Afghanistan: The world is making a fatal error

The whitewashing of the Taliban is a mistake. It is not the good cop in the battle against IS-K. India will suffer. But the rest of the world won’t be spared either
Taliban forces with their armoured vehicles block the road near the presidential place in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 2. (REUTERS) PREMIUM
Taliban forces with their armoured vehicles block the road near the presidential place in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 2. (REUTERS)
Updated on Sep 03, 2021 05:56 PM IST
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The ironies are stacking up in Afghanistan faster than they can be counted. A few days short of the anniversary of the assault on the twin towers — the provocation for the American war on the Taliban 20 years ago — the same men are being described as veritable partners in the battle against terrorists.

The mind boggles at the naivete of Washington — and, now increasingly, the rest of the world.

To hear United States (US) military commanders talk a language of cooperation with the Taliban, purportedly to fight the Islamic State (IS), upends common sense and logic. Especially when you juxtapose this with the victory parade video released by the Taliban’s propaganda wing. Watch the unapologetic display of suicide vests, bombers, improvised explosive devices, Humvees, plundered and abandoned Americans weapons and systems and shudder at what may follow.

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You would think the world would collectively pause and use the last leverage it has — to deny the Taliban government recognition till some basic guarantees can be secured.

Instead, the Kabul terror attacks, mysteriously forecast down to the very day they would take place, have been used to accelerate the whitewashing of the terror group. There is far too much about the attacks that don’t add up. If the intelligence was so specific why were the attacks not stopped? The Americans knew the attacks were coming; the Taliban controlled the checkpoints to the airport. How did the bombers get past these barricades? And the most important question of all. Who benefits from the postmodern narrative of the Taliban being fighters against the more evil IS-Khorasan (IS-K)?

Apart from the Taliban itself, keen to gain international legitimacy, the single biggest gainer of this trumped up narrative is Pakistan.

If you thought the American exit from Afghanistan may finally break the umbilical cord between Islamabad and Washington, think again. If, earlier, it was the movement of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops and their supply lines into Afghanistan that was offered as the reason for the West’s reluctant mollycoddling of the Pakistani deep State, we are now looking at a script take shape that will cast Pakistan and Taliban as co-stars in the war against a bigger enemy, the phantom splinters of the IS.

Any security expert will tell you this inconvenient truth: These terror groups are an enmeshed, intertwined network of actors, all as connected as a Facebook friends list and with less than six degrees of separation. Many of them projected as adversaries today can be traced back to the same set of controls. And al-Qaeda’s most recent statement on the so-called jihad in Kashmir is all the evidence we need, that is if we needed any at all.

And, yet, the world seems to be accepting the turn of events in resignation and surrender. India, being in the chair at the United Nations Security Council, delivered a resolution urging that Afghan soil not to be used as safe havens for terrorists. But let’s face it — that does not really amount to much.

In real terms, this is the beginning of the de-facto recognition of the Taliban government. Our own official contact with the Taliban in Doha, albeit at its asking, is a signal that India too believes other options might have run out.

The world is making a fatal error.

Battlefield realities, the flight of Ashraf Ghani and the collapse of the Afghan army may have thrown up a certain set of inevitabilities.

But the mainstreaming of the Taliban (with enhanced legitimacy to Pakistan security agencies) has been alarmingly swift. Even hyperventilating faux nationalists on Indian prime time TV are interviewing Taliban spokespersons on the airwaves as if they are just another set of regular folk.

As an asymmetric war by Pakistan enters a new phase, we are headed back to the future. For India, which battled terrorism in isolation before the twin towers fell and the world was jolted, this could mean another lonely decade. Increased militant attacks are likely to return not just to Kashmir; other cities, crowded bazaars and business centres could become likely targets as they were in the 1990s and early 2000s.

I would love to be wrong about the Taliban, and its patronage from across the border. I would dearly wish for those commentators to be right who say the Taliban is not a monolith and some of its members like Mullah Baradar, who spent years in a Pakistani prison, are looking to establish autonomy from Islamabad’s covert agencies.

Otherwise, India will be the first to brace the fallout. But the rest of the world won’t be spared either. After all, what happens in Afghanistan never stays only in Afghanistan.

Barkha Dutt is an award-winning journalist and author

The views expressed are personal

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    Barkha Dutt is consulting editor, NDTV, and founding member, Ideas Collective. She tweets as @BDUTT.

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Saturday, January 22, 2022