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CDS flags concerns about terror spillover from Afghanistan to India

In an assessment done as recently as last month, the Indian side had concluded that the Taliban would shift its campaign to capture territory from rural areas to urban centres and provincial capitals only by the end of August, after the completion of the withdrawal of US forces. The Indian side had also expected that there would be air support for Afghan security forces from the US if the Taliban entered urban areas.
Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat’s comments came days after Taliban wrested control of Kabul, capping a swift takeover of most major cities in Afghanistan. (PTI PHOTO.)
Published on Aug 25, 2021 07:22 PM IST
ByRahul Singh and Rezaul H Laskar

India is concerned about terrorist activity in Afghanistan spilling over into the country after the Taliban takeover and contingency plans are in place to deal with the scenario, chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat said on Wednesday.

The CDS’s comments came days after Taliban wrested control of the Afghan capital Kabul, capping a swift takeover of most major cities in that country. Rawat, the country’s senior-most military commander, said India anticipated the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan but its rapid pace delivered a surprise.

“From the Indian perspective, we were anticipating the Taliban takeover. We were concerned about terrorist activity overflowing into India from Afghanistan. Our contingency planning is ongoing, and we are prepared for that,” Rawat said.

He was speaking at an Observer Research Foundation (ORF) seminar on India-US Partnership: Securing the 21st Century, sharing stage with Admiral John C Aquilino, commander, US Indo-Pacific Command. The two military leaders held a separate meeting on Wednesday and discussed matters related to peace and security in the region as well as bilateral military defence cooperation.

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“Everything that has happened (in Afghanistan) was anticipated. Only the timelines changed and certainly surprised us because we were anticipating this (takeover) happening a couple of months down the line,” Rawat said at the ORF event.

In an assessment done as recently as last month, the Indian side had concluded that the Taliban would shift its campaign to capture territory from rural areas to urban centres and provincial capitals only by the end of August, after the completion of the withdrawal of US forces. The Indian side had also expected that there would be air support for Afghan security forces from the US if the Taliban entered urban areas. Assessments done by both the Indian and Afghan sides also suggested that the fighting would continue for at least two to three months, till winter set in.

However, the Taliban rapidly stepped up its offensive this month, seizing one provincial capital after another, both in the southern part of Afghanistan, the traditional stronghold of the group, and the north, where it had faced greater resistance in the past.

This was done by concluding agreements with warlords and commanders of the security forces, and thousands of troops simply surrendered without a fight at a time when the Ashraf Ghani government showed no indication of taking the fight to the Taliban.

Rawat said the group, which was ousted from power in Afghanistan by US-led coalition forces in 2001, was the same Taliban that existed 20 years ago. “All that has happened is that partners have now changed. It is the same Taliban with different partners…We will make sure that any activity which is likely to flow out of Afghanistan and find its way into India will be dealt with in the manner in which we are dealing with terrorism in the country,” the CDS added.

India should stay prepared for terror spillover from Afghanistan into Jammu and Kashmir via Pakistan, said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General BS Jaswal (retd).

“But working on a matrix of probability and possibility, the probability is there but possibility of terror inflow in J&K in the near future appears distant. The reason is that taking over control of Afghanistan by Taliban was easy but establishing control will be difficult. The group will channelise its energy to establish control there,” Jaswal said. He said India has a window of opportunity to finish off home-grown terrorism is J&K before the Taliban attempts to send a few leaders to exploit that network in India.

With the Taliban now firmly in control of most of Afghanistan, the biggest concern for Indian security agencies is the presence of between 7,000 and 10,000 terrorists from Pakistan-based groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. These groups have targeted Indian interests in Afghanistan in the past, and some like LeT had carried out attacks on Indian soil.

Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar and the head of the group’s military operations, is believed to work closely with both LeT and JeM commanders. These two terror groups have also helped the Taliban with fund-raising, recruitment and military advice.

The ORF event on India-US partnership also put the spotlight on China expanding its military capabilities at a swift pace, including strategic weapons and building a fleet of aircraft carriers to operate and dominate waters thousands of miles away from its shores.

“It is the largest military buildup since World War II, both in the conventional and the nuclear domain. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s words don’t really match their deeds,” said Aquilino, raising questions about Beijing’s intentions.

Rawat said India was quite capable of dealing with China and Pakistan in the conventional domain. “Strategic weapons are weapons of deterrence, not for engaging nations in combat. We have two neighbours armed with strategic weapons. India is evolving its own strategies and has a triad,” he said. India’s nuclear triad gives it the capability to carry out nuclear strikes from land, air and sea.

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