India will have to play the waiting game to understand the Taliban's next move when it comes to India.
The Taliban has once again taken over Afghanistan after NATO forces led by the US pulled out of the country. The terrorist group was quick to reclaim power as it met virtually no assistance on its way to capturing the capital of Kabul.
With the Taliban seeking legitimacy and its close ties with Pakistan, India have to wait and watch as to which direction the Taliban goes, according to Major Amit Bansal.
"As of now, the only thing India has to do is wait and watch. So far nothing is clear. There is total chaos everywhere. Let the dust settle down, and then only the clear picture will emerge. How the Taliban is moving, whether the Taliban is going on a positive note or a negative note," Major Bansal told BOOM.
"The Taliban has been known to do all kinds of unpredictable things. As long as our citizens are secure, as long as our embassy is secure, as long as our diplomats are secure, then we can wait and watch policy," he said.
Major Bansal also believes that should the Taliban be hostile towards India, there might be an influx of foreign terrorists into Kashmir.
"A lot of groups who have been fighting in Kashmir have got their linkages in Afghanistan. We have seen in the last 3-4 years the influx of the foreign mercenaries in Kashmir was quite less because they were engaged in Afghanistan. These mercenaries know nothing but fight, they want to fight and they have to fight wherever they want to go. If there is no fight in Afghanistan, they will find another battle ground," Major Bansal said.
"Taliban's only aim is to establish an Islamic Republic. So with them coming into power and getting legitimacy, the followers will be visible in Kashmir also because now more and more number of foreign fighters will come to fight," he added.
Edited excerpts of the interview follow
What is happening in Afghanistan right now? Where has this Taliban come from?
Major Amit Bansal: I can see two different Talibans. There is one Taliban that started in 1994 and by 1997 they took over entire Afghanistan, swept through the entire Afghanistan with the support, of course, of our Western neighbour Pakistan. The Taliban, which is now, the Taliban 2.0, took birth when they started negotiating with the US Forces in Doha. What is the thing that this Taliban 2.0 wants: is it power? Is it money? Or is it something else?
My single word answer would be: legitimacy. Taliban 2.0 has been branded as a terrorist organisation, as a supporter of terrorism, as an organisation that is supported by Pakistan and cannot survive on its own. And at the same time, if they want to sweep Afghanistan, they want to rule Afghanistan, they want to have legitimacy and wash away the dark spot of being labelled as a terrorist and an extremist organisation. So that is what they aim for.
Tell us about this organisation then. It is obviously strong, there is leadership, there is direction and there is cohesion which is what gives them the ability and confidence to take over an entire country, and in this case, in such a quick time.
AB: If you see the origin of Taliban, it started with the Afghan Soviet conflict. The Cold War era. America wanted to throw Russia, the erstwhile USSR, from Afghanistan. So it started its operations, took Pakistan as its ally and trained Afghan Mujahideen. When we talk about Al-Qaeda, when we talk about the terrorists, Osama Bin Laden, Haqqani Network, and all these people, who were they? They were the ones who were trained by the CIA to fight against the USSR. Once they were the allies of the USSR, later on they changed sides and became terrorist organisations. So these were the times.
Now how the Taliban came into existence is when the war was going on in Afghanistan, a large number of Afghan refugees came and settled on both sides of the Durand Line, which is the boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Now, certain extremist organisations in Pakistan — because that was the time that Pakistan was at its peak — they had good support of America. So they decided to use this population and they established, in about 4-5 years, around 15,000 Madrasas in these conflict zones around Durand Line.
Afghan Mujahideen were successful and they were able to drive away the USSR from their country but now there was a power crisis which started. All the leaders wanted to be in power, everybody wanted to get money. Because Afghanistan is nothing but a tribal based area where a lot of Jirgas are there and every Jirga wanted its dominance in the government and so the new thing started.
That was the time when the local people who were fed up with the government, fed up with the corruption of the government, fed up with the way the government mistreated the people; they started falling for these Madrassas and some of the religious teachings. Of course, they were getting the backing of Pakistan which utilised the spare arms, spare ammunition, which it saved from the American grants; it gave it to these people and started these organisations.
As there was already unrest in Afghanistan, these extremist organisations that took birth in the Madrasa which were established around the Durand Line, they could sweep Afghanistan in no time.
And if you were to fast forward to today, are you saying that the same equations have really resurfaced or come together?
AB: Pakistan has been hand in glove. If somebody asks me: where is the headquarters of Taliban? It is in Quetta. They are running their operations from Quetta, which is a very very important town of Pakistan. If you talk of the operational centres of the Taliban, they are located in Chaman which is well within Pakistan. They have their operations in Peshawar, which is well within Pakistan. So, if they are able to run their operational centres from Pakistan, if they are able to have their entire funding network in Pakistan (sic).
See, the Taliban has basically three sources of funding. One is through the drug trade; they get about 40% of their budget from drug trade because of the tax that they impose on the opium cultivation. The second is the tax collected locally, toll tax and all those areas under their control, which is about 20-25%. Rest of it they get through grants that come to them from various Islamic countries, and the hubs of these finances.
There are different religious organisations that collect funds from the entire Islamic world and then transfer it to the Taliban. These organisations are based out of Karachi. They are based out of Quetta. So the equation is very clear as to who is supporting them
For someone from India who is trying to understand this, what is Pakistan's benefit in supporting or nurturing the Taliban even as it takes over the country or takes back the country?
AB: If we talk about the interest of Pakistan, the most important thrust is to open its gateways to Central Asia. With the current scenario where Pakistan has been starting to struggle with its CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) and China wants to expand its Belt and Road initiative to Central Asia and to Europe, Afghanistan plays a very vital role. It has got land boundaries connected to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and even to Iran, so it is a very well connected area. If China has got its hubs in Pakistan, it can always get connected to these Central Asian countries and invariably Pakistan will get benefited.
And you are saying that the previous dispensation, which also had an Afghan head of state, did not help in that pursuit?
AB: After the fiasco that happened in 1994 and 1996, when Taliban had swept over the entire Afghanistan, the current leadership is not very much favourable to Taliban because of their extremist ideologies. That is one.
Second thing is, since 2001 onward, the current leadership in Afghanistan has been largely influenced by the US. So, when you are largely influenced by the US, if you see the Head of the State, they have been intellectuals like Hamid Karzai, Ashraf Ghani. So if you have such intellectuals sitting in the Government, they will certainly not like for a religious fanatic to come into power.
So, they were not at good equation with the Taliban. So if the equation with Taliban is not good, of course, subsequently the equation with Pakistan is also not very good. Since they knew that it was Pakistan that was fueling unrest in Afghanistan; there have been several attacks, there have been several terror attacks even in Kabul which happened and which were done by the Taliban, which were very well planned.
There has been evidence that these attacks were planned in the ISI headquarters. So if such kind of things were happening, the leadership of Afghanistan, naturally, would never like to be close to Pakistan. So that is why they were a little hesitant and that is why they were getting closer to other powers of the world.
How does this affect or concern India and India's defence interest?
AB: First of all, we have to understand that a lot of groups who have been fighting in Kashmir, the terror groups, have also got their linkages in Afghanistan. It is a well-established fact that Lashkar-E-Taiba has a very very integrated relationship with the Haqqani Network which is part of Taliban. Lots of Lashkar-E-Taiba terrorists were trained at Haqqani Network training centres and they were first used in Afghanistan and then some of them were even sent to Kashmir.
The Taliban's only aim is to establish a Islamic Republic. So with them coming into power and getting legitimacy, the followers will be visible in Kashmir also because now more and more number of foreign fighters will come to fight.
We have seen in the last 3-4 years the influx of the foreign mercenaries in Kashmir was quite less because they were engaged in Afghanistan. Now, if they have got power in Afghanistan, where will they go? These mercenaries know nothing but fight, they want to fight and they have to fight wherever they want to go. If there is no fight in Afghanistan, they will find another battle ground.
And you feel that Taliban will not try to restrain, or you feel that they have no control over what they do?
AB: Last three days the Taliban issued different statements. One was issued from Doha, where it directly threatened India saying that you are doing partiality. Second statement that they issued mentioned that Indian Forces should restrain and they should not send their Army to Afghanistan. Otherwise, consequences will not be good. I don't remember the third statement.
But the three statements came one after another. It showed that the Taliban wanted to caution India. It never issued any statements against Pakistan. It issued a statement against India. So, it clearly denotes the stance that Taliban leadership is having. The kind of attitude they have, the kind of view that they have towards India, it is clearly visible. They may not openly declare that they will participate in Kashmir but of course, it is inevitable that they will be sending a large number of terrorists to Kashmir.
India has invested in Afghanistan. How will they view those investments? As you said they want legitimacy. So on the flip side could there be continued relationships diplomatically or otherwise?
AB: Lots of investments have gone into construction of dams, roads, water reservoirs, facilities for drinking water and buildings. Now, these are the assets of any nation and I am sure only a fool would be ready to destroy it. They will not destroy any dam as they themselves will get affected. These investments or per say the infrastructure that India has developed in Afghanistan — causing any kind of harm to them will invariably affect the Taliban.
So I am not very sure but I think that they will not cause any harm to these assets, as of now. Of course, whatever we invested, it was not an investment per se, but was a relief package to the people of Afghanistan. As long as Afghan are getting benefited with this, the purpose has been achieved, and is not lost.
As we go forward, how should or what should India's stance be? Is it observe and wait, or is it more actively engage as other countries might?
AB: As of now, the only thing India has to do is wait and watch. So far nothing is clear, even things in Kabul are not clear. There is total chaos everywhere. Things have not yet settled down. So let the dust settle down, and then only the clear picture will emerge. How the Taliban is moving, whether the Taliban is going on a positive note or a negative note or what is their stance now?
So, we have to wait and watch as of now and take it with a pinch of salt that it could be positive or negative for us and better be prepared for the worst. That is what I can say as of now, and of course we have to evacuate our citizens over there. We never know. The Taliban has been known to do all kinds of unpredictable things. As long as our citizens are secure, as long as our embassy is secure, as long as our diplomats are secure, then we can wait and watch policy.
If you were to now look at the geopolitical scenario in this neighbourhood, with India playing a strong role, as compared to the previous 20 years. The next five years or so, are we looking at a period of uncertainty, relative stability?
AB: See, Taliban coming into power will definitely cause unrest in South East Asia. We have an Islamic country next to us as Pakistan. But when you have a fanatic Islamic country, the kind of extremist form of Sharia they are following, it is going to cause unrest anywhere. Lot of refugees will be formed. The Taliban is definitely going to harm the people who have interacted or supported India/any Western power in the past; maybe translators, maybe people who have worked for us, they will be harmed.
So, with this kind of threat looming on their heads, people will certainly flee from the country and act as refugees. Firstly, we can see an influx of refugees in India in the next few days. Secondly, we do not yet know what is going to be the stance of the Taliban towards India; they have not yet opened their cards. So, we have to wait and watch. Maybe they agree or maybe they do not agree. Maybe the kind of stance about Kashmir we have to wait and watch about their statement.
As far as regional security is concerned, of course, it is a threat because now with the Taliban now coming into power there is another trio, which are China, Pakistan and Turkey which is becoming powerful. Turkey has already started establishing its embassy and sending its forces into Kabul.
So, Turkey lost in the First World War. They used to call themselves the Caliphate of the Islamic World. They were so-called leaders of the Islamic world. Now, after the First World War, after Turkey was put on the backseat, slowly Saudi Arabia became powerful and Saudi Arabia became the leader of the Muslim Ummah.
Now Turkey wants to regain its old position. How will it gain it? It will gain by getting more and more Islamic countries under its banner. So it is doing the same. It is trying to be very very close to Taliban, close to Pakistan, it is trying to be close to other Islamic countries which are located in Africa and slowly put itself in a very very strong place, so that it can remove Saudi Arabia from its place and become leaders of Muslim Ummah again
Updated On: 2021-08-17T15:30:11+05:30