Frustrated Indian and Afghan governments (blame on Pakistan)-Express Tribune

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The outside world still thinks that Pakistan is at the back of Taliban’s rapid advance in Afghanistan

Afghan government is losing ground to the advancing Taliban’s at a rapid and unbelievable pace and all this talk of training 350,000-strong Afghan army is coming to an absolute naught. To the military strategist the biggest question today is: why couldn’t an American trained and equipped Afghan army hold ground and defend its government’s interests? Are these Afghan soldiers poorly trained or are they voluntarily switching sides? The Afghan political and military landscape today is fast changing and creating its own circumstances and its own realities, but the outside world still thinks that Pakistan is at the back of all this and would not believe that the Taliban are achieving all this on their own. Are we dealing with reason or are we dealing with frustrations? Most probably frustrations.

Noticeably, there are two growing frustrations. One, the Afghan-Indian collective frustrations; and two, the American frustration of not knowing how to handle the Afghan defeat. Frustrations usually occur because of disappointment, anger and annoyance and the response is thus more emotional than reasonable and logical. When the selected objectives are no more achieved, blocked or denied the frustration grows richer by the growing denials. One of the most expected outcomes of frustration is hurling insults and abuse and that is exactly what Pakistan is encountering these days.

These days the Afghan and Indian governments are promoting this notion of collective frustration, and all kinds of allegations are being levelled against Pakistan. If the Afghan forces are not standing tall and fighting hard on ground, the Indian and Afghan trollers instead of blaming them are relentless in blaming Pakistan for these failures on social media networks. ‘Sanction Pakistan’ is a Twitter trend that is being supported by some of these frustrated Afghan and Indian minds.

Habibullah Khan Totakhil, an Afghan journalist and a former Wall Street Journal reporter, has asked people to “use whatever platform you have to support Afghan call for ending the proxy war. Afghanistan is under attack and need you most now”. Another prominent journalist, Daud Junbish, criticised Pakistan by tweeting that “the existence of Pakistan depends on supporting and directing terrorism. Unless and until this issue is dealt [with] the world will never be safe again.”

These two examples I have quoted deliberately to highlight two important points. One, Afghanistan is not under attack now; it has been under attack for the last 40 years. It is the wrong policies of the Afghan leaders that have created the kind of Afghanistan in which the Totakilis and the Junbishs live. Two, both Afghanistan and Pakistan have been clear victims of terrorism and both could have mutually found a way out of it if the Afghan leadership had not sidelined their natural ally, partner and neighbour Pakistan and in its place executed an unnatural alliance with India. For a country that was almost entirely dependent on external support, not India but Pakistan was always its natural ally. Why did the Afghans fall for the Indian trap?

PM Modi of India always wanted an Afghanistan not dependent on Pakistan and he managed the nod of an Afghan leadership bent on committing the strategic blunder of allowing the NDS to become the baby brother of Indian spy agency RAW. Whether it was Pakistan’s efforts to facilitate the US-Taliban peace process or initiate constructive political engagement with President Ashraf Ghani’s government, the Indians always came in the way and acted negatively and did everything to oppose any process that would add to Pakistan’s strategic weight in Afghanistan. Put simply, Indians never stopped feeding mistrust between the Afghan and Pakistan’s governments. But now the tables are fast turning and Afghanistan is returning to the Thomas Hobbes-described ‘state of nature’ — the war of all against all. It is already a chaos nation, a no longer functioning country and almost a collection of mini-states with their own warlords, their own militias and their own rulers. How can anyone compare such a country with Pakistan? ‘Af-Pak’ was how Bruce Riddle described the region when asked by President Obama to prepare a policy brief but it was never Af-Pak it was always Afghanistan and Pakistan — two distinct nations with a clear border demonstrating their separation.

What then is our priority in this growing environment of absolute frustration? Our first priority is to convince the world that for the sake of our security and for the sake of our economy, our changed Afghan policy which clearly states ‘partners in peace and not in war’ will continue to be implemented. But in the India-Pakistan context good things are also happening in Afghanistan and we don’t shy away from appreciating that. One of them is India being driven out of Afghanistan. This is a Pakistani wish being fulfilled by the advancing Taliban. Afterall the Karzai and Ghani governments only contributed to the consolidation of their NDS-powered Indian ally on our western border. Shouldn’t we be relieved that this specter of entrenched militarised Indian executing proxy war from across the border is finally coming to an end and the Indian plan of having a covert base in Afghanistan is finally falling apart? Pakistan must not stop explaining to the world how the Indian scheme of hurting Pakistan through Afghanistan is finally reaching its natural conclusion.

When this piece is published India will be celebrating its 74th independence anniversary. Five years ago while addressing his nation on the 70th independence anniversary, PM Modi had vociferously said, “I want to express my gratitude to the people of Balochistan, Gilgit and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for the way they wholeheartedly thanked me… people of a distant land I haven’t seen… when they thank the Indian Prime Minister it’s an honour for the 125 crore people of this country.”

This year, it is time for PM Modi to thank the people of another distant land — the land of Afghanistan — for affording a stay to his consulates (Pakistan considered them as terror sponsoring platforms) for such a long duration. As the Indians pack up their bags and leave, they have only their own frustrations and failed Afghan policy to accompany this unceremonious departure. The 125 crore Indians must now question their PM why.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2021.