What are Indians up to ? | By M Ziauddin


What are Indians up to ?

AN Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peaceful settlement of the crises that have kept Afghanistan in what had been billed as a ‘forever’ war is what neighbouring Pakistan has been vowing to support since around the last decade and a half.

But those led by the US who had been asking Pakistan to do ‘more’ all these last 15 years or so as well as those Afghans led by President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul who suspect Pakistan’s hand behind the resurgence of Afghan Taliban continue to doubt Pakistan.

And it seems as if the doubt is being replaced by certainty as the Taliban almost run through most of Afghanistan as the US vacates its 20-year long occupation of the beleaguered country.

This has led to a situation where Pakistan faces a terribly annoyed US on the one hand and on the other a large chunk of hostile Afghans with India lurking in the shadows bidding its time to mount its own offensive against Islamabad at the ‘right’ time.

The fact that Pakistan is currently located on the China side of the current global divide with the US plotting to encircle Beijing using India, Japan and Australia makes the situation even more dire for Islamabad.

Pakistan has made it clear to all concerned that it would not anymore be a party to any plot that deepened any conflict especially in Afghanistan and nor is it interested in adding to the three million or so Afghan refugees it is already hosting over the last 40 years without much help from the world.

Though Pakistan has played a crucial role in nudging the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table in Doha Qatar, it is worried the way the situation is developing in Afghanistan with Taliban on the verge of taking over Kabul shedding a lot of blood of their own countrymen and women.

Pakistan had wanted the consummation of the peace negotiation in Doha to be made conditional to intra-Afghan settlement on how to go about setting up the future administration in Kabul.

But the US ‘messed’ it up by announcing a withdrawal time-table without the Taliban and Ghani administration working out the future administration formula

This has led to a situation where civil-war seems a certainty in Afghanistan which in turn would certainly cause Pakistan a lot of diplomatic and socio-economic troubles.

Meanwhile, India is looking at the situation with a lot of interest and asking itself a number of questions.

Pakistani policy makers need to go through these questions and their answers to know exactly what to expect from our enemy No.1 in case Afghanistan relapses into a civil-war.

The Indian Q&A: Will the Taliban continue to be an Islamic militia controlled by Pakistan? Is there evidence that the Taliban, out of dependence or gratitude, will remain a vassal of the Pakistanis forever? Would that necessarily make them enemies of India? Are they likely to launch war on India, or join Pakistan in its war against New Delhi? What will there be in it for them? To convert India into an Islamic nation and make it a part of some Caliphate?

Answering these questions as per their own understanding of the emerging situation some Indians seem to have come to the conclusion that past performance would not necessarily be a guide to future performance of the Taliban.

Even conceding that they are necessarily obscurantist, brutal, medieval, anti-women, untrustworthy, one thing they are not, these Indians believe, stupid or suicidal.

“Or they would not have survived the fight for two decades and defeated the US, “believe some leading Indian media professionals.

Indians do feel jilted that the Americans are going away, giving the Pakistanis “a famous victory”. That the Pakistanis now have something they always wanted—strategic depth.

Still, the new thinking in India is, instead of Pakistan it were the Taliban who have gained the strategic depth in Pakistan using which they’ve defeated the US.

The Indians seem to have persuaded themselves into believing that the Taliban have no need or compulsion to fight India.

They’d, Indians further believe, definitely not be fighting Pakistan’s war against them.

Also, seemingly whistling in the dark, the Indians believe, the Taliban neither want to, nor have the resources to, radicalise India’s Muslims.

Plus, they will continue to have problems of their own in a broken, unstable country seeing a massive flight of talent and capital. As journalist Shekhar Gupta points out (Taliban Are A Reality.

India Can Deal With Them If BJP Resets Its Politics, published in The Print dated 23 July, 2021) the Modi government has also reached out to Saudi Arabia, the custodian of Sunni conservatism in the world.

“As also the UAE, following the dictum of seeking friendship with the enemy’s friend. “In the best of all worlds, Afghanistan won’t become the kind of Islamic emirate that the Taliban propose.

But if it does, could India see it as a Saudi Arabia without oil? Another force to befriend, not despite, but particularly because it is the enemy’s friend? “It is possible, and pragmatic. It’s just that it calls for a big reset in the BJP’s domestic politics. Their challenge then would be to find a formula beyond plain Hindu-Muslim polarisation.

” According to C. Raja Mohan, an Indian scholar (Lessons from Pakistan: How to Win Friends, Influence Allies, Then Squander It All, published on June 1, 2021 in Indian Express) as a new era of Sino-US confrontation unfolds and as India warms up to the US amidst the deepening schism with China, Pakistan has some tricky terrain to negotiate.

“Pakistan can’t abandon China, its “iron brother”, which has been its most reliable external partner.

Yet, Rawalpindi does not want to be totally alienated from Washington in the new geopolitical jousting between the US and China.

“As the US withdraws its troops from Afghanistan, Pakistan is eager to build a relationship with Washington that is not tied to US stakes in Kabul.

How Pakistan copes with the new dynamic between the US and China as well as manages the deepening crisis in Afghanistan would be of great interest to Delhi.

“Even as it offered support to the US in Afghanistan, it managed to keep alive the Taliban that was undermining American efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.

Now the US wants Pakistan to persuade the Taliban to accept a peaceful transition to a new political order in Afghanistan.

“Unsurprisingly, there is a recognition in Rawalpindi that Pakistan needs reorientation — from geopolitics to geoeconomics and permanent war with neighbours to peace of some sorts.

That was the message from Pakistan army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa in March. But translating that into policy is proving hard.

“It will be unwise to rule out Pakistan’s positive reinvention; no country has a bigger stake in it than India.

For now, though, Pakistan offers a cautionary tale on the dangers of squandering a nation’s strategic advantages — including a critical geopolitical location that it had inherited and the powerful partnerships that came its way.”

— The writer is veteran journalist and a former editor based in Islamabad.

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