Killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri & perils of cosying up to Taliban

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By Ramananda Sengupta

Chennai, August 3: Killing of Al Qaeda’s top scum, Ayman al-Zawahiri in a US drone strike in Kabul underlines two things.

One, of course, is obvious. Everyone, including the US, knows that the Taliban’s promise to not allow its soil to be used for terrorism is pure, unadulterated horse manure.

Despite the propaganda over differences between the Taliban and their handlers in Pakistan, it may not be forgotten that al-Zawahiri was known to be hiding in Pakistan before he went to Afghanistan, probably assuming it would be safer there given the fate of his predecessor Osama Bin Laden.

Two, it should make India seriously reconsider its attempts to reopen its dialogue with a regime which has clearly reneged on other promises as well.

Like education for women, for instance, with the inversely named ‘Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice’, preferring instead to whip women or worse if they dared step out without a male escort or without the burkha.

IN JULY, Indian officials met Taliban leaders in Kabul, weeks after ‘partially reopening its embassy in Kabul to coordinate humanitarian aid’.

The problem here is that any aid is likely to go to the Taliban foot soldiers first, and it would be incredibly naïve to even pretend to think otherwise. It would be even more naïve to assume that the perceived differences, with the emphasis on the word perceived, between GHQ in Rawalpindi, which still controls Pakistan’s foreign policy and defence, if not the country, and the new regime in Kabul can be leveraged by New Delhi.

Though surprising at first glance, the reasons behind the plaintive and repeated overtures made by the Taliban to India, despite the acrimony of the past, are not hard to understand.

One, recognition by India would be a huge win for the pariah regime now facing international isolation and a very bleak winter ahead.

Two, given the major food, energy and funds crisis plaguing the nation, any humanitarian assistance from India or anywhere else would go a long way.

In recent months, only four countries — China, Pakistan, Russia and Turkmenistan — have accredited Taliban-appointed diplomats, while at the same time refusing to recognize the less than a year-old government in Kabul.

Photo credit Twitter Potus

Of these, China has never had any problem dealing with rogue regimes – (neither has the US, for that matter, despite all the virtue signalling)– and Beijing has been assiduously wooing and bribing various Taliban factions long before they returned to power for the second time.

BEIJING’S lapdog, Pakistan, where the Taliban was born, was obviously among the first to recognise the odious regime that marched into Kabul within hours of the US withdrawal in end-August, 2021.

The Russian move comes after most of its own envoys worldwide were given the short shrift over the Ukraine crisis, and talks between Moscow and Kabul over oil and gas exploration opportunities for Russian investors in Afghanistan.

Moscow has also offered to mediate between the Taliban and the National Resistance Front, the most prominent anti-Taliban outfit in Afghanistan led by Ahmad Massoud, son of Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by the Al Qaeda days before the 9/11 strike on US soil.

In March 2022, landlocked Turkmenistan became the first Central Asian to accept a Taliban-appointed ambassador from Afghanistan.

This followed an agreement between the two countries to prevent the influx of Afghan refugees, as well as Taliban fighters and scum from outfits like the Daesh, which wants an Islamic State, and the Al Qaeda, into Turkmenistan.

TURKMENISTAN exports electricity to northern regions of Afghanistan, parts of which were controlled by the Taliban long before they occupied Kabul, and it is keen on exporting oil and natural gas to Pakistan and India through pipelines.

India has been vehemently anti-Taliban ever since the ultra-orthodox Sunni-outfit from the Tribal belts of Pakistan overran Kabul for the first time in 1996.

New Delhi even supported Ahmad Shah Masoud’s Northern Alliance, which held out in northern Afghanistan despite repeated Taliban offensives against it.

Photo credit Twitter Taliban spokesperson

After the Taliban and the Al Qaeda was bombed out of Afghanistan following 9/11, most of its leadership found refuge in Pakistan.

India, leveraging its long-standing goodwill with the Afghan people, stepped in with massive investments and infrastructure projects to help rebuild and revive the war-torn nation.

Obviously, the return of the Taliban has put a question mark over those investments.

EVEN more galling for New Delhi is Beijing’s recent assertion that it was willing to extend the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, the merits of which even the Pakistanis are now questioning, into Afghanistan.

The other issue is that terrorism has found a new swamp, with psychopaths like Ayman Al Zawahri and his depraved band finding shelter there.

In fact, Al Zawahiri must have warmed several hearts in GHQ Rawalpindi when he stressed on the importance of Jihad in Kashmir soon after his arrival in Afghanistan.

Other lunatics like the Daesh, which assert that beheadings in the name of the Prophet are the answer to every question, are also setting up shop there.

Yes, it is true that the common Afghan does not have much love lost for Pakistan, despite the latter’s repeated references to the huge number of Afghan refugees it has supported since the Taliban imposed its perverse ideology on Afghanistan.

It is also true that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, has “distinctive anti-Pakistan objectives,” as per UN monitors, and has stepped up its activities since the Taliban returned to power in Kabul.

And the controversy over the Durand Line, yet another line arbitrarily drawn by the British way back in 1893 which is recognised as the international border by the Pakistanis but not the Afghans, is unlikely to end anytime soon.

But can India prevent the influx of terrorists into Afghanistan if the Taliban welcome them, with a wink and nod from GHQ in Pakistan?

And will cosying up the Taliban reinforce our traditional ties with the common Afghan, or erode them further?

No doubt, our foreign policy mandarins in New Delhi must have done due diligence before deciding to shake hands or rub noses with the Taliban.

BUT if our strategic objectives in Afghanistan still remain

  1. a) the protection of our investments — both material and moral
  2. b) Preventing anti-India terrorist swine from finding safe haven there
  3. c) Not giving Pakistan the ‘strategic depth’ it desperately craves by having a friendly regime in Afghanistan,

Then we must consider aligning with the forces which are against the Taliban, and not with it.

Because the only good Taliban is a dead one.

(The author is an independent foreign and strategic affairs analyst, and an Editorial Consultant with Indian Defence Review. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of IDR or The Raisina Hills)

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