India consumed by internal turmoil as prospects of Taliban's rise in Afghanistan appear imminent following US peace deal

International pressures on India are mounting. It is possible that external factors, including ones that nobody can predict – such as impacts of the coronavirus – may play a significant part in determining the fate and future of our country.

Samrat March 06, 2020 10:01:19 IST
India consumed by internal turmoil as prospects of Taliban's rise in Afghanistan appear imminent following US peace deal
  • Prospects of the Taliban and their ISI allies coming back to power in Afghanistan appear imminent.

  • Meanwhile, India is busy dealing with internal turmoil created by a series of political moves that are not in the national interest.

Joining the Dots is a weekly column by author and journalist Samrat in which he connects events to ideas, often through analysis, but occasionally through satire

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The title itself is a mouthful: Agreement for bringing peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America. The date takes three lines to mention: February 29, 2020, which corresponds to Rajab 5, 1441 on the Hijri Lunar calendar and Hoot 10, 1398 on the Hijri Solar calendar.

The agreement has four parts of which the first two are guarantees from the Taliban that Afghan soil will not be used against the security of the USA and its allies, and by the US of the announcement of a timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan. The negotiations between the Taliban and the official government of Afghanistan, which is not a party to this agreement, will start after the guarantee of withdrawal of foreign troops. A comprehensive ceasefire will be on the agenda of those subsequent talks – if they take place.

India consumed by internal turmoil as prospects of Talibans rise in Afghanistan appear imminent following US peace deal

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani shakes hands with US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. AP

In other words, after 19 years, 2,500 American soldiers’ lives, and $2 trillion – that’s $20,00,00,00,00,000 – wasted, the US under Donald Trump is in a hurry to cut its losses and run. It is handing over the country on a platter to the Taliban, who already control about two-thirds of the territory anyway. The official government of President Ashraf Ghani, whose survival without the foreign troops is doubtful, is riven by a deep divide between him and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who was “Chief Executive of the Unity Government of Afghanistan” until last month, when results of an election in which he had challenged Ghani were declared. Abdullah has rejected the results, which declared Ghani winner, alleging ballot-stuffing.

The US has already begun withdrawing troops. Ashraf Ghani has already tried to put a spanner in the works by refusing to release 5,000 Taliban fighters, former terrorists already elevated in the accord to the status of “political prisoners” now, as agreed between the US and the Taliban. The Taliban has responded by promising to resume attacks.

Meanwhile, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network and deputy leader of the Taliban, who is an international terrorist on the FBI’s Most Wanted list with a prize of $5 million for information leading to his arrest, is now penning sagacious Op-Eds in The New York Times. In a piece published on February 20, he wrote, “Reports about foreign groups in Afghanistan are politically motivated exaggerations by the warmongering players on all sides of the war. It is not in the interest of any Afghan to allow such groups to hijack our country and turn it into a battleground."

The word “hijack” coming from a Taliban leader, especially someone like Sirajuddin Haqqani, is one that has special connotations in India.

General (Retired) John R Allen, now President of the Brookings Institution, responded to the NYT piece by writing, “When I was commander of all US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the Haqqani network ranked among the deadliest threats to our mission there, and to the people of Afghanistan. This organization was and continues to be a central component of the Taliban, a major connecting file into al-Qaida, and a darling of Pakistan’s ISI.”

Haqqani’s sudden rise to respectability is raising eyebrows in India as well.

“I am worried about the mainstreaming of the Haqqani Network given that they would re-establish themselves in Loya Paktia (a region bordering Pakistan) which is where a lot of India-directed training camps existed," says former R&AW Special Secretary Anand Arni. He was part of the team that went to Kandahar to negotiate the release of IC-814 with the Taliban.

Prospects of the Taliban and their ISI allies coming back to power in Afghanistan appear imminent. Meanwhile, India is busy dealing with internal turmoil created by a series of political moves that are not in the national interest. As a result, the National Security Advisor is walking around Delhi doing the thanedaar’s job while the Home Minister continues jetting around giving election speeches.

The entire political class in Kashmir has been imprisoned by the Union government following the sudden, unilateral and secretive abrogation of Article 370. Therefore, a total political vacuum exists in the valley. Winter snows will start to melt in a few months. The false peace in Kashmir will probably be tested then.

Azaadi slogans used to be heard only in Kashmir. Now they are heard everywhere. The rest of the country is more deeply divided today than at any time since the late 1980s and early 1990s. The National Register of Citizens and Citizenship Amendment Act have managed to mobilise into protest the country’s 20 crore Muslims who were otherwise living peacefully, and quietly stomaching the daily insults heaped on them by bigots in politics and the media. Riots in Delhi have further deepened divides.

Across in the Northeast of the country, where both the NRC and the CAA have their origins, every major community is agitated. The first protests against the CAA erupted in Assam. That is also where the NRC and detention camps have pushed millions of people to the wall. Not a single group is happy with the outcome of the NRC or the CAA. Meanwhile, there is total silence on the Naga peace talks, which were supposed to be concluded last October.

India’s problems in the Northeast extend beyond its borders. BJP leaders have long been going around the country giving speeches against alleged Bangladeshi immigrants, although in practice this usually turns into discrimination on the basis of language and ethnicity – all Bengalis, especially if Muslim, become suspect. This affects West Bengal and India’s relations with Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is a country with which India shares a land border of 4,156 km. It is arguably the country of greatest importance to India’s Northeast. Peace returned to the Northeast mainly because of a change in government in Bangladesh in 2008-09 that brought Sheikh Hasina to power. Hasina, who has been ruling the country with an iron fist, is now facing street protests because of a planned visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Dhaka. The protesters have demanded that Modi’s invitation should be cancelled in light of the attacks on minorities here.

It's not as if only Muslims are unhappy with India. Nepal was for long the only Hindu rashtra in the world. It is now secular, and increasingly an ally of China. The turn began with what Nepalis describe as an undeclared blockade of the land-locked country by India in 2015. Demonetisation made things worse. Since then, Nepal has moved steadily to open up to its northern neighbour, China. It has joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative – and that is only one of many signs of changing equations.

International pressures on India are mounting. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – who has probably understood the “chronology” in relation to NRC — has filed an intervention application in the Supreme Court of India against the Citizenship Amendment Act. This is unprecedented in India’s diplomatic history.

The ‘versatile geniuses’ running India have managed to run a healthy economy into the ground, destroy the existing peace in society, erode public trust in every public institution, turn friendly neighbours hostile, and damage India’s global image and standing. Now, it is possible that external factors, including ones that nobody can predict – such as impacts of the coronavirus – may play a significant part in determining the fate and future of our country.

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