AFGHANISTAN AT CROSSROADS, AND THE ROAD AHEAD FOR TALIBAN - The Daily Guardian
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AFGHANISTAN AT CROSSROADS, AND THE ROAD AHEAD FOR TALIBAN

While the Taliban never withered away, and that they now have come back into the reckoning, the ground situation in Afghanistan has changed drastically.

LT GEN PR SHANKAR (Retd)

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Everyone expects Taliban, supported by Pakistan, which is backed by China to sweep into power in Afghanistan. That is the dark visage floating up. As the US forces are leaving the country , the current momentum and tempo of the Taliban offensive suggests an inevitability of their return. There is sense of return to the bad old days. There is air of despondency in Indian strategic circles, jubilation in some sections of Pakistan, and a large sense of trepidation in the rest of the world. From China emanates the smell of greed and a a sense of fear simultaneously. There is an aura of total opacity of what the future holds. However we have to go back into history to understand what can happen in future.


Insurgency in Afghanistan (File photo: Creative Commons/Wiki)

The international geopolitical scene was far different in the days when Taliban rose to power. One superpower – USSR had been just defeated and was disintegrating. The other superpower – USA just walked away from the region savouring victory in an era of the forthcoming unipolar world. Afghanistan was in a chaotic vacuum after Najibullah was hung on a pole. Radical Islamism was on the ascendancy. Pakistan was in its prime of being a rogue state and its economy was upbeat. ‘Pack-istan’ was the darling frontline state of the West. Its ‘deep state’ which crystallised during the heady days of Zia Ul Haq, sought strategic depth in Afghanistan. The Mujahideen were footloose in Afghanistan. They were morphed into Taliban by aid and abetment of ISI. They had virtually no opposition internally or externally. They were largely unopposed thanks to their Pakistani backers. Externally, people did not care a damn about Afghanistan. Taliban ruled the roost with rustic religious fervour headed by a reclusive cleric who gave sanctuary to Osama Bin laden and Al Qaeda. However, even then , they could control only 75% of the area. The Northern Alliance opposed them. The Taliban of those days took Afghanistan back to the stone ages with their version of a repressive Sharia. It was one of the poorest countries in the world. Everything changed with 9/11 and collapse of the twin towers. The Taliban was booted out of power by USA.

While the Taliban never withered away, and that now have come back into the reckoning, the ground in Afghanistan has changed drastically. They themselves are no more the rustic religious zealots. They are now a suave outfit, which has its talons in the drugs and mining trade at every bend of the illegal pipe line. The drug economy is significant since it has grown fourfoldin cropping area and about tenfold in cash volumes in the last two decades. The Taliban have a major stake in this trade which has been their sustenance. They now seek power and legitimacy. They are now better organised with a leadership structure. While they want to reimpose the Sharia , they are also conscious of their image. The recent videos of their barbarous slaughter of the Afghan Army soldiers and their edicts regarding women have rekindled the bad taste of yesteryears. The Taliban is also conscious of the fact that their main backer, Pakistan is a decrepit failed state, which in turn is backed by a state which wants to be a superpower at least cost but is apprehensive to get involved directly. They also seek international recognition which they will not get if they cannot remove the bad taste they generate. Everyone – Russia, Iran, CARs, India, EU, Turkey, Middle East, Pakistan and China are wary of them for two fundamental reasons. The first being the export of religious extremism and the second being drugs. Both these are the main ingredients of terror. The Taliban is now opposed by a recognised government in power with an organised armed force which seems to be fighting back after the initial shock. The current government is backed by USA and most countries. Most importantly, USA will oppose the Taliban with maximum force unless it is clear that the dispensation in Afghanistan with or without them can be relied upon not to harm its homeland security. They face some formidable opposition. Let us see what the opposition is all about.

In Afghanistan, proxy play by regional and bigger powers has always been a constant; a bankrupt Pakistan is just one among them. Taliban will therefore be clear that Pakistan will ditch it at a moment’s notice if need be. Taliban will also be sensitive to the fact that while Pakistan wants them in the driving seat, it wants to do backseat driving. That will not be acceptable to the Taliban beyond a point. Pakistan, has also fenced the border with Afghanistan. It has also deployed regular army along the border. Pakistan wants to keep the conflict on Afghan soil and airspace and not let it spill to their side. Pakistan is also worried about inflow of refugees, infiltrators in the garb of refugees, movement of Afghan army personnel or Taliban fighters into Pakistan. So there is the love hate angle.

USA has swung into action through air strikes in support of Afghan Forces. Everyone thought that USA has withdrawn from the scene. However as it was surmised and being proven now, USA has shifted from direct to indirect intervention. That opens up many possibilities. One should not forget that USA is no more dependent on Pakistan. It will not hesitate to strike at Pakistan if needed. By denying a base for air operations, Pakistan has put itself in the cross hairs of USA. If Pakistan crosses any red line in operations as per USAs perception, it will get hit. Be rest assured that Pakistan knows its limit here and so does the Taliban. Now as per the inputs, USA is likely to use one of the CARs as a base and Russia might agree to it. If that happens, the likelihood of outright Taliban success recedes.

As far as China is concerned, it has started protecting itself in Pakistan as per reports. Its engineers and workers in the CPEC projects are being armed for self-protection. So its entry into Afghanistan directly is a bit far away. Will China take the risk to enter this volatility? It is a question mark. So far it has been careful not to fall in that trap. However with US withdrawal moving on schedule, it has appointed a special envoy for Afghanistan. In the meanwhile there is also news that the United States, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have taken a stand that terrorists and third-party forces must never be allowed to use Afghan territory to threaten or attack the CARs. USA, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan have also agreed in principle to establish a new quadrilateral diplomatic platform to enhance regional connectivity. This ties them in with the current Afghan Government and limits Pakistan’s options. It also tells the Taliban that Pakistan is hedging its bets. In the meantime, Russia, Iran and India are also playing their part with the Afghan Government.

All in all the Taliban seems to be isolated to some extent. It’s on ground actions have generated images of its dark past and have stoked deep mistrust. There is no one who seems to be siding Taliban openly or fully. On ground there is no doubt that it has control almost over half of Afghanistan’s 419 districts. However none of the 34 provincial capitals in Afghanistan have been seized by the Taliban, though they have been put under pressure. On the other hand, there is a good possibility that the Afghan forces might consolidate and strike back to regain lost ground, now that the USA has struck with its air force. The Taliban sems to have realised that their position is not as strong as they have made it out. They might not prevail . That is why they have been quick to say that the last round of talks in Doha were ‘positive’. It seems that they are seeking a compromise.

Will the compromise come about? That is a million dollar question. The differences between the two sides are stark. The Afghan side insists on a ceasefire before there can be any real dialogue. The Taliban want President Ghani out of the frame. They insist on establishment of their strict version of a Sharia system. There is also a matter of differing views on an inclusive government comprising all segments of Afghan society and ethnic groups. The Taliban are still holding out on what they interpret as inclusivity or whether they believe in elected democracy. Their views on human rights, particularly on women’s right to education and to work is engulfed in shadows. Their demand for an ‘Islamic emirate’ contradicts their claim that they believe in a pluralistic political system. Hence there is an impasse with no middle ground at present.

Overall a range of possible outcomes in Afghanistan are on the cards. An outcome in which Taliban takes over Afghanistan once USA leaves is not a certainty as is being made out. The chances of a stable government born out of compromise also does not seem bright as of now. The situation could continue in the current state of indecisive to and fro violence for some time and eventually descend into a state of civil war. The possibility is high. Alternately some settlement could take place now. Taliban could be devious enough to agree to some conditions , get into a power sharing agreement to buy time. Once there is a lull and things cool down, the Taliban will undercut the arrangement and cull its opponents through political action and selective coercion and violence. That would be in keeping with its character as also that of its backers Pakistan and China. In my opinion, this is a very feasible option.

At this point of time the last option of striking a compromise and reneging later seems to be the best option for Taliban. India should discuss this out with the USA, Russia and Iran to come to a common action plan to thwart this design. India will also do well to remember that the Taliban will always be more amenable to Pakistan than India. It is in Indian interest that a hybrid government which is reasonably stable runs Afghanistan. A thought which comes to mind is that will India consider giving basing facilities to USA to carry out operations in Afghanistan if the former can handle overflights over Pakistan. That is an option which should not be ruled out. It will give a strong message to China and Pakistan. However it will need a lot of political determination to tread this path. In any eventuality, India has a pivotal role to play should any agreement be reached between the Afghanistan government and Taliban. India should be alive to all options and have its plans chalked out.

Lt Gen PR Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vastoperational experience. He contributed significantly to the Modernization and Indigenisationof Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved inapplied research for defence technology. His other articles can be read onwww.gunnersshot.com

All in all the Taliban seems to be isolated to some extent. It’s on- ground actions have generated images of its dark past and have stoked deep mistrust. There is no one who seems to be siding Taliban openly or fully. On ground, there is no doubt that it has control almost over half of Afghanistan’s 419 districts. However none of the 34 provincial capitals in Afghanistan have been seized by the Taliban, though they have been put under pressure. On the other hand, there is a good possibility that the Afghan forces might consolidate and strike back to regain lost ground, now that the USA has struck with its air force. The Taliban sems to have realised that their position is not as strong as they have made it out.

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Defence

‘ARMY CAN MEET ANY CHALLENGE TO SAFEGUARD COUNTRY’

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The Army is fully prepared to meet any challenge like the use of drones and social media by adversaries to safeguard the country, said Commandant of Chennai-based Officers Training Academy (OTA) Lieutenant General M K Das. Lt Gen Das, who is also the colonel of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI) regiment, said the situation in J&K is getting better with the Army and other security agencies working together to stamp out terrorism. Speaking to media on the sidelines of the maiden attestation parade of 460 new recruits of the 126th batch after a successful 40-week training period at Dansal here, he said the Indian Army is aware of the challenges and prepared to give a befitting response to the enemies of the nation.

Talking about the need to introduce special training courses for soldiers in the aftermath of the developments in Afghanistan, he said, “Our training is very contemporary as it caters for all the contingencies and unforeseen situations. My young soldiers, who have taken the oath to defend the constitution and the country, will live up to all the challenges. One of the unique things of this regiment (JAKLI) is all our troops hail from J&K and Ladakh. They have ingrained quality to be security conscious much more than others.” Lt Gen Das said, “All the situations unfolding in the country or in our neighbourhood, the JAKLI regiment will continue to excel and be the lead agency in the fight against terrorism.” Asked about the challenges posed by the use of drones to hit targets and deliver weapons and narcotics from across the LoC and International Border, he said a capsule course on anti-drone measures has been introduced. “On Army Day on 15 January, our chief took the threat seriously and our soldiers are being prepared to deal with the challenge in a better way.” During recruitment training, Lt Gen Das said that besides the arms handing and exercises, thrust is also given on science and technology, cybersecurity and other new challenges. He said the misuse of social media by “anti-national” elements is a reality and the new recruits are being trained in cybersecurity during their basic and orientation courses.

On attempts by Pakistan to mislead the youth of J&K, Lt Gen Das said, “The youth of J&K is showing keenness to be a part of the regiment which is a message to those who think they can mislead our youth. Joining the regiment is the best way to serve the nation, the youth live like a family and there is complete communal harmony.” He said the regiment is increasing the number of local youth from Ladakh and would also go for recruitment in J&K to provide an opportunity to the local youth to become part of this regiment. Asked about his message to the misguided youth, he said, “J&K is the crown of India but if I focus as a soldier, I feel they (misguided youth) have not understood their country… the situation has not gone out of hand and the Army has kept its window open to allow them to surrender and join the national mainstream.”

He added, “We have a unit of 162 Infantry Territorial Army who are former militants but have become upright soldiers.” Lt Gen Das said the Army and other security agencies are working in close coordination and the situation in J&K is getting better and the “day is not far when this region will make our country proud.”

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Defence

SOUTHERN NAVAL COMMAND OBSERVES INTERNATIONAL COASTAL CLEAN-UP DAY IN KOCHI

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The Southern Naval Command observed International Coastal Clean-up Day on Saturday with a focus on mangrove plantation and clearance of plastic/non-biodegradable waste along with waterfront areas in and around Kochi, said a press release from the Ministry of Defence.

Pursuant to the global campaign of keeping coastlines clean, more than 600 Naval personnel and the families of Southern Naval Command undertook clearance of plastic and non-biodegradable waste at different locations spread across the city, coastal areas such as Fort Kochi beach, Thevara waterfront, Willingdon Island, Cherai beach, Bolgatty and around 2 km stretch of the Venduruthy channel while restoring around 1 lakh sqm of mangroves to the pristine condition. In addition, 80 mangrove saplings were also planted along the Venduruthy channel. Similar coastal cleanup drives and lectures/webinars/competitions emphasising protection of the coastal and marine environment were undertaken with the enthusiastic participation of the Naval community at other outstation Naval units located at Lonavala, Jamnagar, Chilka, Coimbatore, Goa, Ezhimala and Mumbai.

Being the Training Command of the Indian Navy, the Southern Naval Command has always been at the vanguard in promoting environmental conservation activities both at the Command Headquarters, Kochi as well as at Naval stations spread across the country.

Mandated to oversee naval training, the Southern Naval Command has conceptualised and implemented a variety of green initiatives. Keeping environmental preservation as one of the Key Result Areas, the Command has constantly endeavoured to motivate young officer and sailor trainees of the Indian Navy to imbibe the habit of protecting mother nature as part of their grooming efforts in preparing them to become responsible future Naval leaders and dependable citizens of India.

Particular attention has also been given to create more awareness among the families and more importantly the children.

During the last three years, the Command has adopted a multi-dimensional approach towards conservation of the environment and implementation of energy conservation methods.

To highlight a few, the personnel of the Command were actively involved in the rejuvenation of 4.5-km-long Venduruthy Channel near Kochi Naval base, creating awareness in and around Naval establishments.

Efforts were undertaken to enhance green cover by conducting mass plantation drives which included planting more than 75,000 trees, using the fast-growing Miyawaki forestation method. In addition, regular coastal clean-up drives, mangrove plantation drives, in-house handling and recycling of bio and non-biodegradable waste, adopting efficient energy and water-saving methods etc were also undertaken. The Command has also earnestly endeavoured to continue all the efforts for protecting and conserving the environment and natural resources. Towards achieving the same, the Command has implemented a Green Initiative and Environment Conservation Roadmap with a prime focus on Carbon footprint reduction.

With the personal involvement of Vice Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command is committed to creating a clean, green and healthy environment in line with the visionary environment conservation policies of the Govt of India. On the occasion, Adv M Anilkumar, Mayor, Kochi Municipal Corporation and staff also participated in Kochi.

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IAF TO HOLD AIR SHOW OVER DAL LAKE IN SRINAGAR ON 26 SEPT

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An air show will be held here on 26 September where IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga and Suryakiran Aerobatic and Display Team and paramotor flying will manoeuvre the skies over the famous Dal Lake, officials informed on Saturday.

The air show will be organised by the Air Force Station Srinagar and the Jammu and Kashmir administration as part of the ongoing celebrations commemorating ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, they said. The main aim of the exercise—under the theme ‘Give Wings to Your Dream’—is to motivate the youth of the valley to join the Indian Air Force (IAF) and to promote tourism in the region, the officials said.

The event will be flagged off Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) overlooking Dal Lake.

More than 3,000 college and school students are expected to participate in the programme to witness the impressive manoeuvres of the IAF, which will motivate them to dream about a career in the force and in the aviation sector, the officials said. “The show will also develop passion among the students to give wings to their dreams. Along with the students, 700 teachers will also be present at the venue,” they added.

During the demonstration, students will also be familiarised with the new technological advancements achieved and incorporated by the IAF while flying aircraft in the sky over the world-famous Dal Lake, the officials said. Stalls will be established at SKICC where students will be familiarised with the achievements of the Air Force, employment opportunities in the IAF, recruitment rules and eligibility criteria, they added.

Srinagar-based PRO Defence Col Emron Musavi said the display will include flypast by various aircraft of the IAF. The spectators would also get to witness paramotor flying and IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga in action. ‘Ambassadors of IAF’, Suryakiran Aerobatic Display Team, will be performing in the valley after a gap of 14 years, he said. Col Musavi said the symphony orchestra of the IAF would also be performing at the event. The event would also consist of a photo exhibition depicting the history of the

IAF, he said. 

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Defence

ARMY ORGANISES EXHIBITION IN JAIPUR TO COMMEMORATE INDIA’S VICTORY IN 1971 WAR

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JAIPUR : South Western Command of the Indian Army on Saturday organised an exhibition showcasing defence equipment at Chitrakoot Stadium in Jaipur to mark the 50th anniversary of India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war.

Speaking to ANI, an Indian army official said, “We have displayed the defence equipment in this exhibition to make people aware of the Indian army achievements. We want to motivate the youth by showcasing these types of equipment.” “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, these events had been started to make people aware of Indian Arm Forces. So, we are also continuing the move by organising these kinds of events,” he added.

Further, he said that India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war is memorable for all the Indians, so, every citizen should be aware of this war.  

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BRO makes history, appoints woman Army officer in-charge of road construction unit

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The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has appointed a woman Army officer for the first as the Officer Commanding of its 75 road construction company (RCC) in Uttarakhand, the Defence Ministry said on Sunday.

The three platoon commanders under Major Aaina, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K became the first women RCC. The appointments were made on August 30.

BRO on Sunday recalled the list of women officers who were assigned higher leadership roles in the organisation in the current year.

According to a statement issued by the Defence Ministry, BRO has inducted a large number of women into its workforce over the years, right from officers to the level of commercial pilot license holders. “In this regard, a General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF) officer EE (Civ) Vaishali S Hiwase took over the reins of 83 Road Construction Company on April 28, employed on an important Indo-China road connecting Munisairi-Bughdiar-Milam, in an area full of adversity and challenges. The lady officer has taken control and is leading the charge with meticulous execution of her tasks,” the statement said.

“The BRO created history again on 30 August when Major Aaina of Project Shivalik took charged as Officer Commanding, 75 Road Construction Companies (RCC) at Pipalkoti in Chamoli district in Uttarakhand. She is the first Indian Army Engineer Officer to command a road construction company. Not only this, all three platoon commanders under her, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K are lady officers and they have together created a first-ever women RCC. The Border Roads plans to make four such all women-led RCCs, two each in North Eastern and Western Sectors.”

As India celebrates 75 Years of Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, it also celebrates the ongoing efforts of our Nation towards women empowerment. Women today have started assuming their rightful, equal place as the frontrunners in nation-building and representatives of our strong national character, the statement read.

Over the last six decades, in a graduated and steady manner, the BRO has increased the number of women employed in various roles and duties of road construction. A consolidated effort is being made to empower them by giving them authority and responsibilities to undertake work independently. These women have become symbols of Nari Shakti in their respective areas.

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Defence

IN FIRST FOREIGN VISIT AFTER TAKING OVER AS CDS, GEN BIPIN RAWAT TO VISIT RUSSIA, US

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In his first visit abroad after taking over as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat will be visiting Russia and the US.

Rawat took over his new office as CDS on 31 December 2019, and since then has been declining foreign invitations for focusing on the new assignment of integrating the defence forces as a combined fighting force. “There is a conference of the CDS-rank officers of the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement member countries. China and Pakistan are also part of this grouping,” senior defence officials said.

The CDS conference would be focusing on addressing the regional security issues and Afghanistan is also likely to come up for discussion, they said.

The CDS would also witness the activities of the respective armed forces taking part in the SCO peace mission drills being held in Russia. Indian Army and Air Force are also taking part in the exercise there.

The visit will take place in the coming week and soon after return from Russia, Rawat would be leaving for the US for meeting his counterpart and other American military leadership at the Pentagon.

The two countries have been coming closer militarily in the last few years and have been holding multiple military exercises and hardware cooperation.

The Indian military saw a major change in senior-level structures under the Narendra Modi government as the focus is now on the theatrisation of the fighting forces and bringing in more capabilities and jointness among the three services. 

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