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Afghan conflict: India net loser for time being, says former Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan

This Pakistani-Taliban alliance will be reinforcing China’s strategic interests and economic muscle to the extent that it chooses to depending on security and circumstances, connecting it to their geo-economic deal of  $400 billion, a 25 year deal with geo-strategic overtones, said former Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan Gautam Mukhopadhyay.

Afghan conflict: India net loser for time being, says former Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan-dnm
New Delhi, First Published Aug 21, 2021, 6:41 PM IST

New Delhi: Amidst withdrawal of the US and the NATO forces from Afghanistan where power has been seized by the Taliban, the former diplomat - who had served in Afghanistan is of the opinion that in the changed geopolitics India is the net loser for the time being, maintaining that the armed cadres do not have the political support of Afghan people.

Speaking at a seminar organised by the Press Club of India, former Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan Gautam Mukhopadhyay said, “... we are net losers for the time being...but it would be a big mistake to think that the Taliban actually has political support in Afghanistan.”

Stating that the Ghani-administration and the Karzai government were massive failures of the Islamic Republic, he said, “Their misgovernance and lack of identification with the people has facilitated the acceptance of Taliban, particularly the people are fed up of terrorism and violence, conflict and fighting for 40 years. They are tired and have lost the will to fight. That has been the part of Pakistan’s strategy: to make the Afghan people accept a resigned and defeated peace.” 

World order in the region 

First, if you look at the region, what has happened with the takeover by the Taliban is that the broad alignment of the forces until now - not necessarily an 'alliance' - has been turned on its head. The alignment in the past was the Islamic Republic in Afghanistan supported by the United States, the West and the democratic world, including India. We have been the beneficiary of that alignment over the last 20 years, he said.
Now, with the Taliban takeover, there is a complete change in balance. “We have a regressive force in the Taliban which in all likelihood will provide safe havens and shelter to a multitude of terrorist groups, or at the very least inspire them,” Mukhopadhyay said.

This Pakistani-Taliban alliance will be reinforcing China’s strategic interests and economic muscle to the extent that it chooses to depending on security and circumstances, connecting it to their geo-economic deal of  $400 billion, a 25 year deal with geo-strategic overtones. This is also very much an outlet for them from the pressure they feel in the Indo-Pacific from the Quad, through Central Asian mountains, the Karakorum, Pamirs, Hindu Kush, to the Persian Gulf, the former diplomat said.

Russia and Iran too are at odds with the US and aligned with China and Russia at least for now. 

“Now in this context who will be your allies? Will it be Taliban? They are already on the other side. It is only the democratic alternative that we have supported for the last 20 years. We should not abandon them. This is not sentimentality, this is the realism. With the new alignment, we will have no space in Afghanistan,” he said while adding that instead, Pakistan will get the strategic depth.

Implications for the World

Definitely, the US has suffered total defeat. Its a loss of their political and moral credibility and a strategic failure. Its reverberations will be felt far and wide. 

At the end of Soviet invasion (of Afghanistan), the Soviet Union collapsed. The United States may not collapse but its standing will be severely dented. 

According to him, China will use it to discredit the US.

Also read: Taliban intends to have economic and trade ties with all countries, including US: Taliban leader Ghani Baradar

Talks with Taliban 

“If you think that by talking to them..or just because you talk to them, they will come to your side and become your friends and strategic partners, you are fooling yourself. This is a [dangerous] delusion. Even if you think they can just be weaned away, you will have to consider how to wean away a 27-year old partnership. So I don’t think we should get very carried away by that idea,” Mukhopadhyay said.

At some stage, “I think we should keep our doors for talks open. The idea that we must talk to all sides is diplomacy 1.0, whether you do it in public or private. That’s an another matter of discussion. But assuming that we talk to one faction which is more amenable to being weaned from Pakistan and coming closer to us, let's say for our minimum security requirements, even say the security of our embassy, what guarantee is that the ISI or its Haqqani network or any number of other forces that they have groomed over the last 27 years, will not to sabotage it? So I think these are some of precautionary aspects that we must think through carefully before jumping into the 'talk to the Taiban' bandwagon.”

“One question that proponents of this never talk about, is what can we realistically get in return for the legitimization of the Taliban in the process and betrayal of our friends for 25 years?,” he added.

Erase Afghan and Pashtun identity 
The government will be under Pakistani tutelage, (at least until frictions between them surface). The Taliban is a creation of Pakistan. The whole idea of Taliban in the Pakistani imagination is to erase Afghan and Pashtun identity and submerge it in a larger pan-Islamic identity. 

They will be Afghans, but with a difference, he added.

Atrocities: Comparison of the Taliban with ISIS

“What is very evident is that an attempt is being made to 'make over' the Taliban, even in this phase even when you see what is happening in your face, as that somehow the Taliban has changed. It has changed some of its tactics and appearance. This is a kind of false narrative... lets not delude ourselves into thinking something that’s not there.”

Its atrocities even this year alone, including abductions and forced marriages of girls and women are comparable to the ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but while they were treated as terrorists and bombed, the Taliban are getting a white washed and welcomed by some Foreign Ministers, he added. 

Taliban and Pakistan  

“We should never forget that Taliban is a creation of Pakistan out of the Afghan refugee camps and the Madarsas in Pakistan starting from 1994 until now. It’s a 27 year project which has mutated once or twice but particularly after it was ousted from Kabul in 2002.”

The Pakistani project is in many ways, one, simply to takeover and to be able to exercise its tutelage Afghanistan; two, it was created to have an Afghan face but in-fact actually to erase Afghan and Pasthun identity and submerge it in larger and Islamic identity captured the notion of Emirate sometimes also used as Caliphate. [It has an Afghan face but a Pakistani hand.]

People to people engagement 

''Right now I can't say what else we can do: may be, begin some level of minimal engagement so that we can continue and maintain our relationship with the Afghan people, but more importantly keep an alternative of a more progressive Afghanistan alive. And that is where civil society particularly media, and I would like to see the Indian media, reach out to the afghan media to give them an alternative space... ''

"If the people really wanted the Taliban so much ... they would not be hanging on planes to leave Afghanistan,” Mukhopadhyay said.

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