ENGAGING THE TALIBAN; SLEEPING WITH THE DEVIL

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“Afghan-origin Terror prime concern: India” blares out the headline of one of India’s leading dailies the other day, adding “Centre says it conveyed this to the Taliban at Qatar meeting”. Wow What an earth-shattering announcement by the government of the second-most populated country in the world, with the fourth largest global military machine at its command! It speaks volumes about the people we are and the way the world sees India; the ultimate pussyfooters. When are we going to find the backbone to tell the world at large instead, “We have this set of raving maniacs called the Taliban in our own backyard and we are going to make sure they behave”? That is calling a spade a spade and it calls for courage to do it, not cowardice, which our establishment is inherently imbued with. Not that it makes a difference to the Taliban; as far as they are concerned, we are their Enemy Number One – the Kafirs they would like nothing better than to annihilate. The sooner we come out of our denial mode and recognize this fact, the better it would be, for the future of our country and mankind in general. You can’t wish away the enemy at your gate; you have got to fight him.

Dear reader, I am not a qualified political strategist. I am a down-to-earth former soldier who has seen enough combat and has enough common sense not to want another war to ravage my country. India, my country, lives with perpetual animosity from two of her immediate neighbours, who are more than willing to aid and abet anyone who wants to harm her. In such a scenario, the breeding of a sinister sect sworn to annihilate most people who inhabit our land in such close proximity does not bode well for us. While on one hand, our armed forces are constantly engaged in combating terror elements that infiltrate Kashmir, on the other, we have been victims of far too many terror-strikes elsewhere in the country over the years, masterminded from across our border. This is an undeclared war intended to bleed India by a thousand cuts, because the concerned neighbour has found, much to his chagrin, that he can never win a conventional war against us. What better opportunity can they have to up the ante than having an ally next door, ready and raring to destroy India?

In December 1999, when India was eternally shamed by IC-814 hijacking, I sounded my frank views in a paper I prepared, calling for military action, which was deemed to be rubbish by my own friends as a maverick notion, let alone get support from any publication caring to feature it. The world has moved on since then. A wounded America invaded Afghanistan and drove the ruling Taliban out to hold the scourge at bay for twenty years, and has backed out now licking its wounds. The Americans have nothing to be ashamed of, as the world generally perceives. The al-Qaeda, under the auspices of the Taliban, hit the twin towers at New York and caused the US a lot of grief and embarrassment. The US struck back and hammered the Taliban with a double whammy. They toppled them from power and kept them out of the country for two decades. That should be retribution enough for the crime they committed, and the US had nothing more to gain in a country so far away from theirs. Theirs was merely a punitive action. If the Afghans failed to grab the opportunity that they were literally handed on a silver platter and shore up themselves against future Taliban outrage, it was their undoing.

India’s role as a keen non-military player in helping the people of Afghanistan find their feet was laudable. Unfortunately, our intelligence community and the diplomatic corps had neither the wisdom nor the foresight to incorporate measures to safeguard Indian interests after the Americans were gone; a fact that the whole world knew was bound to happen sooner or later. Where did our guys go wrong? We had generated immense goodwill for India and Indians among ordinary Afghans through the various development projects. That was one positive factor we should have exploited to the hilt; to feel the political pulse of that country. They should have been able to judge well in advance that Ashraf Ghani was held in contempt by all those who mattered, especially the Afghan military. Ghani was an absolutely corrupt politician, concerned solely on amassing wealth and was least bothered about the welfare and future of his country. The whole world witnessed his cowardly flight carrying bundles of cash, leaving an entire nation in the lurch. And the Indian diplomats and intelligence sleuths, who draw fat salaries to safeguard our country’s interests, let all this happen right under their nose, naively singing Ghani’s glory!

It is inconceivable that a well-trained and equipped army of 350,000 men would crumble like a house of cards against a 60,000-strong rag tag militia of pyjama-clad criminals, whose sole motivation was money from heroin, veiled under the sigil of a holy war. The fact is that the Afghan troops were a highly demoralized lot, since they were neither being paid properly nor were their logistics taken care of. The huge funding that the Afghan Government was receiving from the Americans for their defence budget was all going into the pockets of Ghani and his coterie instead of filling the state’s coffers. Although well-trained and competent, the troops found themselves disillusioned by the way they were being treated by the government, and found it better to join hands with the Taliban and enjoy a share of the heroin money, their inherent tribal loyalties fomenting the process. In fact, the Taliban hardly did any fighting. Theirs was a campaign of wheeling and dealing, which is intrinsic in the Afghan culture. Military commanders at various levels were easily compromised and units and formations were surrendering en masse.

If our diplomats and intelligence outfits had used their wits, they could have very well thwarted this catastrophe, by quietly cultivating an alternate political leadership, which could have replaced Ghani’s and cleaned up their house. Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who has proved to be a man of integrity in the crisis, was one person they could have worked with, to take over the reins. We were indeed constrained by various factors from any kind of military involvement, given the US obsession with Pakistan, which proverbially runs with the hares and hunts with the hounds. What we could have done however, was to extend covert support to anti-Taliban elements like the Northern Alliance over a period of time, by way of arming, equipping and training them, to create a bulwark against the Taliban, if and when the Afghan Army failed to cope with a Taliban invasion. After all the Taliban is essentially Pakistan-sponsored and in no way truly indigenous to Afghanistan. I’m sure the CIA or the British intelligence would have looked the other way, if India was taking the initiative to bolster the native potential of the Afghans to fight the Taliban, since it would have been in their interests too that the country did not fall to Taliban when they left. Such an outreach would have been a perfectly justifiable proactive measure to counter the influx of Af-Pak terrorists into Kashmir. Sadly, we missed the boat and now Taliban is back in power in Afghanistan, facilitating a far wider support base for Pakistan to wage its proxy war against India.

What damage control could we possibly do now? For starters, we should establish contact with the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban outfits. We could always find a covert operations base in one of the Central Asian republics. Our primary objective should be to foment enough trouble for the Taliban regime, so that its mullahs do not sit in comfort in Kabul and brutalize the people of Afghanistan with abandon. This should instill confidence in the people to turn more and more defiant of the barbaric regime and could build up an effective resistance to challenge its hegemony. Eventually, this could force the Taliban to mend its ways and settle for a more representative form of government, if not, be forced out of power altogether. After all the Taliban regime is nothing but a bunch of criminals who have again found a base for their illicit activities, with no concern for the country or the capability to govern it; notwithstanding the fact that the big fish of international politics like the United States, Russia, China and ones like India which no one bothers about, are falling head over heels to ‘engage’ with Taliban, as our own pussyfooting ‘intellectuals’ keep spurring the Government of India on. I’m sure any honest Indian would admit that we should do everything within our power to destabilize the Taliban regime; if not for our own security, to show our compassion towards the hapless people of Afghanistan. If we hold one trump card in the whole mess, it is that the common people of Afghanistan love India and Indians. As a major regional power, we have a moral obligation to stand up for the Afghans. During the earlier Taliban takeover after the Soviet pullout, to our utter disgrace, they hanged the India-friendly President Najibullah from a lamp post, while his wife, living in Delhi, wept helplessly at the gory sight, despairing that India wouldn’t lend a helping hand. Let them not shame us anymore, right across our doorstep. If we cannot even assert ourselves regionally, how can we boast of being a global power!

In conclusion, let me appeal to the Government of India and my fellow Indians to recognize religious bigotry as an evil we need to put down to save our nation and our democracy. Actually, it has nothing to do with religion per se. These radical outfits, Taliban, al-Qaeda or ISIS, are all pretending to be apostles of true Islam, weirdly interpreting the Holy Quran, and have nothing in common with the billions of decent Muslims who live all over the world. These outfits are formed by psychopaths who come together to give vent to their murderous traits, which no civilized society would accept; the reason we find a number non-Muslims players also flocking to their herd. Therefore, they need to find a hole to hide, whether up in the mountains of Hindu Kush, the deserts of the Middle-East or the barren land of Afghanistan, naming it their Caliphate. The al-Qaeda became irrelevant when the Americans slaughtered Osama Bin Laden, and the ISIS was blown out of the Middle-East by the US-led coalition, the Russians and the Syrians. Now it is the turn of the Taliban to take the centrestage. What looks ominous is the complacence of most nations in accepting the Taliban take-over of Afghanistan as fait accompli, leaving the people of Afghanistan to their fate. No Sir, this will not do. It is the same kind of complacency on the part of the Europeans at large and the German people in particular, that enabled the Nazis to inflict havoc on the world during the last century. And the Taliban is no different than the Nazis; the latter at least had certain amount of political legitimacy. Our intelligentsia, which wants dialogue with the Taliban, truly reminds me of the lobby of dithering British politicians, who advocated a deal with Hitler after he had invaded the rest of Europe, rather than risk a German invasion of British Isles, forcing Winston Churchill to fight with his back to the wall to obtain a wafer-thin majority for the parliament to pass his proposal to fight and not to negotiate. Churchill, the despicable racist he was, was no coward; but for his firm stand at that hour of reckoning when Britain stood alone in the path of the German juggernaut, the history of the world would have been different. Great nations are defined by the great ideals they fight for. The so-called radical Islam is a menace the world community will have to fight to the finish today or tomorrow, much as we did the Nazis. There is no way we are going to see the last of these perverts until we decimate the entire lot of them. Those who profess ‘engaging’ the Taliban must realize that there is no reasoning with a rabid dog; you just shoot him dead.

This is a moment in history when we, as a democratic and secular nation, have to come together as one to fight this diabolic enemy, so as not to let him leave his evil imprints on our soil. There is no place in this scenario for the misguided Hindu fringe elements, who hurt the sentiments of our Muslim citizens by their mindless acts, just because they bear names that are similar to some terrorists. Similarly, our political class must refrain from inflaming communal passions by branding acts of such hooligans as ‘Hindu Terrorism’ and suchlike. These jokers are not even boy scout level if you are comparing them with the likes of Taliban.

My dear countrymen, we have a fight on our hands. The sooner you brace yourselves for it and enter the fray the better. Trust me, you do nothing and hibernate, this enemy will humiliate you over and over again until you will have to fight him at a time and situation of his choosing, like he made us do right at the gates of the country’s parliament or in the corridors of India’s most prestigious hotel. The choice is ours. Grab the opportunity now and set the enemy’s tail on fire, or get yourselves burnt one day.

Capt. D P Ramachandran
Capt D P Ramachandran is a war veteran and military history enthusiast, who writes about battles of the Indian Army and India’s martial heritage. He can be reached at captdpr@gmail.com
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