India must be prepared for the new great game
By G Parthasarathy | Published: 23rd December 2012 12:00 AM |
Throughout history, the Indian subcontinent has faced invasions from across the Khyber Pass and “Durand Line”—the disputed British-imposed border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pashtun rulers from the Khilji and Lodhi dynasties and Ahmed Shah Abdali, the founder of present day Afghanistan, apart from Afghan marauders like Mahmud of Ghazni and Mohammed Ghori, came from Afghanistan’s Pashtun areas like Ghazni, Ghor, Paktia and Kandahar—areas now engulfed in a civil war. Even the Mughal empire was founded by Babur, an Uzbek who came across the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border. The wheels of history have turned full circle. The homelands of these invaders are today at war with themselves. Pashtuns backing President Karzai are fighting Pashtuns backed by Pakistan, even while most Pashtuns agree that their homeland extends not just up to the Durand Line imposed on them by the British in 1893, but up to the banks of the Indus River, at Attock in Pakistan.
As the Americans prepare to end combat operations in Afghanistan in December 2014, the focus of attention is now shifting to how the battle lines are going to be drawn for the control of Afghanistan. Pakistan has been arming, financing, training and providing safe havens on its territory to the “Quetta Shura” of the Taliban headed by Mullah Omar and fighters of the Haqqani network, operating from its tribal areas of North Waziristan. While swearing by its commitment to “reconciliation” in Afghanistan, Pakistan is actually blocking efforts for political reconciliation by incarcerating top Taliban leaders like Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who can promote national reconciliation, as they have tribal affiliations with Karzai.
Pakistan’s calculation is quite evidently that as US forces thin out in Afghanistan, its Taliban protégés can soon seize large parts of Pashtun-dominated Southern Afghanistan. This will enable them to have a say in establishing a dominant role and then taking over government in Kabul. The Taliban’s primary objectives will be to seize control of the country’s spiritual capital Kandahar, where they assisted the hijackers of IC-814 and to cut the supplies and communications lines between the Khyber Pass and Kabul, through the town of Jalalabad. Northern Afghanistan is dominated by non-Pashtuns like Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras who detest the Taliban and are even now preparing the ground for a conflict with the Taliban, if the Afghan National Army is unable to prevent a takeover of the Pashtun-dominated south by the Taliban and Haqqani network. A stalemate on such ethnic lines could lead to a de facto partition of Afghanistan, with Southern Afghanistan becoming the epicentre of ‘jihadi’ terrorism worldwide. There is little doubt that as a result of its ill-advised policies, Pakistan will also feel the blowback of developments in Afghanistan.
The Taliban have adopted an implacably hostile attitude towards India. While ruling Afghanistan, they provided training facilities for Pakistani terrorists of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen for terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. They colluded with the hijackers of IC-814 and facilitated their move from Kandahar to Pakistan and offered the ISI “volunteers” for jihad in J&K. Ever since 2002, the Taliban and Haqqani network have targeted Indian construction workers, development projects, apart from diplomats and diplomatic missions in Kabul and Kandahar. India should have contingency plans to deal with a Taliban takeover of Southern Afghanistan after the US withdrawal. Apart from facilities for military training, the Afghan government has also reportedly asked India for 105 mm mountain artillery and other arms and equipment manufactured in India. New Delhi should respond positively to such requests. It is quite clear that even after they end combat operations, the Americans will make every effort to sustain the democratically elected Afghan government, with economic assistance and air, logistical and counter-terrorism support. No major power, including Russia, Iran, Turkey or Saudi Arabia, relishes the prospect of a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.