Will India Have the Last Laugh as Taliban Govt Stares at Uncertainty?
The Taliban may be hurtling towards its downfall sooner than later.
Of late, there has been a flurry of activity around the Taliban.
Apart from representatives of different powers meeting with Taliban representatives in Doha – notably those from the US and EU – a series of conferences have been taking place, mostly at a regional level, on how to forge a response and a policy towards the country.
Moscow hosted the Moscow Format Consultations on Afghanistan where all of Afghanistan's neighbours – the Central Asian republics, China, Iran, Pakistan and India participated. A high-level delegation of the ruling Taliban also participated in it.
What Was The Objective of the Moscow Meet?
According to Zameer Kabulov, President Putin's special envoy for Afghanistan and the main architect of Moscow's Afghan policy, the objective was to find "a regional consensus" amongst the participants regarding the Taliban-ruled country.
The objective itself is indicative of the fact that not all regional countries, including some of Afghanistan's immediate neighbours, such as Tajikistan and Iran, are on the same page regarding the Taliban.
But another objective of the conference was also to get the Taliban to fulfil its obligations, primarily to form a broad-based government in Kabul, whose composition would reflect the country's ethnic and religious diversity, adhere to basic human rights of all Afghans, as well as to seek out, yet again, assurances from the Taliban that they would not allow Afghan territory to be used as a launchpad for terrorist attacks on other countries.
India Hosting a Similar Conference
Soon after, and more recently last week, Tehran hosted a similar conference of regional and neighbouring states to discuss how to deal with the Taliban. Once again, the de facto objective was to find a regional consensus and to pressurise the Taliban to adhere to its commitments.
In particular, for Tehran, the welfare of the Hazara community and other Shias of Afghanistan, who share religious linkages with Shia Iran, is a priority. Like in Moscow, in Tehran, too, opinion regarding the Taliban was divided.
Even India, the latecomer, is hosting a high-level regional security dialogue today over the developments in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover. The meeting will be chaired by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, sources said.
What Do All These Meetings Mean?
While Pakistan's national security adviser, Mooed Yusuf, will not be attending the Delhi meet, Pakistan is also planning a conference of its own. Of course, it had much earlier hosted a virtual meeting of the foreign ministers of all of Afghanistan's neighbours, besides the different multilateral discussions on Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
What all these meetings and dialogue essentially reflect is the failure of the Taliban – and by extension Pakistan – till now. Above all, it reflects no application of the mind in Kabul.
The Taliban took Kabul from a position of strength. Even if it came through violence, it had a lot of both official and unofficial support. The US had entered into a dialogue with it, ending with a peace agreement. Qatar had already de facto recognised it when it allowed the group to open its representative office in Doha way back in 2012.
Countries like Iran, Russia, and China, who had earlier been in conflict with Taliban 1.0, were now justifying the former's ascendancy. Moscow, Tehran, Tashkent, Ashkhabad have been hosting Taliban delegations much before they took over Kabul, not only seeing it as a legitimate political stakeholder in Afghanistan, but often as the major one, while trying to impress the same upon those like India to "accept the new reality" of Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
Beijing hosted a delegation of the Taliban soon after it took over Kabul, while Afghanistan's immediate neighbours such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan rushed humanitarian aid to cull favour with the new powers in the country.
Poor India has been ridiculed by analysts and commentators for not engaging with the Taliban earlier, for misreading the writing on the wall, and for its failed Afghan policy that invested too much in only the Ghani-led government, which vanished into thin air within a few hours of the Taliban takeover.
Yet, almost three months later, the Taliban seems to be frittering away the support and hopes that regional and other powers had placed in it. Forget recognition, increasingly, governments are getting nervous about the group and what it represents.
Nobody Is Happy With that Cabinet
It was truly stupid of then ISI Chief Faiz Hameed to be photographed with the group, and the inordinate delay it took in announcing its interim government. No one was left in doubt as to whose puppets have been installed in Kabul. Aware that the world was watching, another self-goal in announcing the Cabinet that it did, full of hardened criminals with bounties on their heads.
The Haqqani network, an old established ISI creation, with established ties to Al Qaeda, forms a prominent part of the current Afghan government. Suicide bombers are being eulogised and suicide bombing is being mainstreamed.
The government is neither broadbased nor representative, with only three non-Pashtuns. The infighting further – with prominent Taliban leaders like Stanikzai and Baradar banished to Doha and those like Akhundzada rarely seen in public – have further heightened the unease even amongst those like China and Russia, inimical to the US who have rushed to embrace the Taliban.
None attended the Taliban interim government swearing in ceremony, for instance, and are not in a hurry to recognise it.
While Russian experts warn of an imminent Taliban collapse, China has refused to put its money where its mouth is, approving only $1 million aid to the war-ravaged country, instead of the $31 million it had earlier promised. Instead, they are trying to unsuccessfully pressurise the Taliban to form a more representative government.
So Far The Taliban Has Shown An Acute Lack of Vision for Afghanistan
The Taliban have given no proof of any economic or political vision. The Afghan economy is collapsing, banks are falling short of money, half of the population is reported to be running short on food, agencies have warned of an impending humanitarian catastrophe – possibly the world's worst humanitarian crisis, the UN said on 25 October.
23 million Afghans – that is the majority of the population – are expected to go without enough food this winter. UNICEF reported around 10 million children in Afghanistan need humanitarian assistance to survive, saying a lack of access to sufficient food, medicine and drinking water are the challenges that Afghan children face.
And what does the Taliban do? Apart from asking, almost threatening, countries to recognise it, it has been obstructing women aid workers in carrying out their work in a country where 20 years of war has seen a rise of widows and orphans in the share of the country's population and where development assistance had made up at least 75 per cent of the previous government’s budget.
The advent of the Taliban has resulted in closure of educational institutions, job losses, brain drain, collapse of the health system, and increase in poverty.
Meanwhile, restrictions and assaults on citizens continue, with rampant kidnappings, abductions, thefts, reprisal killings, assaults on journalists and women. Interestingly, many of those downplaying the Taliban's attacks on women are men. The systematic dispossession of the Shia Hazara population also continues. Each day is a fresh reminder that the Taliban 2.0 remains unchanged from Taliban 1.0.
Moreover, the Taliban has also been unable to take on the ISIS-Khorasan Province, as the recent bombings show. While Shias form the bulk of the victims, this has also alienated Tehran.
Taliban May Fall Sooner Than We Think
Finally, the regrouping and rise of the National Resistance Front (NRF) may be a formidable challenge the Taliban may soon have to face. What began as a pocket of resistance in Panjshir province is now turning out to be a much bigger force. The fall of Panjshir to the Taliban (amply aided by Pakistan) has resulted in NRF leaders moving abroad and regrouping.
Afghanistan's immediate neighbour Tajikistan has refused to engage with the current Taliban government. Though battle-hardened with formidable experience in quelling religious radicalism and civil war, Tajikistan hardly has the resources to support the NRF – unless it is sure of cooperation by other powers.
France is another country that has refused to engage the Taliban government but had long hosted Ahmed Massoud, the current leader of the NRF, which has now opened a representative office in the US.
In the last week of October, a group of prominent Afghan politicians, who fled the country after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, announced the formation of a coalition – Supreme Council of National Resistance of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – to achieve lasting peace in the country through both political and military means.
While countries and entities, including India, have promised humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, it may not be sustainable in the long run. And most countries supporting the Taliban do not have the resources to prop them up. So what we may be witnessing is the Taliban hurtling towards its downfall sooner than later. And India may just have the last laugh.
(Aditi Bhaduri is a widely published journalist and political analyst. She tweets @aditijan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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