISI chief said that ‘Our ISI had defeated the Russians with the help of the Americans, and now we are going to defeat the Americans with the help of the Americans.’4 Pakistan provided sanctuary and support to the Taliban. Pakistan’s perfidy was known to the Americans. Obama Bin Laden was discovered living in Abbatabad, a garrison town close to Islamabad. Admiral Mike Mullen had described Haqqani network as a virtual arm of the ISI.

In the 90s, the Taliban were responsible for persecution and killings of Shia Hazaras, and wide-spread suppression of women’s rights. Are Taliban 2.0 different? They have never publicly disassociated themselves from Al-Qaeda. They have not accepted Afghan constitution. The concept of Islamic Emirate has little or no space for dissent or plural civil order. Foreign media has covered the rush for Afghans associated with the US Mission or the military to exit Afghanistan. More poignant is the plight of ordinary families from outlying provinces and cities. As Taliban advanced, they fled to Kabul. Many of them have made the arduous trek on foot across Iran onto Turkey. They obviously do not believe that the Taliban regime this time would be any different from the dispensation they suffered last time.

With Taliban victory, Pakistan military has achieved its cherished goal of ‘strategic depth’. They have now a friendly government in Kabul. However, Pakistan may not escape ideological fall-out of Taliban’s capture of power in Kabul. This trend has already been in evidence for some time. The Tehriq-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) occupied Swat in 2007. They were also responsible for the brutal killing of children in Peshawar Army School in 2014. Pakistan, however, has remained steadfast in pursuing its external goal of bringing Afghanistan under its sway. The Taliban victory in Kabul would no doubt bring encouragement to TTP. The Talibanisation of a nuclear Pakistan will pose a grave threat to international peace and security. The danger was underlined by Javed Zarif, the outgoing Foreign Minister of Iran. He said that the Taliban represent a security threat to India and Iran, but an existential threat to Pakistan.

The American presence in Afghanistan had brought together different powers in supporting Taliban. With the American withdrawal, this negative factor would no longer be there. Both Russia and China are concerned about spread of extremist philosophy from Afghanistan to Central Asia. This has resulted in Russia holding a joint military exercise with Uzbekistan close to Uzbekistan’s border with Afghanistan.5 Russia and Uzbekistan have held a military exercise with Tajikistan. Also, Russia and China have held military exercise in Xinjiang. China is concerned about links of the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) with Taliban. Iran has welcomed America’s departure from the region. It cannot however, view rise of an extremist Sunni movement in Afghanistan on its eastern border with great degree of equanimity.

Amongst the senior Afghan figures who left the country is Ajmal Ahmady, the governor of the Afghan Central Bank. He described his country’s economic situation as grim. Afghanistan has US $ 9 billion of reserves. Most of it is kept in bank accounts overseas. The US Administration informed the US Congress that these funds cannot be accessed by the Taliban. Similarly, the IMF has declared that the Taliban cannot access $ 400 million worth of Special Drawing Rights. 6

India has provided considerable development assistance to Afghanistan. The Taliban are interested that India continues to provide such assistance. We have hardly any interest in Afghan market. Thus the balance of advantage lies with us. We have time to wait and watch the behaviour of the Taliban regime. If Taliban 2.0 are different from their previous version, they must include all ethnic and linguistic groups in Afghanistan in a broad-based government. The Taliban must also respect women’s rights. They must also provide an unequivocal commitment that they will not allow Afghan soil to be used for terrorist activities against any other country. The hijacking of IC 814 was organised by the ISI. But the Taliban had openly welcomed the hijackers and Masood Azhar. In order to be accepted as a partner by the international community, the Taliban must ensure that Pakistan does not use Afghan soil to advance its geo-political interests.

Endnotes
  1. DW, Afghanistan: Pakistan rejoices at Taliban victory as West flounders
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. The Friday Times, Editorial, Message and Medium, August 20, 2021
  5. The Moscow Times, Russia-led Drills Begin on Afghanistan’s Border, July 19, 2021 as cited by Dr. Pravesh Gupta in his article Developments in Afghanistan: Concerns for Russia’s Central Asia Policy published by VIF on August 13, 2021.
  6. Wall Street Journal, The IMF Acts Against the Taliban, August 18, 2021

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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