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Instead of Toeing US' Afghan Policy, India Needs to Engage with Local Powers

'In any case, a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan will remain a cause of very serious concern for India, which has millions of dollars worth of investments in that country...'
Taliban Advance Ahead After Capturing 2 Major Afghan Cities – Kandahar and Herat

Image Courtesy: AP

After a “creeping invasion” of Afghanistan by the Taliban, an Islamic Emirate is being established in the country which is yet to be recognised by any nation in the world. The Taliban has already made promises of establishing a “strong Islamic and inclusive government” which would seek to end violence, grant full rights to the people, including women, and provide safety to everyone “within our frameworks of Sharia”, a Taliban spokesman said at the first press conference a day after the country was taken over.

Within days of the August 15 takeover, protests have broken out in some major cities –Nangarhar, Khost and Jalalabad. At least three lives have been lost, as per news reports from Kabul. Another development has been in the Panjshir Valley, which, these reports say, has not yet been captured by the Taliban.

The takeover of Afghanistan, or handing over of charge to them by the erstwhile ruling elite, happened parallel to another development – President Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country, allegedly with three trucks laden with cash. He left behind two more such SUVs that were taken over by the Taliban and locals present at the Kabul airport, several news reports said.

There were a few more developments just before and after that period. Afghanistan’s Vice President Amrullah Saleh and a few other powerful warlords announced a resistance against the Taliban, with one of them, Ata Mohammad Noor, alleging “a big, organised and cowardly plot” to allow the takeover. However, as per reports, Noor and Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum, who were defending Mazar-e-Sharif, fled to Uzbekistan, with the former asserting that “our path won’t end here”.

Amrullah Saleh, who declared himself the Acting President of Afghanistan, tweeted: “I will never, ever and under no circumstances bow to d Talib terrorists. I will never betray d soul and legacy of my hero Ahmad Shah Masoud, the commander, the legend and the guide. I won't disappoint millions who listened to me. I will never be under one ceiling with the Taliban. NEVER." Saleh is reportedly in Panjshir, organising the resistance along with prominent warlord Ahmad Masood.

In a series of tweets on August 15, Ata Mohammad Noor said: “My dear countrymen! Despite our firm resistance, sadly, all the government & the #ANDSF (Afghanistan National Defence and Security Forces) equipments were handed over to the #Taliban as a result of a big organised & cowardly plot. They had orchestrated the plot to trap Marshal Dostum and myself too, but they didn’t succeed (sic).”

“Marshal Dostum, myself, Balkh Govenor, Balkh MPs, Head of Balkh Provincial Council and   few other officials are in a safe place now. I have a lot of untold stories that I will share in due course. Thanking all who proudly resisted to defend their land. Our path won’t end here.” 

In another tweet, Noor said: “Dear and esteemed countrymen! Unfortunately, the depth of the conspiracy, as a result of which Balkh collapsed, is very deep. The conspiracy is now facing Kabul and it’s leaders.”

Resistance, in howsoever limited in scale it may be, is being witnessed in the Panjshir Valley, located north-east of Kabul, with the region witnessing armed clashes between the locals and the Taliban. The locals are the followers of the warlord Ahmad Masood, the son of Ahmad Shah Masood, leader of the Northern Alliance, known as the Lion of Panjshir, who was killed in a suicide bombing on September 9, 2001. 

Security experts here say that such an attempt to fight the Taliban at this juncture would not bear much fruit, as it is limited to an area surrounded by provinces under Taliban control. The Taliban also enjoys a huge superiority over the resistance fighters in terms of the weaponry at its disposal. 

On their part, former President Hamid Karzai and former Chief Executive and Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah appeared together in a video and spoke of efforts to bring the situation in the country back to normal. 

Earlier this month, Masood was present at the Kabul residence of Defence Minister Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi when it was hit by a massive bomb blast on August 4. However, both the leaders escaped death in that attack. Masood tweeted the next day: “Yesterday Kabul witnessed another heinous attack, this time they targeted @Muham_madi1, we had a meeting and we left this room couple of minutes before the attack. Although both of us are alright but unfortunately we lost people in this attack and many got injured.”

The Taliban now enjoys a tremendous advantage over the local resistance, not only with the high-tech weaponry and equipment left behind by the US and NATO troops – it may also gain access to the billions of dollars they may find in the treasury of the Afghanistan’s central bank, called ‘Da Afghanistan Bank’. However, latest reports say that the US has frozen USD 9.5 billion dollars Da Afghanistan deposited in US banks. So, the Taliban may not get access to the entire fund. Reports quoting a statement of the bank’s financial position, dated June 21, 2021, shows it holds total assets of about USD ten billion, including USD 1.3 billion-worth of gold reserves and $362 million in foreign currency cash reserves. The vaults of the Da Afghanistan, which also kept its treasures hidden in the Presidential Palace, also house ancient and historic artifacts, gold bars and coins. It all depends on how far the Taliban gains access to these treasures to carry on their rule.

The sudden and complete withdrawal has not only been of the US troops, but also their maintenance contractors. This had compromised the capabilities of key assets in the inventory of the Afghan National Army, as well as depriving them of critical air cover. A military expert said  in the wake of  Biden’s withdrawal decision, the US pulled its air support, intelligence and contractors servicing Afghanistan’s planes and helicopters. “That meant the Afghan military simply could not operate anymore”.

The withdrawal of  US troops has come as excellent news, not only for the Taliban, but also for Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. It is almost certain that Al-Qaeda and ISIS will re-establish a safe haven in Afghanistan and use it to plot attacks anywhere in the world freely. The Taliban, as well as Al-Qaeda and the ISIS, will soon find itself flush with cash looted from the central bank, weapons seized from the defeated Afghan army and fighters freed from the prisons across the country. 

Given the context, Nathan Sales, a former US ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counter-terrorism, wrote: “All of this (situation) will unfold as the United States’ intelligence capabilities in Afghanistan are severely degraded. With no military or diplomatic presence on the ground, it will be far more difficult to monitor al-Qaeda as it reconstitutes itself, trains, and plans attacks. And with US drones and fighters now based hundreds of miles away in the Gulf, it will be far more difficult to take terrorists off the battlefield even when they can be located. As the dust settles in Kabul, it is of paramount importance that the Biden administration maintain, to the maximum extent possible, our military’s ability to find, fix, and finish the terrorists who threaten our homeland.”

With Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan saying that Afghanistan had “broken the shackles of slavery”, Islamabad has begun parleys with the Taliban as also with some unidentified “leaders of various provinces” of Afghanistan, regarding government formation and the kind of people’s representation in it. 

In any case, a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan will remain a cause of very serious concern for India, which has millions of dollars worth of investments in that country, including the construction of a major dam. The new Parliament House in Kabul, now in the hands of the Talibs, was also built by India. Instead of toeing the US’ Afghan policy to the hilt, New Delhi should work closely with the regional powers to enable establishment of peace and stability in that country and safeguard its own interests and investments.


The writer was deputy executive editor of Press Trust of India and has extensively covered internal security, defence and civil aviation. The views are personal.


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