Gurdaspur Attack & the Greater Geopolitical Scenario
The Gurdaspur attack has exposed the chinks in India’s border security. There have been several infiltration bids in the past in Jammu & Kashmir from Pakistan but over the years excellent patrolling by the Border Security Force and the Indian Army along the Line of Control and the International Border has completely brought down their success rates. The incident in Punjab has stood out because this route is completely new in recent public memory. Add to it the use of high-end GPS and night-vision equipment, whose origins have been traced to the United States, the infiltrators have managed to capture the attention of the entire nation.
What most people have failed to see is the big picture where the incident coincided with the on-going talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, with Pakistan acting as chief co-ordinator. Other countries which are party to this development are China and USA. It has been noted with much surprise and dismay that India has been left out in the cold, even after investing billions of dollars from the Indian exchequers’ money in Afghan development. Also the fact that the talks are taking place in Pakistani soil is proof that the establishment there exerts control over it. The writer is of the opinion that judging its timing, the attack by terrorists from across the border seems very likely to be an attempt by Pakistan to distract India’s attention from these talks.
The Afghanistan-Taliban talks had their beginnings with an unofficial round that took place in Doha in May of this year. This was preceded by the establishment of a Taliban office in the Qatari capital. There too the United States and China stood as observers, along with the United Nations. It is not surprising to see that the former two have a found a place in the table, owing to their economic clout as well as their interest in the Afghan endgame. For the United States, Afghanistan is too precious to let go, all the more as it borders Iran as well as being a gateway to the Central Asian Republics (CAR), which is an emerging area of importance due to its hydrocarbon resources as well as geostrategic significance. For China, Afghanistan is important to its internal security as the Wakhan corridor borders Xinjiang province, the restive region that is home to the Uighur people- who have been very active lately in asserting their position among the Han Chinese people- and has seen several public attacks in the recent past.
For the Pakistani establishment, a control over Afghan politics is more important than ever. After Iran’s nuclear deal with P5+1 and the subsequent removal of sanctions, Pakistan stands to lose its clout over a country whose politics it has dominated since the Soviet invasion of the 70s. It must be brought to the attention of the reader that Iran has a cause in the Afghan scenario too due to a large Shiite population that has historically resided in Afghanistan, especially the Hazara community. Iran also has interests in the CAR region, whose importance due to its geographically strategic location and hydrocarbon resources has already been mentioned.
The Afghan president Mr Ashraf Ghani was quick in announcing that the talks with the Taliban have been the greatest of developments in recent memory. What seems to have escaped his notice is that the Doha office of the Taliban as well as its military wing has denounced the peace talks. With endorsement from these two important pillars gone, it was very crucial for the Pakistani establishment to add a dimension of legitimacy that would undercut the rejection from within the Taliban. This is where Mullah Omar had a role to play. As Steve Coll, journalist and author of Ghost Wars, was once told, “If you have him, if you hold him, you control the whole organisation.”
The Pakistanis have been playing a bluff so far by putting the word out, through their stooges in the Taliban, that the talks have been blessed by Mullah Omar himself. This was done through an Eid message purportedly from the Mullah. However, it has emerged before the second round of talks, and prematurely for the Pakistanis, that Omar has been dead for around two years now. In addition to this is the fact that Sirajuddin Haqqani has been appointed deputy to the new Taliban supremo Mullah Mansour. Sirajuddin is the son of, and successor to, Jalaluddin Haqqani, who has been primarily responsible for the attacks on Indian assets in Afghanistan, their chief benefactor being the ISI. This indicates the ISI’s bid to control the Afghan Taliban by replacing Omar with its own puppet. That Omar’s son and brother have come out openly in opposition to Mansour adds legitimacy to this theory.
Clearly, the Pakistanis’ plan has backfired on them and Mullah Mansour has hastily come out with a statement that he is all for the jihadist cause and had never supported the talks. There is a vivid possibility that the once monolithic Taliban may break up into many factions. This is more dangerous due to the entry of the Islamic State into Afghanistan, which has been eating into the Taliban’s ranks. In truth, it was a long shot for the Pakistanis to bridge an alliance between the Taliban and the popularly elected Afghan government, so that they could extend their control over Afghanistan.
India, with its distractions in the form of the Gurdaspur attacks and the current logjam in the Parliament, clearly stands to lose in the greater geopolitical scenario. Such a development would be detrimental to efforts in strengthening our internal as well as external security. Besides, India has spent multiple resources to build the Afghan nation. India needs Afghanistan, and as much as the opposite is true, the pragmatic thing for our government to do is to co-operate with the Afghans in seizing the opportunity while the Taliban undergoes a major change and suffers from a leadership vacuum. If not, our diplomatic missions, assets and expatriates in the country will be in grave danger. Plus we stand to lose the entry point to CAR, which is as much important to us as Mr Modi’s recent visit to the region signifies.