Long Road Ahead: Despite making the right noises, the Taliban’s past deeds do not inspire enough confidence for a country like India

by Abhijit Bhattacharyya

So, have the Taliban changed? Will the Taliban, seeking political recognition and a place under the sun, have the basic courtesy to express ‘deep regret’ for their criminal acts against India? Can the Taliban recognise India’s positive role and decipher the ‘ultimate goal’ and ‘hidden agenda’ of the CPC and the Pakistani Army-ISI?

India must not be in any hurry to recognise the Taliban as the legitimate sovereign ruler of Afghanistan. Extend diplomatic courtesy and hospitality, walk the talk off or on the table, or at venues beyond the geographical boundary to ensure rescue and rehabilitation of the garrisoned people, or address humanitarian causes to reduce the suffering of those in distress. Also, include the supply of food, clothing, medicine, life-saving devices in consonance with the traditional dignity, honour, humanism and duty for which India is known, but no recognition!

Nevertheless, there are bound to be contrary views too, especially owing to the Communist Party of China (CPC) and its “all-weather friend”, the Pakistani army-ISI duo whose unholy alliance is always making plans to harm India.

As the proverbial short public memory is proved correct in India’s case, one needs to rekindle a few salient features of the Taliban who today purportedly hold the Afghan flag (traditional or terror, one’s yet to see) as self-proclaimed torch-bearers of a landlocked geography of 33 million. Ironically, the Taliban still don’t appear to be in full control of Afghanistan as reportedly fierce internal fight continues. The fact of the matter for India, therefore, is simple. Delhi has suffered enough damage despite being one of the most trusted friends of the people of Afghanistan.

Now, over to the Afghan Taliban. Taliban is the plural of ‘talib’ (student). Having run a de facto government in Afghanistan (1996-2001) as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”, they have a horrendous record of mis governance, massacre and mayhem under the criminal command and control of Pakistan.

The world saw live broadcast of the Taliban’s inhuman conduct in the December 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines flight 814 to Kandahar. One vividly remembers the cold-blooded killing of a newly married Indian in front of his wife inside the parked aircraft on the tarmac, the payment of huge ransom, the release of convicted terrorists charged with mass murder in India, and the utter helplessness of the Government of India's Cabinet and high officials in front of the Afghan Taliban-Pakistani Army-ISI state criminals.

What was India’s fault? Did India ever invade Afghanistan? Did Delhi ever conspire to conduct an Afghan civil war? Did Indian forces ever support the desperate Soviets (1979-1989) or the brazen US-led International Security Assistance Force (2001-2021)? No, never! On the contrary, when the combined forces of 48 nations were on Afghan soil with guns and bombs, the Indians were constructing roads, buildings, hospitals, logistics facilities and Parliament House. Even at the risk of their lives owing to scandalously venomous Pakistani Army-ISI provocation and behind-the-scene Afghan-Taliban shield.

Should India today forget the price paid by her people in helping the Afghans build their nation? Should the Taliban have allowed its uneducated and wild cadre of suicide bombers to target Indians after taking poisonous injections from Pakistan’s state-sponsored Army-ISI duo?

Shouldn’t the “forgotten” crimes of Pakistan-sponsored Taliban terror against India be revisited?

On January 3, 2008, seven Indians (included in which was an engineer) were killed by a Taliban suicide bomber in Nimruz province. On April 12, 2008, two Indian engineers were killed and four workers seriously wounded in a Taliban suicide attack on an Indian road construction company vehicle.

On June 5, 2008, an Indian security official was killed and four road-building team members were injured by a Taliban bomber in Nimruz province.

However, the most dastardly and cowardly of all Taliban terror acts came on July 7, 2008, when a suicide car bomber killed 41 people and grievously hurt 141, targeting a diplomatic convoy entering the Indian embassy in Kabul. Among the dead was Indian defence attaché Brigadier R. Mehta.

Most casualties, however, were unarmed civilians on duty. The Indian Ambassador to Kabul, Jayant Prasad, had a miraculous escape as the intention of the Taliban bomber to detonate explosives after following the diplomatic convoy into the embassy couldn’t materialise owing to the alertness of the mission guard who managed to timely close the gate.

So, have the Taliban changed? Will the Taliban, seeking political recognition and a place under the sun, have the basic courtesy to say “sorry” or express “deep regret” for their criminal acts against India which under no stretch of imagination could be considered as one of the sharks trying to tear Afghanistan into pieces? Can the Taliban recognise India’s positive role and decipher the “ultimate goal” and “hidden agenda” of the CPC and the Pakistani Army-ISI?

Call it the Taliban inexperience or ignorance, they showed lamentable lack of knowledge and wisdom to govern two decades ago. They still prove themselves to be the master of murderous trampling of territory through any or all means, and reveal the basic deficiency in the art of consolidation and governance; thereby exposing themselves to widespread distrust in the comity of nations pertaining to recognition as the legitimate rulers of the Afghan land.

The Taliban would do better if their intellectual cell resorts to an extensive study for administering the state, and advises the political leadership to try and control its soldiers’ propensity to “shoot first, think later”. Also, the Taliban should try to develop the ability to distinguish between a friend and a foe.

It’s not that if the CPC comes forward with wads of dollars with an “Afghan development” alibi, it’s going to fructify instantly. The Taliban may note from the pages of history that from the time of the British in 19th century to the Soviets in the 20th century and the Americans in the 21st century, it’s always either “empire building” or “geopolitics to curtail and contain the rival”. In this context, the fighting Taliban mustn’t lose sight of the reality that they are very much on the radar of all belligerents, past or present. And the way things are unfolding, it may not be too far to see the reappearance of neo-imperialism and neo-colonialists in landlocked Kabul to dig deep into the “Great Game” which is going on for more than 150 years.

There still are many hostile actors and kinetic factors over the Kabul sky. Therefore, unless the Taliban ensure the restoration of rule of law, peace, harmony and stability under their claimed jurisdiction, it is unlikely that political recognition from the civilised world would be granted any time soon. Barring a few exceptions like an expansionist CPC, the Pakistani Army-ISI and a few small nations connected to Kabul more with the ideology of theocracy and less with accepted norms of diplomacy, polity, decency and harmonious co-existence with one’s own people, recognition may be a long haul for the Taliban.