SAARC Region ‘Mute’ Over Taliban Re-entry

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Aug 28 2021
Focus SAARC Region ‘Mute’ Over Taliban Re-entry

By Sulochana RamiahMohan 

It is a precarious situation in Afghanistan and the world is shocked with anger and sorrow at seeing what the Afghans are going through, especially lately with the suicide carnage that rocked the Kabul airport vicinity, killing some 70 people on Thursday. However, the bottom line is that the Taliban has taken control of the country after a gap of 20 years and it’s all coming back. 

The biggest worry is how the South Asian countries or the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) will have to deal with this group of people called the Taliban who have a past of nothing but bloodshed and causing human misery.

 Afghanistan has a politicallymutilated history centred on war before and after the emergence of the Taliban, and now it seems another civil war is in the offing. That could be frightening as it is alleged that the local fighters are connected to foreign militants. 

The US knows more about the Taliban than the rest of the world, who fought on behalf of them in pursuing Soviet invaders, but today the Taliban refuses to extend the 31 August deadline to have the US troops withdraw from Afghanistan completely. 

The US President said the intelligence community has assessed that suicide attacks were carried out by members of the Islamic State –Khorasan (ISIS-K). The Khorasan Province is a selfproclaimed branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, active in South Asia and Central Asia. 

It is said the Taliban and the ISIS-K don’t see eye to eye. Biden said America would not be intimidated. Despite seeing these developments, the SAARC countries have not reacted firmly to the Taliban return. The landlocked country is a gateway to South Asia, which was one of the reasons why it was formally inducted as a member of SAARC in April 2007. 

It is strategically located and if it’s free from current calamities, there are lots of untouched markets and economic benefits for small nations like Sri Lanka. But, if the Taliban continues to war with the rest of the world or is countered by their enemies, the takers would be the countries that are polarised based on geopolitics, race and religion and that could trigger a third world war. 

SL still noncommittal about Taliban

 The Sri Lankan Government said, as a member of the SAARC, Sri Lanka is prepared to play its role to assist any regional efforts and that the Government remains concerned about the possibility of mass migration, extremist religious elements attempting to find a safe haven, and enhanced illegal narcotic trade, which could have a destabilising effect on the entire South Asian region.

 The Government is keenly observing the situation on a daily basis. Now that the Taliban is in power, the Government of Sri Lanka requests the law and order situation be stabilised and the safety, security and dignity of all people in Afghanistan be safeguarded. The Government of Sri Lanka also takes note of the pronouncement made by the Taliban that an All Party Mechanism will be established to take the country forward.

 Pakistan on board with Taliban 

Pakistan is doing its best to support and establish the Taliban. China is also on the same page. Central Asian countries are also more or less acting under Russian and Chinese influence and are not openly conflicting with the Taliban. It is, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan that are left. Pakistan High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Major General Muhammad Saad Khattak (Retd) on meeting Foreign Minister, Prof. G.L. Peiris last week, said the Taliban has assured the safety of foreign nationals in Afghanistan and has also made a pledge that the rights of women and children would be protected. 

Briefing further on the situation in Afghanistan, the Envoy said Pakistan hopes that Afghanistan will soon establish a peaceful Government structure and integrate with the rest of the world. This means Pakistan will very soon accept the Government of the Taliban as its people have overwhelmingly shown support for the arrival of the Taliban and deter American occupation in Afghanistan. 

The US, in turn, accused Pakistan of aiding terrorism. Amidst the welcoming signs from Pakistan over the Taliban invasion, ex-head of Pakistan's Central Command, Gen. Tariq Khan, warns all those celebrating the American defeat, and cites that Pakistanis must not draw wrong lessons from the Taliban victory, as the situation is fluid and Pakistan needs to help bring stability to Afghanistan for its own peace and prosperous future. 

He goes on to say in his essay, that was published on Global Village Space, that most do not understand the nuances of tribal warfare – when a tribe realises that they lack the capacity to acquire an objective or sustain it if they acquire it, they quietly withdraw, allowing their enemy to possess it. 

It is not defeat but a sustained grudge and must never be misconstrued to be forgotten or forgiven. It’s simply how tribal warfare has always been fought, executed, and prosecuted. The tribe waits and has the patience to wait for even a thousand years, to gain the capacity and wherewithal to once again acquire the objective they lost. 

He also hints at the hope that the North of Afghanistan is venturing into a war with the Taliban to reconcile and that there could be an inclusive government allowing broad spectrum representation. From a Pakistani point of view, he goes on to say that there are many who are celebrating the idea of the Taliban’s success. This is justified when seen in the light of hostile agencies using Afghan soil to perpetrate terrorism in Pakistan. This was done through TTP, a defeated entity that had fled Pakistan only to find refuge under a hostile Afghan Government. 

India’s RAW was having a field day, exploiting TTP and attempting to destabilise Baluchistan. This will stop and the TTP may discover it is no longer welcome in Afghanistan. Also, ISIS and Daesh, inserted by the CIA, are disturbing the region, especially Russia and China, but Pakistan as well. Space for both will shrink in Afghanistan and they will hopefully soon be ousted as well. 

India is tight-lipped over the unfolding events in Afghanistan and they fear double jeopardy as the Kashmir issue sits on a volcano and the Taliban entry is vital to reset its security strategy. The outcome of the Taliban vis-a-vis SAARC will become more dysfunctional as cleavages between India and Pakistan grow on the Taliban and Kashmir issues.

 There are signs that Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh have taken to social media to embrace the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan too. Bangladesh is one of the countries in the region that kept the jihadi militants at bay and there can be a new challenges coming their way too. It’s time for Nepal, as the Chair of the SAARC, to take a stance on Taliban rule before SAARC further deteriorates. They should call for discussions to proclaim the official stance of the Taliban. 

Taliban is an ISI proxy – Author Abinav Pandya 

Founder and CEO of Usanas Foundation, Abhinav Pandya, who is the author of Radicalisation in India: An Exploration and who is ready to release his upcoming book, Terror Financing In Kashmir, spoke to Ceylon Today about the Taliban entry and said their entry has hardly any merit. "Some people in Afghanistan argue that after the ouster of Americans, the daily fighting and loss of lives will end and there will be some stability even if comes at the cost of a terrorist regime with medieval values, in power. However, I do not even see that happening. 

During Taliban rule, Afghanistan will become a hub of global and local jihadist forces. Al Qaeda, ISKP, Haqqani network and groups like Hizb-i-Islami, Jaish –e-Muhammad and Lashkar-i-Taiba will have a free run in Afghanistan. Violence and brutalities against females and relatively moderate Muslims and political opponents will increase. He goes on to say that the Taliban is an ISI proxy, so, in effect, Pakistan will be ruling Afghanistan. It will be a brutal foreign occupation. The Americans were also a foreign power, but they tried to do a lot of welfare and development activities.

 "I don’t see any future for progressive, moderate and stable Afghanistan," he said. Pakistan will facilitate the economic exploitation of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth by China. In Afghanistan, we will see all those brutalities against common people that we are currently witnessing in Balochistan which has CPEC's Gwadar port, to facilitate Chinese exploitation. .

 People will be subjected to China-styled surveillance regimes, he stressed. Another major demerit is the strengthening of jihadist forces in the entire South Asia. Radicalisation of ordinary Muslims will also intensify because the Taliban’s victory is being projected as an Islamic victory against infidel powers. India and Sri Lanka stand vulnerable because they are Hindu and Buddhist majority nations. The Taliban come from the extremist Deobandi school of Islam, which is a South Asian cousin of Wahabism. 

It is staunch and hateful towards non-Muslims. In the past, we have seen attacks on Buddhist sites by Jihadists. Further, the radicalisation of ordinary Muslims will disrupt social harmony in countries where Muslims live with non-Muslims. It will lead to communal riots. We can see that the Taliban victory has already inspired many people in Bangladesh who tried to cross into India to join the Taliban. Further, the polarising rhetoric of hardliner Hindus and Buddhists will give fertile ground for already emboldened terrorist groups (due to Taliban victory) to recruit more people from new areas where ordinary Muslims become radicalised.

 "Since the US and global bodies are freezing Taliban’s access to funds and aid, Taliban will rely more and more on opium and narcotics. We will see a major spike in drugs smuggling which in turn will fund more terrorism," he alleged. Pandya was of the view that India and Sri Lanka should not recognise Taliban because Taliban represents what India and Sri Lanka do not. Taliban is an extremist terror group which has no respect for democracy, human rights and gender equality, he underlined. It’s a terrorist regime and a proxy of Pakistan’s ISI. 

Both India and Sri Lanka have been the major victims of terrorism and jihadi terrorism in particular. The Taliban sheltered the hijackers of the Indian airline IC- 814. The Taliban affiliated deobandi terrorist groups have been active in Kashmir since the 1990s. Hence, there appears to be no reason for giving legitimacy to them. Giving recognition to the Taliban means legitimising a terrorist regime, he opined. This will boost the Taliban’s image in the eyes of local Muslims in India and Sri Lanka. It will also present the national governments as weak entities. 

Further, recognising the Taliban will also facilitate their activities in India and Sri Lanka as they will operate as legitimate state actors. In that case, even if radicalisation and terror activities are coordinated by their diplomatic missions, we cannot control them. The SAARC region, in particular, is vulnerable to extremism and jihadi terrorism due to the return of the Taliban. It is going to be a big internal as well as external security threat. SAARC should condemn the Taliban, appeal to the global powers to deploy UN peacekeeping forces, and sanction Pakistan. However, SAARC itself is divided. Pakistan, a key member of SAARC is Taliban’s creator.

 In other SAARC members like Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, China has a strong influence on politics and decision-making. Only India is left in a position where it has no option except to fight Taliban on all fronts. Both China and Pakistan support Taliban, therefore I do not see much initiative from SAARC. The question is not whether the Taliban can sustain it. The Taliban is a bunch of rag tag terrorists with no experience, will, or skills to provide a stable and welfare-oriented government. The situation is in the hands of foreign powers- Pakistan, China, Russia, Turkey. 

As long as the aforementioned foreign powers benefit in geopolitical and economic terms and have a consensus to continue Taliban, the Taliban regime will be sustained with all its brutalities and atrocities. But Taliban are never going to be democratic. It’s against their basic DNA. They believe in a totalitarian regime based on a harsh and extremist interpretation of Sharia. India, for now, can wait and watch because things are still unfolding in Afghanistan. The future of the US stance remains unclear. 
Resistance is building up in Afghanistan. Also, India should be concerned about its internal security situation and should adopt a tough posture and messaging against jihadist groups and individuals. The Taliban has to be countered at every level-strategic, narrative, and operational. No weakness should be displayed. India should also be firm in its message to Pakistan that any attempt to support terror in India will lead to massive retaliation. Sri Lanka also needs to act independently and be with India as Sri Lanka is one of the prime targets for jihadist forces. 

If Sri Lanka, under Chinese or Pakistani influence, gives a semblance of recognition or any space to the Taliban regime, it will strengthen the Islamist forces in its territory. China has the following interests - economically (lithium, cobalt and copper wealth of Afghanistan), security of CPEC, and ensuring that the Taliban does not support ETIM (Uighur terrorist groups). 

China will not put their boots on the ground. It will control things through Pakistan. But it will provide financial support to the Taliban. China is likely to use the Taliban and other Jihadist groups to pressure India by boiling up things in Kashmir. Beijing’s aim is to keep India boxed in Kashmir and play its real geopolitical game in the Indian Ocean Region. 

Further, China may encourage and support terrorist activities in India (through Pakistan-sponsored jihadi groups) to harm India’s global image and economy. Resistance to the Taliban is emerging in the Panjshir area under Massoud’s leadership. However, it cannot take off until it gets some strong foreign support. Ideally, India should support it, keeping Pakistan and China busy in Afghanistan and dealing with the insurgency. 

But the question is, can India do anything? Further, he noted that, India alone cannot do anything. India needs support from the US and Israel in this. The US is fatigued and seems to be entering into the phase of rapid decline as a global power. The US is still shirking from recognising and acting against the real enemy i.e., Pakistan. Israel has no interest. Russian and CIS countries’ support could be a game changer for the Northern alliance, but Russia is in the China-Pak camp. 
"I still think, India should act firm and support the Northern Alliance. Ideally, India should have built its strategic assets and foot prints in Afghanistan to help the anti-Taliban and anti-Pakistan groups today. But we did not. However, for now we can wait and watch. But yes, option of interfering in Afghanistan and supporting Northern Alliance is worth considering because if Taliban wipes out all the resistance in home territory, they will be more aggressive against India," he underlined. 

Instability and insurgency in Panjshir and beyond can also keep China under control. And, India should not bother much about Russia. We have historic ties with Russia. They will not go beyond a point in supporting China and Pak against India. And, Russians have their own concerns with Islamic terrorism and China's role in the region. If India shows courage, the US will most likely come out of depression, stop crying and act like a super power, Pandya underscored.

CEYLON TODAY | Published: 2:00 AM Aug 28 2021

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