By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch (Retd)
US President Joe Biden is adamant that America has achieved its aim in Afghanistan and that there are bigger threats than Taliban. He did not qualify whether the bigger threats are from China, Russia or another attack on Capitol Hill but according to General Glen D VanHerck, commanding the US Northern Command and US Aerospace Command, Russia is the main military threat to the US because it “develops very advanced tools” in the cyber and space spheres.
Latest is that in a Pentagon briefing in presence of Chairman JCS General Mark A Milley, Secretary of Defence Lloyd J Austin has said that the US military has established ‘de-conflict interaction’ with Taliban and that he intends to support it. Concurrently, Britain’s Chief of Defense Staff General Nick Carter has said, “Taliban have ‘a code of honour’ and want an Afghanistan that is inclusive. They’ve changed.”
Above is clear indication that recognition of the Taliban and Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan by the west is a matter of time. European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell has already stated, “The Taliban won the war, so we will have to talk to them and start a dialogue as soon as possible to prevent a humanitarian and migration catastrophe.”
Incidentally after the US rout in Vietnam, when then US President Gerald Ford sought relief package from Congress in 1975 to allow evacuation of American personnel and allies, it was Senator (now President) Joe Biden opposed it tooth and nail; resulting in hurried and embarrassing evacuation from rooftop of the American embassy in Saigon.
For the ongoing global criticism of America’s surrender to Taliban, the Biden administration has passed the buck to the military Generals. But it is impossible that with the Directors of CIA and Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) in situ the US administration was unaware of the capabilities of the Taliban and the Afghan forces.
A post in circulation reads: “If you ever feel ‘useless’ just remember that USA took four Presidents, thousands of lives, trillions of dollars and 20 years to replace the Taliban with the Taliban”. But it is more than evident that the US handed over Afghanistan to Taliban by design though America could have won the war in these 20 years; recent articles ‘These epic American blunders made this an unwinnable war’ by Christine Fair and ‘The Ides of August’ by Sarah Chayes – both American scholars bare it all.
Time and again the US and NATO Generals in Afghanistan had said that the problem lay on the other side of the border – in Pakistan. In 2011, the then Chairman JCS explicitly testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Taliban were a “virtual arm of the ISI”.
Both US and UK would be amused with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar narrating at the UNSC meet on Afghanistan details of Pakistani terrorism and its proxies like Haqqani network, LeT and the like. These facts have been known to all past two decades but the US continues to remain inexorably linked to Pakistan under the garb of “constructive” engagement, which is not difficult to understand given that the CIA and ISI are brothers under the skin.
The US which had ostracized Narendra Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat (blaming him for Godhra riots hyped to the hilt in US-UK media including by Indian journos) opened the floodgates to him after Modi became Prime Minister of India. Consequently, the US bagged a large share of India’s defence market, upgraded the bilateral relationship and much more.
The US-India camaraderie was considered topnotch as far as India was concerned. An excited Modi even gave the call of “Abki Baar Trump Sarkar” to a 50,000 audience of Indo-Americans at the Howdy Modi event in Houston, Texas during September 2019 with Donald Trump at his side – making it first time a prime minister canvassed for another head of state in latter’s country.
Trump was accorded the grandest welcome to a visiting head of state during his India visit in February 2020 including the ‘Namaste Trump’ event at the Narendra Modi Stadium (then Motera Stadium) in Ahmadabad to welcome Trump and his family. These events would not have been lost on the Democrats given that the Democratic and Republican parties in the US are daggers drawn similar to the BJP and Congress in India.
On becoming the Prime Minister of India for the first time in May 2014, Narendra Modi was immediately congratulated by the US and invited to visit America. But notably at the NATO summit hosted by the United Kingdom on September 4-5, 2014 at Newport, Wales, the discussion included not only how to undercut the economies of China and Russia but also of India. A report on this which appeared briefly on the internet was quickly taken off.
EAM Jaishankar says India has divergence with the US on Afghanistan. But that is a mild comment which would gladden the US administration. Why would America empower the Taliban with an air force and $20 billion modern military hardware when Taliban are vehement their ideology has not changed – implying they will continue to employ terrorism for global jihad? Is America not privy to presence of Al Qaeda, ISKP, Pakistani regulars and Pakistani proxies operating in Afghanistan in support of the Taliban?
Some in India are jubilant that Pakistan will be swallowed by the Taliban. Whether the Durand Line changes or not, we should be certain that the Pakistani military are for Talibanization of Pakistan and so is the puppet Imran Khan. The military expects every Pakistani to promote Islamic jihad as well.
There is also a postulation that the US wants civil war in the Af-Pak region to inhibit spread of Russian and Chinese influence. But a dispassionate analysis would indicate that US-UK may be looking for or rather wanting civil war in Af-Pak-India. BBC was always pro-Pakistan and, Nick Carter professes change of heart of Taliban (sic) and witness the diatribe against India in American media in recent months.
The only US reaction to China’s aggression in Eastern Ladakh during May-June 2020 was at the press conference at New Delhi on March 20, 2021 by visiting US Secretary of Defence General Lloyd Austin, who said, “We have never considered India and China were on the verge of a war.” With all the satellite and other means of surveillance especially focused on China?
The intimate US-Pakistan relationship indicates US cares little for Pakistani terrorism in India and what Indian Territory China grabs astride the Himalayas; some feel there could even be a secret US-China understanding on the latter – letting China grab what it wants. This may or may not be the case but US interests in India are restricted to our defence market and cooperation on waters of the Indo-Pacific.
The Quad no doubt is a good initiative which needs to be expanded as much as possible though its employment will likely be spearheaded under the ‘America First’ policy of the US administration, which may or may not match national interests of individual member states. Indian policy makers need to keep all this in mind.
– The author is veteran of Indian Army. Views expressed are personal.