Former Indian foreign secretary in conversation with Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now
GN Bureau | August 30, 2021
Former Indian diplomat Kanwal Sibal has said that the US war over the Taliban in Afghanistan could only have been won if it had dealt with the terror group’s safe heavens in Pakistan first.
In a conversation with Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now, Sibal said that unless the US dealt with Pakistan there is no way they could win this war with Afghanistan. According to him, he said that even the Soviets’ had told the US that unless they dealt with safe heavens in Pakistan they could not win the war in Afghanistan in silo which they (the US) did not want to do.
“By handing over the country to the very groups they fought against for 18 years is totally against all principles and values the US has tried to spread internationally and part of their policies and inherent democratic human rights ideology and handed over the country to a group which doesn’t at all share the values of the United States,” said Sibal on Friday, during the webcast of Visionary Talk series held by the public policy and governance analysis platform.
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Coming down on the US action on withdrawal of troops from the war-torn nation, Sibal said a terror group had been handed over power without going through a democratic and electoral process. They (the US) have legitimized the group by talking directly to it.
“The country has been handed over to a group which does not believe in gender equality and women’s issues which are very powerful issues or human rights in general. It is a tragedy for the international community that the United States has chosen to hand over the country to the Taliban and it is going to have serious repercussions in the region and globally,” he said.
He, however, added there are far more serious challenges (than the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan) to globalized democratic world which are emerging from China.
Speaking on China’s increasing power, he said if a choice has to be made between US democracy and Chinese authoritarianism, most of the world would be in tune with globalized world based on certain values rather than having a China dominated world which is opaque, where you don’t know how policies are made and there is no freedom of press. “That is the reason why countries like India are asking for reforms of international institutions, both political and economic... far too long the west has dominated these institutions and set the agenda and countries like India which is democratic and could have a right to influence and steer that agenda in terms of more democratic policy between countries [should be granted more voice]. Unfortunately, China has now begun to dominate. It is the second largest provider of funds to the United Nations. India as a democratic country, unfortunately, is not able to exercise its weight in terms of shaping the global environment which has been shaped by the west…”
Pakistan, he said, has used Afghan territory to train terrorist organizations like LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed and send them to Kashmir, and the Taliban have been complicit. Now there could be concerns that Pakistan and the Taliban may join hands to put some pressure in J&K.
He said that Islamabad will take tremendous risk after Balakot where India has shown that it won’t tolerate Pakistan stepping up terrorist activities in J&K…. “There is no contiguity between India and Afghanistan. It has to come through Pakistan. Now that everybody is aware of Pakistan’s role in promoting terrorism in the region and under watch by the FATF (Financial Action Task Force), if Pakistan actually starts promoting terrorism in J&K it will become far more vulnerable in terms of international pressure.”
The issue of terrorism is there, he said, but in a different way, in the sense that Pakistan itself has got radicalized “and if there is such a radical force in Afghanistan which is basking in the glory that they defeated another superpower, the atmosphere in the region changes and much greater value put in using the tool of terrorism and Islamic radicalism to fight their battles …. If we can stand up to China we can surely stand up to these ragtag gun-totting fellows,” said Sibal.
Sibal, who is a recipient of Padma Shri award, further said that India needs to strengthen and boost its capabilities in the areas of the navy, maritime security and Quad in the Indo-Pacific where China does not dominate and is vulnerable.
“We have to balance and boost our naval capabilities in partnership with others. Considering terrorist attacks at Kabul airport are sign of times of what lies ahead, we may find slowly more common ground with Russia to stem the kind of challenges that one can foresee emanating from Afghanistan.”
Asked to respond to US President Joe Bidens comment after Kabul airport bombing that the attackers will not be spared, Sibal said, “The Taliban have withstood the bite of the US and now can easily withstand its bark... this is a murky situation. I don’t know where the truth is… I hope the Americans can get to them.... how they will get there, will they have intelligence on ground, will Pakistan cooperate? Will they do special operations like they did in Syria on unfavourable ground with countries hostile to them? I don’t think so.”
Asked if a Republican administration in the US would have made a difference in Afghanistan, Sibal said it is not withdrawal but the manner of withdrawal that has come in for criticism. Trump who had committed to his electorate that he would end the war in Afghanistan and he would not have done anything different. “… I don’t think materially anything would have changed under the Republican administration because the US has got in a very difficult situation… once you have announced you are going to leave and there is public opinion that expects it to happen. It is the acceleration of the time-table of withdrawal and the manner of withdrawal and not so much the withdrawal itself that is being criticized even in the US.”
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