Author : Harsh V. Pant

Originally Published 2018-07-07 13:09:27 Published on Jul 07, 2018
India needs to be aware of the potentially disastrous consequences for its national security.
Why ISIS and Taliban threat to Afghanistan's national security should concern India
A country once known for its management of diversity, today finds itself in a situation where the only Sikh candidate running in the elections is now dead along with 18 other minorities in a gruesome attack last week. A suicide bomber targeted a group of Sikhs and Hindus on their way to meet Afghanistan’s President in the eastern city of Jalalabad leading to this carnage.

Siege within

The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the strike targeting a group of “polytheists” was carried out by its Khorasan unit. From around 250,000 Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan before the 1990s, only around 1,000 now remain in the country and those too have been under siege. The sense of desperation is growing among the minorities after the latest attack with some talking of relocating to India. This attack came after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced the end of the government’s unilateral ceasefire and ordered Afghan forces to restart operations across the country. Ghani underlined, somewhat contradictorily, that the ceasefire had been 98 per cent successful and had shown that the majority of the rebels wanted peace, adding that it was now the “Taliban’s turn to give a positive response”. He has indicated that he was ready to extend the ceasefire anytime when the Taliban were ready. The Afghan government’s ceasefire lasted 18 days with one extension and was synchronous with the Taliban’s three-day truce for Eid ul-Fitr. While the three days were unprecedented in the nearly 17-year conflict (in that they saw no fighting), the Taliban did not hold back for the remaining days. Moreover, the ceasefire did not extend to the ISIS which is fast emerging as a potent force in its own right. Ghani had offered to recognise the Taliban as a political group and discuss amendments to the Afghan constitution to make it happen. But it was rejected by the Taliban as they are not interested in talking to Kabul and want to negotiate with the US. In a statement marking the end of their ceasefire on Sunday, the Taliban called on “the invading American party” to “sit directly for dialogue with the Islamic Emirate to find a solution for the ongoing imbroglio.” The US for its part has made it clear that any Afghan peace talks should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. The larger reality remains that the Taliban think they are winning on the battlefield and have no interest in engaging the Afghan government. Meanwhile, the Afghan and US forces are having to fight on two fronts — the Taliban and the ISIS. Last year the US even used the most powerful conventional bomb in its arsenal against the ISIS in Nangarhar, underscoring its resolve to take the terror group head on. But the challenge from ISIS in Afghanistan has continued to grow parallel to the Taliban menace.

Security challenges

As Afghanistan has entered the election phase, political jostling has also started, compounding security challenges. The Ghani government remains politically divided, with long-delayed parliamentary elections scheduled for October and presidential elections next year. Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, is often accused of ethnic bias, and regional warlords have started to flex their muscles — as exemplified by the recent revolt by the supporters of Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek. Regional situation remains as complex as ever. Despite Ghani talking of an impending Pakistan — Afghanistan pact against terrorism, Pakistan military’s assertion in domestic politics makes any possibility of a sustainable outcome unlikely. China, which has real leverage over Pakistan, has so far not shown any willingness to moderate Pakistani policies vis-à-vis Afghanistan. And Iran is now helping the Taliban in ways unimaginable just a few years back. Shia Iran and Sunni Taliban have been long-time rivals and unlikely bedfellows. But American presence in Afghanistan is reshaping their calculus. Much like the Taliban, Iran wants to see foreign forces leave, and that any government that prevails will at least not threaten its interests, and at best be friendly or aligned with them. Tehran has been providing military support to the Taliban in Afghanistan for some time now but this engagement has reached new heights more recently.

American angle

Recent reports suggest that hundreds of Taliban fighters are being trained from special forces at Iran’s military academies as part of a significant escalation of support for the insurgents; Iran has also sent Afghans to fight for its ally President Bashar Assad in Syria. US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal further incentivises Iran to enhance its support to the Taliban. Emboldened by their experience in Syria, Iran and Russia are also working closely in Afghanistan to challenge the US and this primarily means supporting the Taliban with greater vigour. These developments underscore the challenge Afghanistan faces as it moves into an electoral cycle with an unpredictable Trump Administration in Washington as its main supporter. India needs to be aware of the potentially disastrous consequences for its national security if the negative externalities emanating from Afghanistan are not managed effectively.
This commentary originally appeared in Mail Today.
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Harsh V. Pant

Harsh V. Pant

Professor Harsh V. Pant is Vice President – Studies and Foreign Policy at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He is a Professor of International Relations ...

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