An Afghan army soldier stand guard in the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul

by Brig Arun Bajpai

India’s standing in world affairs is getting enhanced is borne out by the fact that despite Pakistan’s all out efforts to block India’s participation in multinational meeting, recently held in Russia’s capital Moscow, India was sent an invite and India attended this meeting represented by two ex-diplomats of India, instead of regular ones. Afghanistan representatives were also present but again not the regular ones. Afghanistan had sent a representative group from their High Peace Council established by Afghanistan to deal with Taliban separatists and their demands.

In this Moscow meeting on Afghanistan, representatives of all major powers having a stake in Afghanistan including Russia, China, America, Pakistan and even Taliban were present. What stands out for India is that from 1990 till 2000 India was effectively side-lined by Pakistan on all matters Afghanistan. from 1990 to 1994, after departure of Russia from Afghanistan, it was Pakistan which having created Taliban out of Pashtun tribe of Afghanistan, fully armed and trained by them, waged a war in Afghanistan against the local warlords, with Pakistani army troops operating tanks, artillery and what have you. By 1994 Afghanistan up to Kabul fell under the influence of Taliban while North of Kabul, India, Russia and Iran aided Northern Alliance held the sway. After 9/11 America attacked Taliban in Afghanistan and in 2001 threw it out of Afghanistan. Since then the top leadership of Taliban are lording over in Quetta the Baluchistan capital of Pakistan, in safe houses provided by the Pakistani Army and their intelligence agency ISI. for reasons best known to America, maybe because of American and NATO troops operating in Afghanistan against Taliban, their supply lines passing through mainland of Pakistan, did not take strong action including military, against dual game of Pakistan, of providing safe sanctuaries to Haqqani network of Pakistan in its territory with Haqqani network crossing the Pakistan -Afghan border to kill American troops operating in Afghanistan. Some sanity did come to America regarding Pakistan and its Army when in 2011, Osama Bin Laden the Al Qaida chief whom America was hunting all over the world, was found hiding by Americans in Pakistani Military town of Abbottabad in the safe house provided by ISI. Americans killed him in a raid. After arrival of President Trump of the US in the scene America has shown some toughness against Pakistan. He has stopped all aid to Pakistan and has been demanding from Pakistan that it should stop aiding Afghan Taliban and bring it to negotiating table. Trump also wants Pakistani military to take action against Haqqani network of Taliban. So far Pakistan is only giving lip service on these issues including American request of bringing Taliban to negotiating table. Pakistan is reluctant to do American bidding because it has sensed that America wants to withdraw lock stock and barrel from Afghanistan at the earliest but after a face-saving settlement of problem in Afghanistan. For Pakistan Afghanistan is its back yard. It wants Taliban to get three fourth share of power in Afghanistan because it knows that once America leaves, then for Taliban to get full power in Afghanistan is child’s play.

Today the ground reality is that in this conference at Moscow, the Taliban continued to maintain hard line demanding that talks will only be held after American troops leave Afghanistan and that they must be compensated for the loss of opium cultivation in Afghanistan. It should by now be clear to America, who wants Taliban to talk directly with Afghan Government that Taliban is in no mood to compromise thinking that Americans want to get out of Afghanistan earliest. If US really wants a solution in Afghanistan then it must announce officially that American troops numbering about 15000 are not going to withdraw from Afghanistan for long time to come. Also, instead of antagonising Iran by levying economic restrictions on it, US must reach some compromise with Iran so that instead of supply of American troops operating in Afghanistan passing through mainland Pakistan, this supply goes through Chabahar port developed by India in Iran, bypassing Pakistan. Or else America must force Saudi Arabia, the purse string controller of almost bankrupt Pakistan, to act against Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network as US wants. Being soft on Pakistan and still expecting Pakistan to act against Taliban, America is making a big mistake.

As for India is concerned, India has earned tremendous good will in Afghanistan specially of its population by doing genuine development work in Afghanistan in various fields including has spent more than 2 billion dollars in this development addition India is training large number of Afghan security forces members in India. India has gifted lot of arms including helicopter gunships to Afghan security forces. overall India enjoys a very good rapport with afghan government and its people. India must cash on it. In respect of Afghanistan, Indian policy should be liberal, flexible and capable. India must not succumb to US pressure of putting Indian boots in Afghanistan. Short of getting militarily involved we must do every thing possible to help Afghan Government. India should also convince US Government that there is no sense in leaving their work half done in Afghanistan. It will be undone by Taliban, Pakistan combination in no time. Asking Pakistan to help in bringing Taliban to negotiating table is utter stupidity by US since Taliban is nothing without Pakistan and Pakistan can any day twist the tail of Taliban. So, for anything Americans want from Taliban then they must tighten the screws on Pakistan.

Brig Arun Bajpai (Retd) is a distinguished Defence and Strategic Analyst. Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDN. IDN does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same