Afghanistan on the Boil

Shantanu Mukharji

Amid credible reports of Taliban making inroads into various territories, India took a decisive and swift step in temporarily shutting down its consulate in Kandahar and evacuating diplomats and security personnel to New Delhi. An Indian Air Force aircraft was used in this quick operation obviating chances of any terror threat from the belligerent Taliban that seemed capable of targeting Indian infrastructure as well. It may be recalled that Kandahar used to be the headquarters of the Taliban in the ‘90s and with the ongoing thrust of the Taliban, chances of a nasty armed showdown with Afghan National Security and Defence Forces (ANSDF) remains a very strong possibility. However, the Indian diplomatic Mission in Kabul and its Consulate in Mazar e Sharif remain in place and perhaps a call on their future in view of Taliban advances will be taken in due course depending upon the situation.

On the other hand, however, Afghan security establishment has said that Taliban had bent overstating its claims of pushing into Afghan territories specially near Kandahar underlining that ANSDF has successfully repulsed several Taliban advances and the latter’s claims of territorial annexations were grossly exaggerated. On its part, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that it is calibrating its responses and would take stock as the situation unfolds.

On July 9, Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid claimed that its fighters had captured the border town of Islam Qila on the Iranian frontier and the Torghundi crossing adjoining Turkmenistan. Assuming such claims are correct, the most significant spot between Iran and Afghanistan has fallen to the Taliban and that’s worth taking note of. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden said on July 8 that the US military mission in Afghanistan would end on August 31. That means Taliban would be further emboldened to embark on more armed misadventures posing greater challenge to the Afghan security forces who are already battling the onslaught of Taliban witnessing terror assaults including devastating bombings including one happening as latest as on July 9. There is an emerging pattern of volatility as the date of US troops’ withdrawal draws to a close.

In the meantime, the National Security Advisor (NSA), to the Pakistan PM Imran Khan, Moeed Yusuf said on July 9 that there was an element of concern in Pakistan due to the worsening developing situation in Afghanistan describing it as extremely bad and getting out of Pakistan‘s  control. The Pakistani NSA was briefing the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and admitted that Pakistan remains vulnerable as an attack by Tehreek e Taliban could enable the Taliban cadres to enter into Pakistan impersonating as refugees.

In the same vein, Moeed Yusuf categorically dismissed the Indian claims that there was presence of Afghan Taliban on the Pakistani soil. He termed these claims as Indian propaganda as such publicity blitz, he alleged, was also funded by India. Analysts, however, feel that such charges are without basis and Pakistan does have a nexus with Taliban.

Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi who also briefed the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, said that the Afghan situation was definitely getting out of hand but it was not fair to blame Pakistan for the mess. Most intriguing statement from the Pakistan Foreign Minister was in the form of a caution when he recommended power sharing in Afghanistan after the US troops’ withdrawal or else it would see a deadly civil war scale of which has never been seen before. He admitted that in the event of a civil war, Pakistan would not be in a position to handle the refugees or the cascading effects of the civil war. As always, Qureshi didn’t lose the opportunity of India bashing and blamed India for destabilising the region by ‘meddling’ in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.

In a related but very pertinent development, the well-known Pakistan daily Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad, Fahd Hussain in a hard hitting piece in his paper dated July 10, called upon the Pakistani political leadership to provide clarity in the light of the deepening complex situation prevailing in Pakistan as to what’s the contingency plan if there was a civil war and the refugees started pouring in into the Pakistani soil? The scribe under reference also gave out that recently the Afghan government military forces while fighting the Taliban abandoned their post and crossed over to Pakistan for their safety.

This was indeed a signal that in future similar recurrences may happen. The government needed to address such apprehensions, he articulated. Touching upon the existing US-Pak ties, it’s felt that the same are under strain meriting some clarity. Pakistan security establishment also doesn’t appear to be clear if in the event of US drones entering into Pakistani airspace adjoining the borders of Afghanistan, what should be the Pakistani response? In sum, Pakistani leadership seems to be ambiguous about any roadmap to tackle the Afghanistan imbroglio. And such a state of panic and helplessness may take Pakistan into further mess which it may not be able to extricate itself from.

(Writer is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views expressed are personal)

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