Our strategy has to be two-pronged. Diplomacy and security both have to be integrated
Hari Hara Mishra | September 10, 2021
We are at a defining moment of history twenty years after the deadliest terrorist attack that killed 2,977 and injured more than 6,000 in the USA. Just to recollect, four commercial flights were hijacked midtraffic by terrorist group Al-Qaeda. They took control of the flights and crashed two planes into the World Trade Center in New York. The third flight was crashed into the Pentagon and the fourth one could not hit any target, crashing in a field. In retaliation, the USA invaded Afghanistan to depose the Taliban, then ruling Afghanistan, who had not complied with the US request to expel Al-Qaeda and the terror mastermind Osama bin Laden (who was killed by the US Navy SEALS, at a hideout in Abottabad, Pakistan, in 2011). The Taliban retreated in a few months after the US invasion and by December 2001, the Northern alliance was in control. All that is history now.
Come 2021. Now it has moved a full circle. And a complete U turn of events. The same Taliban are now back in power in Afghanistan, thanks to the backing of the same US and the withdrawal of the last American troops from Afghanistan in August. The interim government announced by the Taliban comprise of many declared terrorists with bounty on their heads. Mullah Hasan Akhund, who is on the UN terror blacklist, will be the prime minister. Khalil Haqqani, a designated global terrorist with Al-Qaeda links is minister for refugees. Sirajuddin Haqqani with a $5 million bounty on his head is now the interior minister. For the entire world, this is an unprecedented and unexpected outcome of a two-decade war on terror launched by the US in Afghanistan.
From India’s point of view, what is more troubling is the vast influence that Pakistan and its ISI have over the current Taliban regime as also the dispensation’s proximity to China. Let us put it as Pakistan, Taliban, China – PTC Axis. From the security perspective, PTC poses the greatest ever security threat to India so far.
The present situation poses grave challenges to our security interests and foreign policy has to be calibrated. National Interest is the cornerstone of the foreign policy of any country. Too much obsession with principles and morality can have a dysfunctional effect and we have learnt a lesson in 1962. ‘Panchsheel’ and ‘Hindi-Chini bhai bhai’ led us to a bloody battle. Our strategy has to be two-pronged. Diplomacy and security both have to be integrated. The first thrust of efforts is to see that there is stability in the region. Second, and the more pressing for us, is in stepping up vigil and enhancing internal security apparatus.
India’s options, at the present juncture, are limited, and its influence reduced after fall of the Afghan government, with which India had cultivated a lasting relationship for growth and development. Right now, India is in a wait-and-watch mode, waiting for the Taliban to open their cards in terms of their commitment to inclusiveness, women’s rights etc. The early indication so far emanating from the Taliban is that those commitments are for public posturing and to get recognition, rather than an act of faith.
In the present situation, to put in John F Kennedy’s words, while we should not fear to negotiate, we should not negotiate out of fear. Let us not be influenced by the past of the Taliban, nor get swayed by the future. They are in control of a neighbouring nation. We may recognise this as a matter of fact. It is a different and tough choice whether we recognise them as a political establishment.
The fate of 32 million people of Afghanistan will shape its future course of journey. A poor country ranked 169 out of 186 countries in 2018 in terms of purchasing power parity has landed up in a mess. In the last few weeks, after the Taliban takeover, inflation is running high, banking channels have dried up. The US, World Bank, IMF and other bodies have reportedly frozen Afghan reserves/ drawings or access to capital. The situation has brought in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. We should address the human sufferings first by making an initiative for channelling aid through multilateral agencies and restoring financial normalcy. A stable Afghanistan serves our national interest better than making it more isolated and desperate.
As far as strategic interests are involved, we need to have a durable engagement to fill the power vacuum created after US exit. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has the potential to upset the balance of power equilibrium with devastating impact in the Indian subcontinent. We need to build up a credible front with Russia and Iran and engage on matters of intelligence, surveillance and to maintain geopolitical stability in the region.
India has been at the receiving end of various terror groups in the last two decades. The attack on our Parliament in December 2001 followed shortly after 9/11 in the US in September 2001. Thereafter, a series of attacks and coordinated bombings took place in various cities across India, including the Delhi serial blasts in 2005 that killed 67 and injured over 200. Next year in 2006, in a span of 11 minutes, seven bombs were set off in Mumbai, killing 200 and injuring 700. In 2008, a 9/11-like moment for India occurred with a three-day assault by Laskhar-e-Taliba in the commercial capital Mumbai which killed 174 people and wounded more than 300. As recently as in 2019, a convoy of security personnel was attacked by suicide bombers in Pulwama killing 40 CRPF personnel. In last 20 years around 100 terrorist incidents have been witnessed.
With enhanced threat perception now, fight against terror has to be substantially scaled up with focus on intelligence and security networks coordinating efforts for deactivating local sleeper cells or preventing home grown terror to proliferate, in addition to controlling infiltrations and possible external attacks.
India is a great military power and has a very capable army to defend its interests and assets. Unitedly, we must respond to any perceived threat of terrorism with equal and proportional force. The deterrence threat is the only credible safety net for a vast country like India with several diversities. Any Indian blood spilt inside India or abroad to a terror attack should never go unavenged.
Mishra is a public policy commentator and columnist.
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