The fall of Panjshir valley is one of despair for millions of Afghans who had pinned hopes on the success of the National Resistance Force (NRF). For the global powers that adopted the “wait & watch” policy on Afghanistan, the “wait” is over, and now be prepared to “watch” what the Taliban and its masters might unleash on Afghans, the world and the region in particular.
During 1996, the Taliban were unable to enter this region. But, this time, with modern weaponry like “drones & “satellite imagery” and direct Pakistan involvement with “air support” and “special forces”, the Taliban terrorists have broken through Panjshir defences – once a safe bastion of the Tajiks. This foreign invasion forced the Northern Alliance to withdraw from certain regions of the Panjshir valley, home of the late Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Masood.
I do not want to address the pack of UN-designated terrorists as “government” as the word will legitimise Taliban rule over Afghanistan – so coined a new word to define their rule – Talibment ; Definition of Talibment – tyrants with Taliban mindset imposed on free people undemocratically, by use of power and/or supported by a foreign power(s).
The arrogant involvement of Pakistan in Panjshir and in imposing the Talibment has galvanised Afghans, especially in the cities and provinces where Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara communities are a majority. However, the national uprising, led by Afghan women, cannot be narrowed down to any community(s). Women, in particular, are rallying as Afghans, which has made the movement strong. So let me stick my neck out and say this: when Pakistani proxies flee Kabul, the Afghan women should claim their place in power, including having the first Afghan women President.
As Pakistan establishment savour the fall of Afghanistan with mockery aimed at the US, India and global democracies, the Pakistan ISI chief Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed assured the world, after landing in Kabul, “Don’t worry, everything will be okay.” For whom is the question?
The state-controlled Pakistan media and commentators cannot stop congratulating their establishment on “reversing India’s gains in Afghanistan.”
So, is this the END GAME for India in Afghanistan?
I would argue, no.
During my decade long stay in Afghanistan- I got an opportunity to travel across the country and witness India’s contributions that directly supports common Afghans.
The credit should go to Indian diplomats and planners who ensured that our rebuilding efforts during the past two decades were structured to meet the needs of common Afghans living even in the remotest of the areas.
Further, the relationship between India and Afghanistan is based on deep-rooted historical & cultural ties and people to people bonding which is as sweet as Afghan dry fruits and colourful as Afghan carpets.
However, the fall of Afghanistan has presented a new jigsaw for the Indians think-tank and diplomats to solve. The Indian conundrum is how to support the common Afghans, without standing with the Talibment. This tight ropewalk will be difficult but worth a try. At this moment, two things common Afghans need are opening up trade and humanitarian support.
1. Humanitarian Support
1.1 Support Through Trade: India can consume every gram of dry fruits that Afghans grow. We should establish direct trade links for dry fruits, carpets through various NGOs and Afghan trade organisations. According to the Union Ministry of Commerce trade database, “India’s imports from Afghanistan is valued at more than Rs 3,700 crore in 2020-21, “some estimates suggest up to 85 per cent of India’s dry fruits come from Afghanistan.” If India can put a mechanism to import Afghan produce, the benefit will impact thousands of Afghan families, especially women and children, right up to grass root level.
1.2 Healthcare Support: Since the fall of Kabul, private Afghan health workers have either fled or are in hiding forcing hundreds of hospitals to close down. Along with international health organisations, India could provide the much-needed medical aid in key cities of Kabul, Mazar, Herat and Kandahar. In addition, India could offer telemedicine services in partnership with the UN and NGOs such as Doctors without Borders and other international organisations.
1.3 Winter Stocking: Afghan winter is harsh. This time the fuel storage, the collapsed economy, broken hearts will be painful for Afghans. With about 80 days to go for Afghan winter to set in – now is the time to fly-in woollens and wheat. Local bread is the staple diet for Afghans, and they need wheat now.
1.4 People-to-People Connect: Indian NGOs could collaborate with Afghan NGOs, and this is the best way to continue people-to-people connect. There are numerous women-led and women-owned projects operational in Afghanistan, and more need to be rolled out.
1.5 The Common Link: Afghan Sikhs and Hindus can play a key role between India and Afghans. Indian government should explore working through the two communities to roll out humanitarian aid and trade. The Afghan Sikhs and Hindus enjoy trust on both sides and therefore could be the bridge between Afghans and India.
Talibment cannot refuse the above initiatives; if they do, they will further alienate the Afghans.
2. Rebuilding Support
2.1 Restarting Projects: India should restart pending projects and take up new projects that directly help common people if given a chance.
In my projects in Adrashkan, a group of villages in Herat province in western Afghanistan, my company had hired over 200 locals and purchased local resources. As a result, we contributed $200K (1.7 crores INR) per month to the local economy. As a result, in seven years, the face of Adrashkan changed from a sleepy village to a small town with a thriving economy. Such targeted grass-roots projects can be implemented without needing Trillions of dollars. The Taliban leadership has said in as many words – they need Indian investments and people-centric work. So, we should not let this opportunity pass.
2.2 Chabahar Project: India should speed up and complete Phase-2 of the Chabahar project if it is serious about its engagement with Afghanistan. Let us speed up and finish it to its full potential. This will provide an alternate route to Afghanistan not just for the international community but for Talibment too.
The only caveat to the above suggestions is that Pakistan will influence Talibment and limit India’s role. China can roll out the above initiatives. But will Xi’s wolf warriors do it without negotiating a price? No!
I know of Afghan mothers who are helpless as they cannot get food and medicines for their kids. Many teenage girls are on the verge of a nervous breakdown with the fear of being picked up as Taliban brides. Young men who worked with the international community are in hiding. Any time lost now will aggravate the situation leading to local unrest and loss of lives. Moreover, rural Afghans, who form the core for the Taliban come back, too will revolt if there is no food, money, and life-saving essentials.
The question is, will the Indian government step up and work for common Afghans even if certain divisive forces from within India accuse it of working with Talibment.
Once again, I will stick my neck out and argue that most Indians will support the central government if it decides to assist Afghans on humanitarian grounds because the Indo-Afghan relationship goes beyond modern-day engagement defined by geostrategic compulsions. Our people-to-people relationship is deep-rooted through culture, history and once geography.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Chanakya Forum. All information provided in this article including timeliness, completeness, accuracy, suitability or validity of information referenced therein, is the sole responsibility of the author. www.chanakyaforum.com does not assume any responsibility for the same.
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