Coming within days after the announcement made by Indian PM and Chinese President to jointly pursue development project in Afghanistan at their informal meeting held at Wuhan, China, seven Indian nationals working for the power company have been abducted in the northern province of Baghlan (Afghanistan). While no terror organisation has come out to take the responsibility, Taliban is the prime suspect behind the abduction. The incident is a nasty reminder of the failing security situation in Afghanistan, where more than 50% of the country’s territory is effectively under Taliban’s control. This act, also, highlights the vulnerabilities that Indian projects and personnel face in the war-torn country. In response, the Indian foreign ministry has said that, it is in maintaining continuous contact with the afghan authorities and will take all steps necessary to bring back the abductees.
Pakistan and Taliban
All the major global and regional powers agree on the fact that Taliban is being actively supported by Pakistan. They have come to a common conclusion – accepting the hand in glove relationship of Pakistan, especially its intelligence agency, ISI, and its army, with the afghan Taliban. Pakistan not only provides safe haven to the Taliban insurgents but also organizes training camps within its side of the border. This is despite of the mounting pressure put by the Trump administration. Seen in this backdrop, the abduction of Indian nationals appears to be a pre-planned and well-coordinated incident, committed at the behest of Pakistan. The motive is obvious. It is a signal to India as well as to other countries who wish to cooperate with India, in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s stand vis-à-vis Afghanistan has been clear that it does not want any kind of Indian presence or role in Afghanistan. They have even alleged Indian intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) of carrying out anti-Pakistan activities, particularly helping Baloch insurgents, through the afghan territory.
What Should Be India’s Response?
As it appears, Pakistan angle cannot be ruled out in these abductions, but for India the imminent challenge is to safely bring back those abducted. The nightmare of what happened in Iraq, where 40 Indians were kidnapped and butchered by the ISIS, is still fresh in the memory. Therefore, first and foremost, as an immediate step to bring back the abductees, the Indian government must open all channels of communication not only with the afghan security forces but also perhaps with the Taliban. While direct negotiation with the Taliban may not be an option, a backdoor diplomacy or backchannel negotiation process must be initiated at the earliest. Equally important, then, is also to take necessary lessons from this incident such as,the need of the hour is to build strong ground level contacts with Taliban in Afghanistan. The NATO forces have accepted their failure to contain, let alone defeat Taliban, and as the situation stands today, Taliban’s influence is only going to increase in the near future. Even the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, has appealed to Taliban to come to the negotiating table.
Taliban, on the other hand, also realises that, it may be too strong to be defeated, but it lacks the power to completely oust the combined forces of NATO and Afghan government. It also knows that it lacks experience or the capability to efficiently “govern” the entire country, and therefore to keep the fight on for perpetuity, believing that US forces could be evicted someday, is only going to exacerbate the sufferings of the afghan people. History is also replete with evidences suggesting the futility of fighting a never-ending or an unwinnable war. Moreover, there is another angle of ISIS also emerging now. As some experts have argued, there are rumours in Afghanistan the ISIS is paying more money than the Taliban to the new recruits. Thus, amidst such a complex or so to say a messy situation as is prevailing in Afghanistan, the Taliban at some stage can be expected to come around the idea of talks. Also, taking clue from Kim Jong-un, who has unexpectedly changed his belligerent attitude, one might assume that Taliban will also come to the table once it is assured of its position of relative advantage.
Finally, as far as India is concerned, Afghanistan is, strategically as well as politically, too important a country for India. It is India’s gateway into Central Asia, a region of abundant energy resources. A stable and peaceful Afghanistan is also a pre-requisite for a long lasting peace in the whole of South Asia and for India particularly, it is quintessential that radical forces like ISIS are kept at bay, because if it gains ground in Afghanistan, then spill over effect will be felt in Kashmir. Hence, pragmatism must prevail as Indian policy makers must explore the possibility of establishing a line of contact with Taliban.
Picture Credits: Reuters