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Imminent power vacuum in Afghanistan beckons India

The withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan will leave a power vacuum in Kabul, which might signal the return of the Taliban. In such a landscape, should India take initiative and extend support and troops to the Abdullah Abdullah regime for greater stability in the region?

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The US is likely to exit the landlocked Afghanistan soon. Does India have a stake in the troubled region of Afghanistan today? The answer is a poignant yes. And left alone, things will get from bad to worse.

Here is a leaf out of history. In 600 BC, the famous land of Ambhi, Kamboj and the valley of the five milky rivers, the Panchashira or Panjshir valley, bordered by the Hindukush ranges on the west, was a challenge for Alexander attempting his eastward conquest after Darius of Persia. A quote from an Ashwin Sanghi narrative goes, “But the Macedonian conqueror made short shrift of the arrangement of Darius and over-running the Achaemenid empire, dashed into Afghanistan and encountered the stiff resistance from the Kambojas tribes, called Aspasian and Assakenois, known in Indian texts as Ashvaya and Ashvakayana”.  The Ashvakayans were the ancestors of the Afghans and Shivagupta was a famed king of the Ashwakayans.

The Hindukush, in the 21st century, is still India’s gateway to an international standing in the comity of nations.

US, AFGHANISTAN AND INDIA

The US entered Afghanistan in 2001. Two decades and four presidents later, current president Joe Biden sent across a message in April 2021 about an intention to withdraw US troops in September 2021. Since the US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has spent more than USD 1 trillion in fighting and rebuilding in Afghanistan. About 2,450 US soldiers have been killed and over 20,700 others have been injured in the war in Afghanistan. It is the longest running conflict for the USA. The date of this announcement coincided with the 20th anniversary of the attacks on US soil in 2001. Former President Donald Trump, who lost the re-election to Biden in November last year, had set the withdrawal deadline for the US on May 1 this year, which is now September 11. The implication of this has set the cat among the pigeons in Kabul.

Over the past 20 years, US involvement in Afghanistan has not worked out well for either side. The idea of OP Moshtarak was a classic example of the US’ disconnect with rural Afghans. In the initial years, Operation Moshtarak was launched in Marjah and Lashkar Gah. The concept of ‘killing a lot of Taliban and having tea with locals’ did not work out as the Taliban remained inseparable from the locals. Cultural advisers were then embedded with the US troops on ground to lend a community approach prior to operations. 

The stage today is set differently from the first decade of the millennia. The Ahmed Shah Massouds and Dostams of the Northern Alliance are long gone. A power vacuum in Afghanistan would now bring back Taliban with a vengeance, revisit Mazaar-i-Sharif-like massacres and leave many ‘Najibullahs’ shamed in every street of Kabul. Invariably, a UN-led peace enforcement under the UN Security Council Chapter VII is the most likely scenario, which would evolve but probably after much wasted time and unnecessary bloodletting. This is the right time and place for India to take notice of the looming Taliban threat that will soon spill over to Kashmir, if it does not act now. Positive participation in peace enforcement is on the cards.

THE RATIONALE OF THE US DRAWDOWN

In 2009, as Vice President under Barack Obama, Joe Biden had strongly opposed expanding US military presence in the country and maintained that its goal should be restricted to counterterrorism missions. But despite his arguments, Washington went on to increase the number of its troops from 36,000 in 2009 to almost 1 lakh in 2010. It was only after the killing of Osama bin Laden by a SEAL team in Pakistan’s Abbottabad in 2012 that the US began winding down its presence in Afghanistan.

The decision to withdraw is based on data gathered by American intelligence, which suggest that Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups do not pose an immediate threat to the United States from Afghanistan, The New York Times reported. This is a clear indicator that ‘regional stability’ is not on the US platter. Given the Chinese activism against the US in the South China Sea, the USA has its bags full.

A VIETNAM OF A DIFFERENT KIND

A peek at Central America, Vietnam and Iraq would show the barren trail of US forces withdrawing around the globe. Recently on April 18, famous BBC correspondent Lyse Doucette, in her reflections, observed that the Taliban saw US withdrawal as a victory for them while at the Doha (US-Taliban) conference in Qatar in 2020. She observed that the Taliban will simply come back to Kabul, revert to an Islamic society, and Pakistan will again be flush with refugees fleeing an Islamizing Afghanistan where a witch hunt for all non-Islamic people would be on.

Here is a challenge for India: should India take the initiative and extend a stabilizing support with active troops to the Abdullah Abdullah regime? Much of the Afghan security establishment since the days of Hamid Karzai is trained by Indians; their diplomatic orientation is pro-India. A lack of expression by a strong Indian nation that has warded off the PLA adventurism would send wrong signals to the Taliban.

The recent remarks by the Chief of the Indian Army on Kashmir are a further indicator of the things to come. It is the right juncture for India to raise its concerns in the Security Council regarding the evolving Afghan conundrum. At this point, China is grappling with its Uighur problem and the US with its Quad issues is not likely to oppose as long as financial contribution comes from the G20 nations. That is a matter of detail for the UN Headquarters in New York and concerned UNHCR at Geneva. When the deployment is approved by the UN, India should be the largest contributor of troops.

The author is a veteran of the armed forces, having served 30 years with counter-terrorism and LC experience. As an Army aviator he has carried out extensive operational flying in J&K including Ladakh and participated in the Kargil conflict.  An MPhil from Panjab University, he also has literary interests. Familiar with the terrain north of Pir Panjals, he focused on Afghanistan for his MPhil while at Panjab University.  He took early release from service in 2017 and is settled in Hyderabad, now pursuing research in Defense and Strategic Studies.

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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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Defence

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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Defence

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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