The turn in Afghanistan will threaten Indian security
With the fall of Kandahar, Herat, Lashkar Gah, Ghazni, Pol-e-Alam, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad, and now, for all practical purposes if not officially, Kabul, to the Taliban, the writ of the Afghan government is over. On Sunday, the Taliban entered Kabul but didn’t immediately mount a military offensive. However, the message was clear and President Ashraf Ghani, along with his core team, left Kabul by the end of the day. There are isolated pockets of resistance all over, but the Taliban is set to take control, if the international community doesn’t intervene.
In hindsight, United States (US) president Joe Biden‘s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and continue negotiating with the Taliban deeply impacted the Afghan society. This process not only legitimised the Taliban, but also bolstered its position in an extremely hierarchical, tribal society.
From 1996 to 2001, when the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan, some areas in the north such as Panjshir and Badakhshan province could stall the Taliban’s offensive. Their contiguity to Tajikistan ensured that the forces resisting the Taliban could be provided supplies from across the borders. However, in the current onslaught, not only did Badakhshan fall, all the border crossings with the sole exception of Torkham with Pakistan were captured by the Taliban. This not only enabled the Taliban to fill its coffers by taxing the movement of goods and personnel, but more significantly, it made the Afghan government dependent on supplies through Pakistan.
In the last few weeks, the Taliban has displayed its barbarity. They have shown that they do not believe in adhering to the assurances given by them during their talks in Doha and elsewhere. The Taliban is bound to an obscurantist ideology, which aims to create a puritanical Islamic Emirate, where women and minorities enjoy no rights.
Those ignorant of the theological underpinning of the Taliban have long talked of creating a wedge between it and al-Qaeda which has always talked of waging jihad in the name of Amir-ul-Mu’minin, who was Mullah Omar earlier, and now, is Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, the leader of the Taliban. Without the Taliban, al-Qaeda’s jihad would be theologically illegitimate.
Many in India are suggesting that the government deepen its engagement with the Taliban. However, irrespective of the carrots being offered, the Taliban is unlikely to move away from its basic medieval mindset. As Kabul falls, the preliminary aim of the Taliban to establish an Islamic Caliphate in Afghanistan is close to being met. This will fulfill another theological precondition of jihad (possession of territory) and will lead to a surge in recruitment to al-Qaeda, as was evident in the case of the Islamic State after the fall of Mosul. The emirate will become the hub for spreading violent jihadi ideology, and this jihad is unlikely to remain confined within the geographical frontiers of Afghanistan.
After conquering Afghanistan, the foot soldiers of the Taliban will not start tilling the land. They will merely relocate to new battlefields to fight new wars. These could well be in India, which, according to them, is part of “Khorasan” — the arena of “end of time” battles. The fall of Kabul could also result in the surge of new jihadi recruits from India for other terror groups.
This will create a significant security threat for India. It is, therefore, essential that all efforts are invested to stall an outright Taliban victory, even at this late stage. If the Taliban does succeed in capturing power on its own, India must rally behind anti-Taliban forces which will consolidate in the coming weeks. Even countries engaging with the Taliban are uncomfortable with the Taliban’s ascendance, as it threatens their long-term interests.
India should create an alliance with such countries. Remember, the Taliban won’t be friendly towards India, and will, sooner or later, pose a serious threat to India’s security.
It makes far greater sense for India to fight the Taliban in Kabul than to do so in Srinagar or at Wagah.
Alok Bansal is director, and Soumya Chaturvedi is senior research fellow, India Foundation
The views expressed are personal