by Brig Arun Bajpai (Retd)

Speaking at Raisina Dialogue being held in New Delhi, the other day, Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat said that there should be talks with Taliban so long as they do not come with preconditions and are looking forward at the lasting peace in Afghanistan. His thrust was that if China, Pakistan, Russia and US all want to talk to Taliban, why should India be against it? First and foremost, it is not the job of the Army Chief to tell the civilian Government in power in a democracy, with whom to talk or not to talk. He can always give his advice in closed door for powers that be but not in public domain. So now it is very clear that Modi Government is also coming around to the concept of talking with the Taliban otherwise this statement would not have come from Army Chief. It should be very clear to us that the day we start talking to Taliban, we will be inviting undue pressure on Kashmir and all related issues concerning Kashmir with Pakistan getting clear advantage. Let other countries talk if they want to talk with Taliban but why India which has so badly suffered in Kandhar highjack of Indian Airlines Kathmandu flight by Taliban with sponsor being Pakistan?

There is an old saying that Tigers and leopards do not change the colour of their skin. Taliban composed of Pashtuns of Afghanistan where they are 52% in population, located adjacent to Durand Line forming border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and Pakistan where they form 10% of population, again adjacent to Durand line in Tribal Areas and Pashtun Kwahu province of Pakistan. It was Pakistan who during General Zia-ul-Haq time organised them into a fighting machine with Pakistani Army personnel providing artillery, armour and air support. They conquered Afghanistan by late nineties. Taliban ruled Afghanistan for three long years with help from Pakistan for duration 1999 to 2001. They were duly recognised by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE. It was Osama Bin laden and his jihadi organisation Al Qaeda who attacked America killing 3000 Americans in 2001, that US attacked Taliban and threw them out from Afghanistan. For last 17 years Americans and NATO troops have been fighting a losing battle with Taliban in Afghanistan. Having lost 5000 of their troops in Afghanistan, now US which at one time had a lakh plus troops stationed in Afghanistan, have only got 14500 troops in Afghanistan which they further want to reduce to just about 7000. It is common knowledge that It will be impossible for the Afghan forces to bear the onslaught of Taliban alone. Today Taliban’s morale is sky high. First, they defeated Russia in nineties and now another super powers US. President Trump of US knows that they cannot win the Afghan War due to American own foolishness of thinking that Pakistan will not dare betray them because Saudi Arabia and UAE as also other Sunni specific Muslim countries are in their camp.

Pakistan did just the opposite. They played with America the game of hunting with hounds and running with hares. America made the mistake of putting all eggs in Pakistan basket by accepting Pakistan offer of land route of supplies to its troops stationed in Afghanistan from Pakistan. This gave Pakistan the handle to beat US. All supplies meant for American troops landed Karachi port and then followed long land route to reach Afghanistan. The right thing to do for US would have been to befriend Iran, despite objections from Israel, and develop the land route from Indian developed port of Chabahar in Iran direct to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan. Or else be strict on Pakistan and give them a taste of American military superiority. While America was searching for Osama Bin laden, the mastermind of 3000 American deaths in New York, Pakistani Army and ISI were hiding him in Abbottabad, their garrison military town. Pakistan in 17 years that it was with America took from US an aid of 33 billion dollars in order to fight the jihads. However, it never fought Jihadis who were in its favour and whom it was sponsoring, like Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network an off shoot of Afghan Taliban operating against American and NATO troops in Afghanistan and lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish Mohammad operating against India. Pakistan launched with much fanfare its military operation in its Swat Valley, Tribal areas and NWFP province using F-16 fighter aircraft, Tanks and heavy guns against its own people, causing collateral damage against a Pashtun Jihadi organisation Tehrik -e-Pakistan Taliban, because these people want to usurp power in Pakistan only and apply in the whole country Shariat Law.

Yes, there is no doubt that today US, China, Russia and Pakistan, all want to and are talking with Taliban. But each is talking to Taliban for different reasons. US already has held a talk because they want to get out of Afghanistan and this will be a face-saving device. Russia is talking to Pakistan because they see a chance to avenge the defeat in the hands of US in nineties as also extend their influence in Afghanistan which they wanted from ages. For Pakistan which was almost getting isolated, it will be a major victory. Pakistan always considers Afghanistan as its back yard and strategic depth place. As for China they have invested heavily in resource rich Afghanistan. Now with Pakistan almost reduced to being its colony thanks to CPEC, it will be very happy if Pakistani protégé Taliban gets reinstalled in Afghanistan.

It should be very clear to us Indians that neither Pakistan and nor its protégé Taliban will ever be friendly to India. Let us not harbour this foolish hope of our Army chief that Taliban if it wants stability and peace in the region then no harm talking to them. If Taliban had even an iota of sense, they would not have harboured Osama Bin Laden and allowed him to launch a jihadi attack on America 17 years back. That also after ruling Afghanistan for three years. Whether we talk to Taliban or not, they and Pakistan will direct their attention to India and Kashmir as soon as Americans withdraw from Afghanistan.

It will not take long for Taliban to throw out the current India friendly Afghan regime and take over Afghanistan with Pakistan helping and China stand by. Now India has only one option cultivate Iran and may be Russia to once again start backing Northern Alliance in Afghanistan composed of Hazara, Uzbek other smaller tribes composing 48% of Afghanistan population. Taliban should never be allowed to control whole of Afghanistan. They must be constantly kept busy in Afghanistan only. At the same time Pashtuns must be encouraged to form their own country consisting of half of Afghanistan and 1/3 of Pakistan known as PASHTUNISTAN. To keep the problem away from India we must continuously churn the pot in Afghanistan.

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