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Taliban-US Talks Bode Ill For India, But Can’t Be Helped

On the one hand, infrastructure projects of India worth crores are at stake; on the other, Pakistan is vying for the day a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan can serve it again as a terror launchpad

The US resumed talks with the Taliban in Qatar on Saturday, which may lead to a conflict between the US and Qatar while a ceasefire is restored in Afghanistan. About three months ago, US President Donald Trump had cancelled the talks. Trump had cancelled the talks after an attack by the Taliban in Kabul that killed an American soldier. This decision of Trump was made in an atmosphere where the two sides were seen approaching the agreement. Had an agreement been reached, American soldiers would have returned from Afghanistan in exchange for a security guarantee that the militants would not take recourse to violence again.

Special Representative of the US Jalmai Khalilzad has reached Doha to start talks for the restoration of peace in Afghanistan. He will soon resume talks with Taliban interlocutors. On Wednesday, the US State Department announced that the US would rejoin the peace talks.

After finalising an agreement with the US, the Taliban will be under pressure to not take recourse to violence.

Khalilzad was in Kabul for two days before reaching Doha. During this time, he held talks with top government officials of Afghanistan and many politicians including former President Hamid Karzai. Karzai’s former advisor Shahzada Masood said that three topics had been discussed in the talks. Next, the US and the Taliban will resume talks and they will focus on reduction in violence and inter-Afghan dialogue.

Taliban, a Pakistan ally

An undisclosed war in Afghanistan has been going on for almost two decades. In which millions of people have lost their lives so far.

America’s peace talks are a profitable deal for Pakistan. So, between the two poles, the Pakistani government and its intelligence agency ISI are acting as brokers. With the help of the Afghan Islamist group, Pakistan can execute its terrorist plans in Kashmir as soon as the US forces return from Afghanistan.

Pakistan brought the Taliban to the negotiating table with the US because it wants an early withdrawal of American forces from its neighbourhood. Pakistan had released Taliban’s co-founder Mullah Baradar from jail a few months ago to join the talks with the US in Doha, Qatar’s capital.

If the roots of the Taliban in Afghanistan go deep again, Pakistan can provide military equipment to them to unseat the government there. Pakistan’s relations with the current government of Afghanistan are pretty off the rails.

Indian projects under threat in Afghanistan

India has completed several mega projects costing billions of dollars in Afghanistan; some are still in the works. India has so far provided nearly $ 3 billion in aid to Afghanistan, under which Parliament buildings, roads and dams etc have been constructed. India is still working on many humanitarian and developmental projects there. Due to this, India’s popularity in Afghanistan has increased a lot.

India is working on 116 community development projects that will be implemented in 31 provinces of Afghanistan. These include the fields of education, health, agriculture, irrigation, drinking water, renewable energy, sports infrastructure and administrative infrastructure. India is also working on the Mulberry Dam and Drinking Water Project for Kabul.

In addition, to encourage the resettlement of Afghan refugees, there is a proposal to build houses at a low cost in the Nangarhar province. India is helping in the road connectivity to Band-e-Amir in the Bamyan province, water supply network for the city of Charikar in the Parwan province and construction of polytechnics at Mazar-e-Sharif. India is supporting the establishment of the Afghan National Agricultural Science and Technology University (ANASTU) in Kandahar as well.

India has invested heavily in the development of Iran’s Chabahar Port to strengthen trade and relations with countries in Afghanistan, Central Asia, Russia and Europe. This is also seen as cutting off China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) project. If the Taliban comes to power in Afghanistan, this project of India can be in danger because it will hinder India’s access to other countries through Afghanistan.

If the previous peace talks between the US and the Taliban had been successful, it would have threatened the current government of Afghanistan. As soon as the peace talks are successful, the US will withdraw its troops stationed there, which would strengthen the Taliban in Afghanistan. Apart from the US, there is no power to keep the Afghan terrorists in check.

The Taliban can also declare war against the Afghan government as soon as the US forces go back, posing a threat of civil war in that country. The military support the Taliban are getting indirectly from Pakistan is a matter of concern for the Afghan government.

Afghan govt against talks with Taliban

Afghanistan is against the US-Taliban talks. President Ashraf Ghani said in a statement recently that it is futile to compromise peace with a group that killed innocent people, as the Taliban does not believe in the Afghan government. In recent times, the Taliban has heightened its terror activities in Kabul.

The Afghan government is concerned with the increasing dominance of the Taliban in the country. Because this can only create a crisis for the government. The success of this dialogue in the eyes of Afghanistan would be to recognise the power of the Taliban by the US.

Withdrawal of troops important in American politics

The US is trying its best to end the war that has been going on in Afghanistan for almost 20 years because it has to withdraw 20,000 soldiers from here and take them back to their country. If the Taliban’s dominance in the country increases after the US troops leave Afghanistan, it could be considered a setback for the only superpower in the international community.

However, the US is going to have a presidential election in 2020. President Trump had in the last election campaign redeemed his pledge to withdrawing of the US troops stationed in Afghanistan for two decades. Trump is anxious to fulfil this promise, as he heads a country where the death of even one soldier is not easily accepted by the people.

Now that the US is staring at the presidential election, it is difficult for Trump to explain to the people why he did not withdraw the troops from Afghanistan in the last four years.

Taliban

The rise of the Taliban occurred in northern Pakistan in the 1990s when troops of the Soviet Union were withdrawing from Afghanistan. The Taliban emerged under the leadership of Pashtuns in Afghanistan in 1994.

It is believed that the Taliban first made their presence known through religious events and management of madrassas, for which most of the money used came from Saudi Arabia. After the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan in the late 1980s, a conflict ensued between several factions, from which the Taliban was born. The situation in Afghanistan at the time was such that the locals welcomed the Taliban.

Initially, the Taliban’s popularity was high because it controlled corruption and disorder in the country by creating a regime of fear. The Taliban secured the areas under their control so that people could do business independently.

The Taliban greatly expanded its influence from southwest Afghanistan. In September 1995, the Taliban captured Afghanistan’s Herat province bordering Iran. A year later, the Taliban ousted the Burhanuddin Rabbani government and captured Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. By 1998, the Taliban controlled almost 90% of Afghanistan’s territory.

Pakistan has been denying that it was behind the rise of the Taliban. However, there is no doubt that the early Taliban fighters took education in Pakistani madrassas.

From the 1990s until 2001, when the Taliban was in power in Afghanistan, only three countries recognised it: Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan was the last country to break diplomatic relations with the Taliban — that too for the apprehension that the US post-9/11 would not tolerate an ally of the perpetrators of the terrorist attack that had shocked the world.

Mausumi Dasgupta

By Mausumi Dasgupta

Literary affairs writer, consultant for overseas education, history and economics enthusiast