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Taliban's Afghanistan takeover: 'There seems much more to all this than what meets the eye'

It is not in India's security or strategic interests to quit Afghanistan and leave the field free for forces that are inimical to our national security, says security and strategic analyst Dr Seshadri Chari in an interview with Asianet Newsable.

Taliban Afghanistan takeover interview with strategic analyst Dr Seshadri Chari-VPN
New Delhi, First Published Aug 18, 2021, 9:24 AM IST

The Taliban blitz that saw the militia capturing the whole of Afghanistan in a matter of two weeks has thrown out of gear political plans, intelligence projections and geopolitical equations. 

To understand the current situation in Afghanistan and whether India could have something about it, Asianet Newsable reached out to security and strategic analyst Dr Seshadri Chari

Dr Chari, who is the chairman of the China Study Centre at MAHE, Manipal, and also the Secretary-General of the Forum for Integrated National Security, said it is not in India's security or strategic interests to quit Afghanistan and leave the field free for forces that are inimical to our national security.

Here are excerpts of the interview:

Who is responsible for the current mess in Afghanistan?

The immediate responsibility for the present mess in Afghanistan should squarely rest upon the United States. In fact, following the 9/11 terror attack, the US entered Afghanistan 20 years back to 'wage a war on terrorism', as it was designated then.

The US is responsible for the creation of the Taliban, which was used to fight the Soviet army. The same outfit was driven out of power from Kabul. The US continued to remain in Afghanistan for reasons known only to them even after the Taliban was defeated. Ironically, Pakistan, which the US referred to as a 'terror hub', was roped in to fight terrorism. 

Also Read: Timeline: The Taliban Blitz In Afghanistan Nobody Saw Coming

It is no secret that the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban are working closely in every operation that takes place in Afghanistan. Even after having all kinds of military and intelligence inputs, if the US has quit Afghanistan in haste resulting in total chaos, they are to be blamed for the consequences.

Was America caught off guard? Its intelligence reported that the Taliban might capture Kabul in 30 days. But they did so in a matter of days.

The United States had a very strong ground force and intelligence inputs as far as the status of the Taliban was concerned. There is no doubt about it. It is doubtful that the reports could be wrong. The US Army, which has been in operation in Afghanistan for 20 years, cannot go wrong in its assessments about the time the Taliban will take to take over Kabul. If they expected that it would happen in six months or more, it was a wrong message, to say the least. 

Just a week before this takeover of Kabul by the Taliban, US President (Joe) Biden himself had claimed that the Afghan forces are capable of keeping the Taliban away and are in a fighting fit status to resist a Taliban to take over. What we saw is that the Taliban did not need more than ten days to march into Kabul, and that too without any resistance. Therefore, it is very difficult to believe that the military intelligence of the United States has failed. There seems to be much more to all this than what meets the eye.

What explains the Taliban blitz?

What is happening today in Afghanistan is not a surprise or sudden. The Taliban seems to have been in preparation for this day for a long. They refused to commit anything during the Doha talks. They did not consider it necessary to talk to the democratically-elected government in Kabul.

Also Read: ‘Our people are Muslims and we are not here to force them to Islam’: Taliban urges women to join govt

The Taliban must have had their battle plan ready, and the day the US forces withdrew, the Taliban put its plan to work. That is how it was possible for them to dethrone the government in Kabul and plunge the entire country into chaos. It is difficult to believe that the US forces did not know this.

Should the deposed President Ashraf Ghani have stayed back rather than flee from Kabul? Could he have stopped the Taliban?

I doubt if Ashraf Ghani would have stopped the Taliban because he was in no position to do so. He probably knew that the Afghan forces were either not capable of fighting or his writ no longer runs in the country. He was let down by the Americans. Probably his intelligence was far better than that of the Americans. He knew that once the Taliban enters the presidential palace, he would have been taken hostage and/or killed. So what is the point of sacrificing his life when Americans are not going to support him in any manner whatsoever? What Ashraf Ghani has done was absolutely correct, and it is like making a strategic withdrawal to fight for another day.

China and Pakistan have been quick in endorsing the Taliban. What is their end game?

As far as Pakistan is concerned, they are hand in glove with the Taliban. The Pakistan Taliban is fully supporting the Afghan Taliban. According to American reports, the ISI is deeply involved in what is happening today in Afghanistan. The most important element is with their friends firmly in the saddle in Kabul, Pakistan can withdraw its army from the Afghan border and station them close to the Indian border. 

Also Read: 'I am waiting for Taliban to come for people like me and kill me,' says Afghan female mayor

As far as China is concerned, it is deeply interested in the natural resources that are available in Afghanistan. A rough estimate of natural resources in Afghanistan is to the tune of US dollar 3-4 trillion. This kind of vast natural resources will now be totally available for China. So, why China would not be interested in supporting the Taliban? They have no qualms as far as democracy and other issues are concerned. Besides, China has been in touch with the top leadership as well as the
next line of Taliban leadership.

The Afghans say that the new Taliban is no different from the version that existed 20 years ago. What do you think?

There is every reason to believe what some sections of the Afghans are saying about the so-called new Taliban. There is no difference between the past and the present leadership of Taliban or any difference such as good Taliban and bad Taliban. There are reports of Taliban hunting for people associated with the earlier regime or the US military. Their repressive measures have begun, and the worst sufferers are women and school-going children. I think it is going to be a very tough time for the democratic elements in Afghanistan.

Also Read: 'Taliban will show their real face soon; my land is in the hands of animals'

Could India have done something in this regard?

India had a number of options when Americans were there, and India has participated in a big way in infrastructure building; and to a large extent, India also gave training to the Afghan police. We believe that the Afghan army is an important entity in maintaining peace and tranquillity in Afghanistan. New Delhi has also tried to build a huge medical infrastructure. It is strange that the US did not involve India in the peace process. Besides, the US was insisting that India should talk to the Taliban.

Strategically speaking, Afghanistan is also important for us as we are already engaged in the construction of Chabahar port in Iran and linking it with the rail and road connectivity of a land-locked Afghanistan. New Delhi should wait and watch the situation but continue with the infrastructure development of Iran as well as Afghanistan.

What should be New Delhi's policy towards Afghanistan?

India has already begun evacuating people from Afghanistan. Protecting Indians, Indian workers, our assets in the infrastructure projects are very important. Eventually, New Delhi will have to continue with the assistance programmes which will help ordinary citizens. It is not in our security or strategic interests to quit Afghanistan and leave the field free for forces that are inimical to our national security. China-Pakistan axis in our neighbourhood is highly perilous for our security.

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