The Taliban has taken control of Afghanistan, as of 16th August 2021. President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on 15th August, 2021. The Islamic fundamentalist political and military organisation has dominated the Afghan polity for quite a long time. They were removed from power in Afghanistan by US-led forces in 2001. However, Afghanistan has been plunged into chaos after the Taliban took over in the wake of the pull out of American forces from the country.
The Taliban are predominantly a Pashtun, Sunni fundamentalist organisation that is involved in Afghan politics. The Taliban has remained in power for three quarters of the country from 1996 to 2001. They were known for their strict implementation of the Sharia law. This period can be marked as the period of widespread abuse of human rights where women were targeted especially. The Taliban officially refers to itself as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”.
Origin of Talibans and how did they rise to power
The origin of Taliban is somewhere started with the great game. The Great Game was a political and diplomatic confrontation that existed for most of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century between the British Empire and the Russian Empire, over Afghanistan and neighbouring territories in Central and South Asia. It also had direct consequences in Persia and British India. Britain feared that Russia planned to invade India and that this was the goal of Russia’s expansion in Central Asia, while Russia feared the expansion of British interests in Central Asia. As Britain did not want Russia to reach British India, it invaded Afghanistan thrice; in 1838, 1878, 1919. The principal objective to attack Afghanistan was to make it a buffer state.
In 1838, the British were defeated, but in 1878 the British won the battle. Now Afghanistan has become a protectorate of the British. In the third Anglo-Afghan war, 1919, the British were defeated. In 1921, Afghanistan emerged as an independent country. Between 1921-1936, Amanullah was the emirate of Afghanistan. Later he announced himself as the king of Afghanistan. In 1933, Zahir Shah became the new king. He ruled for 40 years and brought stability to the country.
In 1953, Mohammad Daud Khan who was the cousin of the king, became the Prime Minister of Afghanistan. He was a pro-communist in his ideology and introduced several reforms in Afghanistan.
In 1965, the Afghan Communist Party was formed by Babrak Kamal and Nur Mohammad Taraki. In 1973, Daoud Khan overthrew Zahir Shah and abolishes the monarchy by establishing The Republic of Afghanistan with close ties with the USSR. Daoud Khan’s government introduced many reforms for modernisation. He proposed for a new constitution that grants women rights and works to modernise large communist state. According to the experts, Daoud Khan’s government was the puppet of the USSR. India was the only country in South-Asia to recognise this government which was backed by USSR.
In 1978, Daoud Khan was killed in a communist coup. Reforms introduced by the Daoud Khan’s government was considered to be too radical by the traditional power structures and rural areas. Mohammad Taraki, who was also a believer of communism, took control of the country as the President. He proclaimed independence from Soviet influence and declared their policies to be based on Islamic Principles. This was the time when the conservative islam and ethnic leaders revolted to restore the social order.
In 1979, Taraki was killed by those who supported Hafizulla Amin. Now, at this time USSR intervened and deployed the Soviet Army. They orchestrated a coup killing the ruling President Hafizullah Amin.
Babrak Karmal was declared President. The USSR installed their ally as the President. The USA and other western nations saw this as an invasion by the Soviet Union. As it was the period of cold war, the USA supported the Mujahideen. When the towns were under Soviet control, the rural areas were still under the control of Mujahideen. Mujahideen were supported by the USA, China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt in their fight against the USSR. In 1989, the USSR withdrew their troops at the cost of lakhs of Afghan lives. This was the time when the government of Afghanistan had to fight the Mujahideen alone as USSR withdrew their troops from the country.
However, there was a civil war between the Mujahideen also in 1992 as they were divided into factions. In 1994, a group of students seized control of the city of Kandahar and started a battle for power to control the entire country. They were called the Taliban. They were Islamic fundamentalists. In fact, many of them were trained in camps in Pakistan where they were refugees. In 1995, the Taliban captured the province of Herat and in 1996, Kabul. By 1998, almost the entire country was under the control of the Taliban. Some of the Mujahideen warlords fled to the north of the country and joined the Northern Alliance who were fighting the Taliban.
The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, to remove the Taliban from power as they were hosting alQaeda terrorists, who were the main suspects of the September 11 attacks. This marked the start of the United States’s War on Terror. The War in Afghanistan (2001-present) is between Afghan Army troops, backed by additional United States troops, fighting against insurgents of the Taliban. NATO has also been involved in this war. In 2001 some 1300 NATO troops arrived in Afghanistan for the first time which grew to around 1 lakh by 2010. After US and NATO intervention, Hamid Karzai became the first ever democratically elected head of state in 2004 and the current President is Ashraf Ghani, since 29 September 2014. Since 2001, the US policy on Afghanistan relied on permanent presence in the country to ensure smooth transition of Afghanistan towards democratic governance; however US’ prolonged intervention in Afghanistan started gathering criticism for its failure to usher in political stability, for failing to check the resurgence of Taliban and for the innumerable loss of lives on the foreign soil.
India’s approach towards Afghanistan
India’s Afghanistan policy, especially after 1979, was based on the promise that an external friendly power would do the heavy lifting in Afghanistan’s security and political sector. India, meanwhile, would invest in soft sectors, such as infrastructure development, and would limit its involvement in the security domain. India was the only South Asian nation to recognize the Soviet backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. However, USSR’s withdrawal in 1989 reduced India’s presence in Afghanistan. India had no engagement with the Taliban directly and became one of the key supporters of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. India’s active involvement in Afghanistan has been discouraged to cater to Pakistani wishes. India was not invited to the Bonn conference 2001, where the post-Taliban order in Afghanistan was discussed. Pakistan emerged as an all-important country in USA’s war on terror due to its proximity to the Taliban heartland and its strong leverage over the militant group.
However, India’s relation with Afghanistan improved markedly under the Karzai presidency and New Delhi invested heavily in developmental and infrastructural projects in Afghanistan which built India’s soft power and led to recognition of India as a key partner in solving the Afghan problem. In 2011, Afghanistan signed its first Strategic Partnership Agreement with India, after Karzai had rejected a similar offer from Pakistan.
India’s contribution in Afghan development
- Parliament building in Kabul
- Zaranj Delaram Highway (Connecting western Afghanistan to Chabahar port in Iran)
- Salma Dam Project (India-Afghan friendship dam)
- India has also signed a trilateral preferential trade agreement with Afghanistan and Iran.
Defence and administrative support
- Strengthening Afghan public institution and supporting them with technical advisers
- Training for Afghan public servants, soldiers and policemen
- Supplying military hardware (Mi-25 and Mi-35 choppers for the air force.)
Education, health and medical sector
- India has provided multiple scholarships to Afghan students with thousands of Afghan nationals studying in India along with providing vocational training and skill development classes to Afghan women and youth.
- India’s liberal visa policy has made it easier for Afghan patients to travel to India which has further enhanced people-to-people interaction between the two countries.
- India has bestowed an amount of 5 million USD for the Afghan Red Society Programme to treat congenital heart disease in children.
- Bollywood movies display the cultural links between India and Afghanistan and Indian cinema has a large market in Afghanistan.
- India’s involvement and contribution to the development of cricket in Afghanistan has been one of its primary means of soft power influence in the nation.
India’s stand on Taliban
Although India has signaled a shift in its position on engaging with the Taliban by participating in the commencement ceremony of Intra-Afghan talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, it still does not recognise the Taliban. India believes any peace process must be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.
Its implications are as follows:
- To respect the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan and promote human rights and democracy.
- To preserve the progress made in the establishment of a democratic Islamic Republic in Afghanistan.
India supports an “independent and sovereign” Afghanistan. These words indicate that Pakistan and ISI should not be a controller of Afghanistan. Indian interests include the Indian Embassy and Indian companies and workers in Afghanistan, should be protected. The interests of minorities, women and vulnerable sections of society must be preserved and the issue of violence across the country and its neighbourhood has to be effectively addressed.