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Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Afghanistan under Taliban | What do non-Taliban leaders expect from India?

Afghanistan under Taliban | What do non-Taliban leaders expect from India?
Worldview with Suhasini Haidar

This week on Worldview, Suhasini Haidar looks at the Taliban’s promises on inclusive government and women’s rights, and India’s stand on the Taliban and on non-Taliban leadership.

December 09, 2022 09:30 pm | Updated January 25, 2023 03:03 pm IST

This week on WorldView- is the Taliban running out of time to keep its promises on inclusive government and women’s rights? Or is the world going to continue to engage with the Taliban without conditions? And where does India stand with the Taliban and with non-Taliban leadership today? We will hear from the chief of the National Resistance Force- Ahmed Shah Massoud’s son Ahmed Massoud.

“We are united and it is time for region in the world to unite when it comes to Afghanistan.”.

This was a week where Afghanistan- a conflict that’s been practically forgotten was back in the news again

1. The Taliban regime clamped down further on women- issuing new decrees banning them from parks, gyms and public recreation. This is in addition to decrees banning them from most work outside the home, mandating hijabs and burkhas, and regulating their travel

2. It conducted the first public execution in years

3. And also revived its earlier brutal practice of public flogging, many of these were women seen unaccompanied by male relatives.

4. At the same time, despite banning girls from the 6-12 th grades from attending school, the Taliban called suddenly for them to sit for examinations- further adding to the terrible confusions girls face

5. Meanwhile, as the country braces for a 2 nd winter under the Taliban, malnourishment has increased 90% amongst children in a year, and stories are growing of parents selling kidneys and even drugging children in order to stave off the hunger

At this time- a number of conferences and visits in the past few days indicate that after more than a year of giving the Taliban a free hand, the World is re-engaging with the Afghanistan issue more seriously.

- In Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe, a conference of non-Taliban Afghan leaders, more than 100 former Ministers, officials from the elected Karzai and Ghani governments, men and women MPs came together for the first time since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on August 15 last year. The conference, which included US and EU top representatives, called for an inclusive government to be formed- as the Taliban had promised earlier, and for the non-Taliban opposition to be given a space internationally to regroup, just as the world gave the Taliban space in Qatar

- Arriving at the conference to applause, the leader of the National Resistance forces Ahmad Massoud, the son of the former Northern Alliance Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed by Al Qaeda just days before 9/11 as part of a deal with the Taliban. Massoud told The Hindu in an interview that the NRF is needed to keep the pressure on the Taliban, and claimed that they have spread their base beyond the Panjshir valley, but did not want to claim territory as holding on to it was difficult- we will have excerpts from the interview later in this episode

- At the same time, after months of being under a virtual house arrest, former President Hamid Karzai was allowed to leave Kabul- he flew to the UAE and Germany, primarily for health checks, but is believed to be holding meetings with government officials in those countries

- US Special envoy on Afghanistan Tom West also visited Japan, India and UAE for talks, while the UK PM’s Special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan  Nigel Casey was in Delhi and other capitals for meetings as well.

- In Delhi, National Security Advisor invited his counterparts from 5 Central Asian countries for the first such dialogue- and Afghanistan was the main subject. The participants discussed the need to curb terrorism and terror financing flows into Afghanistan, drugs out of Afghanistan, and also about using new connectivity routes like Chabahar that India has used in the past for aid to Afghanistan.

- Also in Indonesia, a donor pledging conference for Afghanistan Women’s Education- the conference was attended by 43 countries, including 7 ministers- India attended, but sent its Ambassador. Most of the pledges were for scholarships- but it was also a chance to hear from women both inside and outside Afghanistan and even Pakistani nobel peace laureate Malal Yusufzai had a message for the conference

Meanwhile, some moves were made with the Taliban as well

- Pakistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar went to Kabul and met a number of ministers- she was the first woman leader to meet the Taliban. Pakistan-Afghanistan ties, ever strong given the ISI’s support to the Taliban all these years have seen strains recently- over Pakistan’s assistance to US for the Zawahiri bombing, border skirmishes and Taliban’s assistance to the TTP, believed to have carried out an attack on Pakistan embassy in Kabul.

- US envoy West met the Taliban acting Defence Minister Yaqoob in Abu Dhabi

- The Indian mission head in Kabul – met with the Urban development minister to discuss several infrastructure projects India is considering to start there 

Where does India stand today?

India has a mission in Kabul, and Indian officials regularly hold talks with the Taliban but like all other countries does not recognise the Taliban as the legitimate regime.

India has sent aid- food as well as medicines, clothes, etc to Afghans.

India is considering restarting infrastructure projects as it did with previous governments.

India wants to discuss restarting trade- possibly via Chabahar.

However the Modi government has not reopened the consular section in Kabul, and India has only granted a handful of visas to Afghans, other than Sikhs and Hindus since last August

India is not supporting non-Taliban leaders, and with the exception of former Afghanistan CEO Abdullah Abdullah, none of them have been allowed to visiting

At the conference in Dushanbe, I spoke to the NRF chief Ahmed Massoud about his hopes from India, and the contention that non-Taliban forces are divided.

Ahmed Massoud Interview

Are the non-Taliban forces divided?

Absolutely not. Our history shows that capturing power is easy, but holding on to it is not. The Taliban’s ideologies are alien to Afghanistan, but they have held on to power for one year due to various factors. One is that, unfortunately the world and including India put all of their [hopes] on the Republic at that time, and refused to invest in and understand how to support other Afghans [groups] to withstand the brutality of the Taliban. And as far as the Taliban goes, their leader [Haibatullah] used to be able to travel, but not anymore. We are united and it is time for region in the world to unite when it comes to Afghanistan. Apart from the historical bond between the people of Afghanistan and people of India, and the bond shared with my father [Ahmed Shah Massoud] and President Rabbani during the last resistance [1996-2001] in establishing a free just and safe Afghanistan, India must also participate in this. “Pragmatism”, I believe, may show tactical results in the short term in terms of engaging the Taliban, but strategically, in the long term, it would only strengthen the Taliban’s terrorist ideology.

In comparison to 1996, India is not helping the resistance this time, nor is the government willing to give Afghans visas to travel, although it has sent aid for the Afghan people. Have you tried to speak to India to change this?

I understand India’s hesitations over visas, as we know that the Taliban has been giving citizenship and passports to foreign terrorists. So, it will be very hard for India to distinguish and to, to know, which passport holder is a foreign terrorist or which one is there to study, or for a medical reason. India and many other countries hoped that the Taliban have changed, that they are Taliban 2.0. But it is clear now, they have not changed, and they’re pushing their dogmatic ideology on the people of Afghanistan.

How would you like India, to progress from here? It once maintained an airbase and a hospital here in Tajikistan, where your father was treated- should it revive those investments?

This is the decision for India to make. But given the historical context, the strategic threats that emanate from Afghanistan- with intelligence reports we receive that the security situation in Kashmir has become worse. Pakistan’s promise of a “tolerant” Taliban who would provide the region safety and security was completely false. And we all know that a lot of international terrorist groups are finding Afghanistan as a safe haven for training camps. It’s been a year and a half, and we have see that not only have they made no good changes, but it is showing its extremist face in Afghanistan more and more... stripping woman of their rights and growing atrocities day by day. The India that I know does not just work on “pragmatism”. India always carries a torch of values- from Bollywood films, to Indian literature, to the words of Gandhi and Nehru...India has always held an ideology of democracy, peace, freedom, justice, pluralism. India was a symbol of that...the biggest democracy in the world. And now to see that India is falling into a pragmatism, it is [very sad]. The India that we know and love is not like that. So therefore, I believe, besides security concerns that India has, it must play a big role in helping the people of Afghanistan, so they can live a dignified life, and have a government that truly represents them.

India’s policy on Afghanistan has always been about values and principles- abandoning those today, and adopting a “safe strategy” due to the exigencies of the Taliban takeover is short term and myopic foreign policy. At the least, India must consider reopening visas for Afghan students immediately, particularly women who have little chance of education or work otherwise, and exert more power at the global stage in holding the Taliban to account.

READING RECOMMENDATIONS

1. The Favored Daughter: One Woman’s Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future by Fawzia Koofi

2. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban Paperback by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lab

3. The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg

4. Veiled Courage: Inside the Afghan Women’s Resistance by Cheryl Benard

5. Open Skies: My Life as Afghanistan’s First Female Pilot by Niloofar Rahmani and Adam Sikes

6. August in Kabul: America’s last days in Afghanistan by Andrew Quilty

7. Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History, Second Edition coming out by Thomas Barfield

8. The American War in Afghanistan: A History Hardcover by Carter Malkasian

9. The Long War: The Inside Story of America and Afghanistan Since 9/11 by David Loyn

10. Afghan Napoleon: The Life of Ahmad Shah Massoud by Sandy Gall- includes parts of Massoud’s diaries, and her conversations with Ahmad Massoud

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