If something since the onset of Pandemic, has caught the world’s attention with fear and anxiety – it is the Taliban’s capture of Kabul. Whether the gory scenes unfolding on the streets of Kabul including the unfortunate incident where Safia Firozi one of the four lady pilots of the Afghan Air Force was stoned to death or the gruesome killing of native citizens in Jalalabad or for that matter even the ghastly execution of the captured Afghan soldiers are placing everyone in a state of disquiet. It’s so disturbing to see babies being thrown across the walls by mothers to the safety net of British soldiers. To make it worse, quite appalling when the Europeans posted in respective mission offices in Kabul have quietly disappeared without extending any sympathy and courtesy to their local Afghan colleagues in their respective embassies. Surprisingly amidst the torrential terror shower, a few sections with select ideological subscriptions have been quick in lending an umbrella to the Taliban instead of those who are wet due to the rain. Besides, a lot of theories are being pushed through in order to showcase the current variant of Taliban as less dreaded and more amenable to the democratic process.
As reported, President Ashraf Ghani has fled the country and taken asylum in UAE under the excuse of preventing likely bloodshed when the Taliban remains awfully busy setting up the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Amrullah Saleh, the First Vice President declares himself as the interim President of Afghanistan, because “their constitution appoints the FVP as President under certain special circumstances like when the President escapes, resigns or dies.” Fair to say, irrespective of its success, the spirit must be appreciated.
While on priority GOI is planning the safe exit of Indians stuck in the beleaguered state, war historians proudly reminisce the Anglo-Afghan war in 1842, and a section within the expert community on geopolitical affairs recall Ahmad Shah Masoud. However, what is increasingly becoming crucial as to how India should act now given the valid compelling pretexts surrounding the development.
Being less in the state of oblivion is wiser. As a country, we are already witnessing a lot many undesirable signs of progress when it comes to celebrating the idea of India including a distortion of the demographic landscape. While new regulations may be brought in time to time in order to enable safeguarding our people and territory but that holds good in peacetime be it in the homeland or the neighbouring region. Its no one’s argument to meddle with the sovereignty of another state but at the same time taking a neutral position not only would reflect our indifferent views also may incur the risk of transmitting a confusing signal to the domestic constituents as well as the global audience who seriously look up to us. This is in context of our long outstanding PoK agenda which largely remains on paper. Though the current regime approved a few spectacular military operations on a few occasions but as one would know those may not be enduring given the non-benign nature of the problem. An amputation can never be replaced with a band-aid approach.
Against this backdrop, the Taliban snatching power with force may have had offered a perfect opportunity for India to deploy its Airpower & even the Navy to emerge as a true regional power. We have strong strategic reasons to indulge in a measured military operation from our security point of view. Besides the collateral advantage could be to enter PoK as part of the operation if we adopt that path. Notably, the state of affairs is in a fast-changing mode and the approach of wait and watch may hardly suffice. No such action in haste is ever recommended so no war mongering is being subscribed to. However, on the aspect of a probable military operation, during my effort to get a perspective from Anil Chopra, Director General, Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS) a former Air Marshal of India Air Force – his response on Twitter, I quote” Wait and watch. World is not collapsing. Let the real Taliban come in full view, and then take an informed decision.” Incidentally Kanwal Sibal, an acclaimed strategic affairs expert also former Indian Foreign Secretary appreciated the views expressed by the Air Marshal. Undoubtedly the points made in a subtle way made me convinced yet my response was today the world is being fooled around by the groundless theory [ the current variant of Taliban is less virulent and the story is marketed by a few armchair analysts affiliated to the leftist ideas.] No wonder they are known for endorsing anarchism across time and geographies.
Demonstratively, the Taliban obtains solidarity from Pakistan, China and Russia which directly testifies an undesirable coup by radical Islamists has been orchestrated with the tacit support of communists. However, in the due course, India may garner equivalent support from France, Japan, Israel and even the US through its parallel diplomatic offensive positioning. 1971 can be a reference point to experiment with our defence preparedness in a time like this. Indira Gandhi all said & done showed the world how disruptive India could be no matter who is on whose side. The US did not dare to come on her way when she effectively disintegrated Pakistan – except for some intimidating gestures by moving in a handful of warships on the Indian Ocean.
This is a rare exigency before Prime Minister Narendra Modi to once again display India’s fortitude in a responsible manner. A dangerous neighbour can never let peace sustain in the region- we have witnessed how the civil war in Srilanka adversely impacted us including losing Rajeev Gandhi.
No political expediency alluded here – pure play of safeguarding the sovereignty of a near ravaged state & more importantly our own safety.
Even among strategic affairs experts’ community a shared belief is fast emerging on India’s intervene in Afghanistan may be primarily seen from the prism of regional peace which is already in a mess because of romance between CCP & GHQ. Besides, with Russia being the 3rd partner, it is making up almost a threesome affair for a lack of better expression.
The US being the US – one can’t ask the right question to it irrespective of its abrupt disappearance after two decades of providing security cover, is at the receiving end of global criticism – be that as it may. President Biden without an iota of hesitation says, “we were there to eliminate terrorists and not to establish democracy.” This statement from the White House absolves the US and even the extended NATO family from liability of any kind. Now it’s business as usual for the US and other western arms exporters to sell arms to be used in the conflict zone. What a business opportunity indeed for some nations who claim themselves as the champion of human rights and carrier cum custodian of global peace!
Unfortunately, at face value convincing storyline has hit some spheres of public discourse i.e. India is not a direct aggrieved party that lacks minimum substance from strategic as well as tactical reasons particularly when we see it in conjunction with our serious stake at PoK. Not to forget, we are responsible for defending our frontiers and technically we share land borders with Afghanistan.
Besides, practically, India does not share a border with Afghanistan, but China does. NATO under US stewardship could not win, what chance does India stands, any military operation could be suicidal, it may have valid considerations but those are not what should dominate India’s thought process at this juncture. While the actual diplomatic engineering to mobilize the support of friendly countries and exact military Modus Operandi may be left to diplomatic communities and Generals, Admirals & Marshals respectively – yet the ball is to be set in motion by the PMO in respecting the primacy of the Parliament.
The scenario of India joining any pre-emptive military action directly or indirectly through the UN or any global bloc is likely to have four-fold merits. First, it will re-in force our image as a serious regional player. This showcasing is critical not just from a good optics point of view but even otherwise. Second, Pakistan as the conduit between real sponsors and Taliban – most likely any major action in the PoK region adjoining Afghanistan would compel Pakistan to divert its resources and focus to our advantage. Third, Indian legitimacy on the PoK will be renewed through such operations meaning, through a measured assault on Taliban including terror camps in PoK has the potential of drawing global powers to join the conflict which would largely be in our favour. This is based on the fact that world opinion has changed about Pakistan and China and it needs no further discussion. Fourth, there is a high chance of China being reluctant to become a direct party to the war as it has invested hugely in the region in addition to the pandemic tag. Therefore, it’s primarily Russia we need to deal with. Temporarily if India breaks off with the US (anyway we are not an ally) it can have a defining impact on improving our ties with Russia notwithstanding the fact it’s a junior partner to China. In the end, it’s all about having a deal.
For a moment, let us jettison all these aspects – do we have a straight answer to the simple question as to why we are amassing loads of military equipment’s – what for if we do not make use of the opportunities – somebody else will. It’s as simple as that.
In the shape of things, I quote my conversation on [probable military engagement in wake of the recent development in Afghanistan] with former Army Chief – Ved Malik; the General who led Indian Army to register a convincing victory in the Kargil war in the late 90s. Responding to the twit for pleading a PoK focused military operation, he said, “War is a national effort. Should be the last resort when national interests are at stake. Preferable to wage when fully ready and at the opportune time.” It persuades me to add, “…Our PoK agenda will remain in paper for ever. If countries far away gang up in the name of bringing peace to the region-we continue to maintain our status as mute spectator. May be viewed as a radical view – then we as a country may abandon grandstanding.”
While the best option would be a peaceful resolution but given the wretched past of the Pakistani Army which is alleged to be the brain regulating the body manifested in Taliban is something that would keep India on high alert. Any relaxed view out of complacency may prove fatal even driving us to a point of no return on some issues and it is more so because of the delicate nature of politics and activism currently practised in a few states which are adding new dimensions to the existing problems.