By Col. Rajinder Singh
“Some in the Indian Media and analysts believe that the Taliban-Pakistan army nexus can incite some insurgency in Kashmir… I think Talibanisation of Afghanistan is a blessing in disguise for India”
– Khalid Umar, a London-based Pakistani Journalist.
The capture of power by the Taliban in Afghanistan has started a serious debate in India that Pakistan would use the leverage with the Taliban to use its fighters and Afghan territory to step up terror activities in Kashmir valley. There is allegedly a deal on this between Taliban and Pakistan, called “Panjshir in lieu of Kashmir”. It means, just as Pakistan helped Taliban in capturing Panjshir valley, the Taliban would assist Pakistan in annexing Kashmir from India.
Sources confirm the deployment of three battalions of SSG (Special Service Group, elite paratrooper commandos); an Engineers battalion and Signals Regiment elements of the Pakistan army, led by Maj Gen Adil Rehmani. This composite force was backed up by bombers and fighter aircraft, attack helicopters and armed drones. A Pakistani source, Dr Amzad Ayub Mirza, reveals that in the fierce fighting that took place on September 8-9, the Pakistan army lost 7 officers, 12 JCOs and 73 other ranks (OR). He also claimed 5 officers, 9 JCOs and 160 OR were badly wounded. In return, Pakistan expects reciprocation from the Taliban.
In doing so, in Pakistan there is a high expectation from the Taliban to deliver on Kashmir. In fact, this view has gained strength from the statement of Taliban spokesperson, Zabihulla Mujahid, who had remarked a few days ago that the Taliban reserved the right to talk about the plight of Muslims, anywhere in the world, including Kashmir. This is a retraction of Taliban from its earlier statement. Somehow Zabihullah forgot about poor Uighur Muslims of XinJiang province of China, when he talked of the plight of poor Muslims elsewhere in the world. It shows the hypocrisy of the Taliban, just like its mentor Pakistan!
This statement of Zabihulla has contributed towards wishful thinking in Pakistan and generated a debate in India. Also, it is manifestly clear that the Taliban cannot be trusted at face value. Its assurances of not allowing Afghanistan territory for activities against other countries is seemingly a farce. It should be a warning to all other nations, including China.
A truthful and a realistic assessment of the Taliban is that it is not a compound but a mixture of self-conflicting militias. This will soon come to the fore and internecine war will soon start. Already, there are reports of a nominated Taliban Deputy Defence Minister objecting to Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, ISI head of Pakistan Army, dictating terms on formation of the Afghan government.
Lt Gen Faiz Hameed has manipulated elements within the Taliban to give maximum posts to the Haqqani Network and the Quetta Shura, while leaving the Doha Consortium with minimum representation. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, earlier touted to be the Prime Minister, has been reduced to an insignificant post of Deputy PM. Seeds of discontent have been sown. A spark is needed. Should India shy away, if opportunity comes its way?
Secondly, the Taliban are NOT good fighters. They are only good at scaring children, women and unarmed men. They work on fear psychology. Terror and IED are their main weapons.
India does not need to give undue weightage to the Taliban threat. They were there in Kashmir in 1996-2001. What had they done then that qualifies them as deadly fighters? And what have the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Hizbul Mujahiddin (HM), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and other Pakistani Jihadi outfits not done that the Taliban can do better.
History does not really testify any extraordinary bravery of the Taliban. To call Afghanistan a “Graveyard of Empires” was a myth created by the Europeans. In fact, it was Alexander of Greece, who had stated that: “It is easy to get into Afghanistan but difficult to get out.” The analogy of “Graveyard of Empires” was drawn from that statement. And during the British rule of India, in the 18th-19th century, it gained currency when Britain wanted to stop Russian expansion towards India and was not fully able to do it.
The British move was part of the “Great Game”, which ultimately culminated in the creation of the “Durand Line” in 1893. This line divided the Pashtun heartland into two – one going to Afghanistan and the other to British India (now Pakistan). This “Durand Line” will become a bone of contention between not only the pro-and anti-Pakistan factions of the Taliban but also between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Tell-tale signs have already begun to appear.
On the other hand, if we go further back in time, Indian history tells a different story. The Bamiyan Buddha statues tell you of Indian influence in prehistoric times. Before the arrival of Islam, it was a Shahi kingdom of Hindus, which had ruled most of Afghanistan.
From Bhishma Pitamaha of Mahabharata (3100 BC) to Bappa Rawal of Mewar of Rajasthan (712 AD) to King Lalitaditya of Kashmir (950 AD) and Hari Singh Nalwa (1820 AD), Afghanistan was ruled by Indians.
It is worthwhile to mention that Bhishma Pitamaha had defeated the king of Kandhar and Kabul and brought his three daughters (Amba, Ambika and Ambalika) to be married to his nephews. One of the sisters, Amba, had cursed Bhishma Pitamaha and became the cause of his death, as Shikhandi, in the Mahabharata war.
Then, Bappa Rawal of Mewar had defeated Mohammed Bin Kasim in 712 AD. He pursued him out of not only Sindh but chased him right up to the borders of present day Iran. It is known that Bappa had established his empire’s outposts every 50 Km from Iran to Mewar. He had made his nephew as Governor of Kabul and Kandhar region.
Therefore invincibility of Afghanistan is a myth, created by those people who were alien to the history and culture of South Asia. Similarly, the Taliban invincibility and threat to Kashmir myth is created by half-read people, both Indians and foreigners.
In any case, Kashmir is not Afghanistan nor is the Indian soldier like the road-bound US soldier. And the Saragarhi gallantry is still writ large on every Afghan/ Pashtun mind. The name of Hari Singh Nalwa still sends cold sweat down their spines. It is not for nothing that Pathan mothers used tell their children, “Go to sleep, else Nalwa will come”.
Yes, what can happen is that the Taliban can provide safe sanctuaries to Pak terror groups like LeT, JeM or HM. If that happens, India should reserve the right to strike them, with impunity, with whatever means at its disposal. It can collaborate with Tajikistan to support the Panjshir resistance movement. If need be, provide air support and Area Denial Weapons or surface-to-air short-range missiles. If Pakistan intervenes, India should not hesitate to take it on in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan today is in a pressure-cooker situation. The kind of internal rivalry that exists, it is bound to come out in the open. Pakistan’s attempt to control Afghanistan fully might expedite the implosion. It might happen within a year or so. India should not get unduly worried but remain vigilant and monitor the developments. Remember the Indian proverb: when an insect develops wings, it is a sure sign of its approaching death. There is another one which says: When a jackal comes to the city, its death is surely near. Taliban is welcome to come to Kashmir to die!
“Will Taliban do this?” That’s a billion dollar question. Can it provide food, shelter, health-care, education, water, electricity and other such amenities to its people merely by enforcing Sharia Law? Countries do not run on export of terror and drug money. The Asian Development Bank, according to Aqdas Afzal in an article in The Dawn of Pakistan on 11 September 2021, estimated that about two-thirds of Afghans live below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day. The economic situation in Afghanistan is about to get even worse.
That the Taliban is on a very sticky wicket should be evident from the fact that it has taken control of Afghanistan, not by a massive military victory but through deals and cunning manipulations through the likes of Zalmay Khalilzad, Abdullah Abdullah and Hamid Karzai. Till it consolidates itself, both politically and economically in Afghanistan, the Taliban will show some restraint initially to intervene in Kashmir. And it may take 4-5 years. By then, a lot of water would have flown down the Kabul River. India should be watchful but not overreact!
-An ex-NDA and Wellington Staff College graduate, Col Rajinder Singh is a renowned author and security analyst. He has authored four books, two individually and two in collaboration. His best-selling books are Kashmir – A Different Perspective and The ULFA Insurgency. The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda.