Kunduz takeover raises spectre of 1996

Mullah Mansour is trying to prove his credentials to Pakistan Intelligence, says Indian officials.

Updated - November 16, 2021 04:11 pm IST

Published - September 29, 2015 11:29 pm IST

Afghan special forces arrive for a battle with the Taliban in Kunduz city, northern Afghanistan, on Tuesday.

Afghan special forces arrive for a battle with the Taliban in Kunduz city, northern Afghanistan, on Tuesday.

Indian officials said they were closely watching developments in Kunduz, the key Afghan provincial headquarters overrun by the Taliban over the weekend, but there is “no role for India” in operations in Afghanistan. The takeover of Kunduz has raised fears of another 1996-type situation when the Taliban stormed key cities before an assault on Kabul, but officials felt the U.S. and Afghan forces would be able to push the insurgents out of the northern city in this case.

“We are already hearing of the Taliban retreating [from Kunduz]. They will not be able to hold towns,” said an official. On Tuesday, NATO jets began an air campaign, even as Afghan Special Forces entered Kunduz city. Appearing in a televised address, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, who marked his first year in office, said that security forces are “retaking government buildings ... and reinforcements, including special forces and commandos, are either there or on their way there”.

Indian officials said the Taliban assault was also a sign that the new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, wanted to establish his control of the insurgents and “prove his credentials” to Pakistan’s intelligence, which has been blamed by the Afghan government for supporting the insurgents.

The Taliban offensive in Kunduz has also marked a new low in Afghan-Pakistan ties, officials noted. “For fourteen years, we have been in an undeclared war with Pakistan and we want to end this war with your help as peace will not come only through foreign negotiations,” Mr. Ghani said in remarks at the presidential palace in Kabul.

Speaking at the UN, Afghan CEO Abdullah Abdullah went a step further, saying Pakistan had failed to “keep its promise to crack down on terror groups” on its soil, and risked a “a loss of trust with serious consequences”.

The presence of terrorist sanctuaries and support networks in Pakistan continue to cause trouble inside Afghanistan,” said Mr. Abdullah, who cancelled the rest of his visit to the U.S. so as to return to Kabul and monitor the Kunduz operation. But Pakistan’s loss in terms of Afghanistan’s trust is not India’s gain, say diplomats.

“To begin with, India has shown no interest in reviving ties with the Ghani government, given his earlier overtures to Pakistan,” explains former Ambassador to Afghanistan Rakesh Sood, adding that India has been wary of attacks on its personnel in Afghanistan if it in any way enhances strategic ties.

“The limitations on India remain the same,” he told The Hindu . However, some are now counselling the Modi government to take a relook at its options in Afghanistan.

“Last year, India has, to the disappointment of its many Afghan friends, adopted a ‘wait and watch’ approach. That needs to change in order to protect its interests. A proactive Afghan policy is needed,” wrote former Ambassador Vivek Katju in an article about the Kunduz attack. Significantly, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj did not attend at a key “high-level event” on Afghanistan in Washington this weekend chaired by the U.S. and China. While Pakistan, Iran and Turkey sent ministers as participants at the rare event that saw rivals U.S. and China in agreement, India, only an observer, was represented by its Ambassador to Afghanistan, Amar Sinha.

However a statement by PM Modi after his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama raised speculation that India and the U.S. had more detailed discussions about the Indian role in Afghanistan. “We have agreed to further strengthen our consultation and cooperation on helping the Afghan people combat terrorism and build a peaceful, stable and prosperous future of their nation,” PM Modi said after the meeting.

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