‘ It’s time to realize the realities! Vietnam was the first great withdrawal and Afghanistan is the next in Asia but this one was deadly as well as a disaster of sorts because it is all back to where it started from!
-‘The story is not so old, it is only that the time has flown by quicker than ever. Back in 2001, the US was responding to the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, in which nearly 3,000 people were killed. Officials identified Islamist militant group al-Qaeda, and its leader Osama Bin Laden, as responsible.’
-‘ This was a shocker for the world’s supreme power as the aero planes rammed into the skyscrapers sending the tides of fear skyrocketing globally. The American President George Junior Bush was furious and he had made up his mind as to what to do next.’
-‘Bin Laden was in Afghanistan, under the protection of the Taliban, the Islamists who had been in power since 1996. Taliban had already become a force to reckon with as Pakistan launched another ambitious project of what the one eyed Jack Zia-ul Haq termed as strategic depth.’
-‘The Taliban never ever agreed to hand over bin Laden and thus the cannon and Gatling guns were loaded along with a cornucopia of missiles with a superlative array of flying machines that were all in readiness. Preliminaries to the grand finale in the form of Op Neptune Star had begun ‘though the final assault was to come years later.’
-‘Taliban when in control of Afghanistan did not hand over Bin laden. In fact they were at the Kandahar Hijacking episode when Azhar Masood, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Omar Sheikh had to be released. One of them Masood is still active though his group was bombed to submission after Pulwama, Omar Sheikh Harkat-ul-Ansar has been given the death sentence as he was involved in the killing of Daniel Pearl and the third Zargar Al-Umar- Mujahideen the Nowhatta man, well nothing much is known.’
-‘But in the case of Bin Laden, when they refused to hand him over Bin Laden, the US intervened militarily, quickly removing the Taliban and vowing to support democracy and eliminate the terrorist threat. NATO allies had joined the US and a new Afghan government took over in 2004 but deadly Taliban attacks continued’.
=‘President Barack Obama’s troop surge in 2009 helped push back the Taliban but it was not long term. In 2014, at the end of what was the bloodiest year since 2001, NATO’s international forces ended their combat mission, leaving responsibility for security to the Afghan army.’
-‘That gave the Taliban momentum and they seized more territory. Peace talks between the US and the Taliban started tentatively, with the Afghan government pretty much uninvolved, and the agreement on a withdrawal came in February 2020 in Qatar.The US-Taliban deal did not stop the Taliban attacks – they switched their focus instead to Afghan security forces and civilians, and targeted assassinations. Their areas of control grew.’
-‘The Taliban, or students in the Pashto language, emerged in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. It is believed that the predominantly Pashtun movement first appeared in religious seminaries mostly paid for by money from Saudi Arabia which preached a hard line form of Sunni Islam.’
-‘The promise made by the Taliban in Pashtun areas straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan was to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power. From south-western Afghanistan, the Taliban quickly extended their influence.’
-‘In September 1995 they captured the province of Herat, bordering Iran, and exactly one year later they captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, overthrowing the regime of President Burhanuddin Rabbani one of the founding fathers of the Afghan mujahideen that resisted the Soviet occupation.’
-‘By 1998, the Taliban were in control of almost 90% of Afghanistan. ‘Afghans, weary of the mujahideen’s excesses and infighting after the Soviets were driven out, generally welcomed the Taliban when they first appeared on the scene.’
-‘Their early popularity was largely due to their success in stamping out corruption, curbing lawlessness and making the roads and the areas under their control safe for commerce to flourish.’
-‘But the troubles did not finish but they had merely started! And now they are back with Hibatullah Akhundzada, the supreme leader. Hibatullah Akhundzada was appointed leader of the Taliban in a swift power transition after a US drone strike killed his predecessor, Mullah Mansour Akhtar, in 2016. Before ascending the movement’s ranks, Akhundzada was a low-profile religious figure. He is widely believed to have been selected to serve more as a spiritual figurehead than a military commander. Mullah Baradar, the co-founder is the next big gun, he was believed to have fought side-by-side with the one-eyed cleric Mullah Omar. The two would go on to found the Taliban movement in the early 1990s during the chaos and corruption of the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal.’
-‘After the Taliban regime was toppled in 2001 by US-led forces, Baradar is believed to have been among a small group who approached interim leader Hamid Karzai with a potential deal that would have seen the terrorists recognise the new administration. Arrested in Pakistan in 2010, Baradar was kept in custody until pressure from the United States saw him freed in 2018 and relocated to Qatar.
-‘Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Haqqani Network is well known. The son of a famed commander from the anti-Soviet jihad, Sirajuddin Haqqani doubles as the deputy leader of the Taliban and head of the powerful Haqqani network. The Haqqani network is a US-designated terror group long viewed as one of the most dangerous terrorist factions in Afghanistan. The group is infamous for its use of suicide bombers and is believed to have orchestrated some of the most high-profile attacks in Kabul over the years.’
-‘And finally Mullah Yaqoob the son of Taliban co-founder Mullah Omar, Mullah Yaqoob heads the group’s powerful military commission, which oversees the vast network of field commanders charged with executing the insurgency. Yaqoob’s father enjoyed cult-like status as the Taliban leader, and that potent lineage makes him a unifying figure in the movement. These are the men controlling Afghanistan and for the time being are the men to deal with in Afghanistan by the superpowers of the world!
* This was all that happened before our eyes but plenty had begun to happen right from 1979 of the last century!
‘I read it and it was written by an Indian writer, never has America lost a war … But name, if you can, the last peace the United States won. Victory yes, but this country has never made a successful peace because peace requires exchanging ideas, concepts, thoughts, and recognizing the fact that two distinct systems of life can exist together without conflict. Consider how quickly America seems to be facing its allies of one war as new enemies. I do not have to go far but just analyze what was Kamala Harris the flamboyant US Vice President doing in South East Asia when some extreme volatile trouble shooting began in Afghanistan. An American withdrawal so hastily commencing, ordered by President Joe Biden who so far has yet to get over the shock and at the moment and is under the verbal onslaught of global leaders. I will put across two scenarios here:
I. March 29 1973: U.S withdraws from Vietnam:
Two months after the signing of the Vietnam peace agreement, the last U.S. combat troops leave South Vietnam as Hanoi frees the remaining American prisoners of war held in North Vietnam. America’s direct eight-year intervention in the Vietnam War was at an end. In Saigon, some 7,000 U.S. Department of Defense civilian employees remained behind to aid South Vietnam in conducting what looked to be a fierce and ongoing war with communist North Vietnam. In 1961, after two decades of indirect military aid, U.S. President John F. Kennedy sent the first large force of U.S. military personnel to Vietnam to bolster the ineffectual autocratic regime of South Vietnam against the communist North. Three years later, with the South Vietnamese government crumbling, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered limited bombing raids on North Vietnam, and Congress authorized the use of U.S. troops. By 1965, North Vietnamese offensives left President Johnson with two choices: escalate U.S. involvement or withdraw. Johnson ordered the former, and troop levels soon jumped to more than 300,000 as U.S. air forces commenced the largest bombing campaign in history. During the next few years, the extended length of the war, the high number of U.S. casualties, and the exposure of U.S. involvement in war crimes, such as the massacre at My Lai, helped turn many in the United States against the Vietnam War. The communists’ Tet Offensive of 1968 crushed U.S. hopes of an imminent end to the conflict and galvanized U.S. opposition to the war. In response, Johnson announced in March 1968 that he would not seek reelection, citing what he perceived to be his responsibility in creating a perilous national division over Vietnam. He also authorized the beginning of peace talks. In the spring of 1969, as protests against the war escalated in the United States, U.S. troop strength in the war-torn country reached its peak at nearly 550,000 men. Richard Nixon, the new U.S. president, began U.S. troop withdrawal and Vietnamization of the war effort that year, but he intensified bombing. Large U.S. troop withdrawals continued in the early 1970s as President Nixon expanded air and ground operations into Cambodia and Laos in attempts to block enemy supply routes along Vietnam’s borders. This expansion of the war, which accomplished few positive results, led to new waves of protests in the United States and elsewhere. Finally, in January 1973, representatives of the United States, North and South Vietnam, and the Vietcong signed a peace agreement in Paris, ending the direct U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War. Its key provisions included a cease-fire throughout Vietnam, the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the release of prisoners of war, and the reunification of North and South Vietnam through peaceful means. The South Vietnamese government was to remain in place until new elections were held, and North Vietnamese forces in the South were not to advance further nor be reinforced. In reality, however, the agreement was little more than a face-saving gesture by the U.S. government. Even before the last American troops departed on March 29, the communists violated the cease-fire, and by early 1974 full-scale war had resumed. At the end of 1974, South Vietnamese authorities reported that 80,000 of their soldiers and civilians had been killed in fighting during the year, making it the most costly of the Vietnam War. On April 30, 1975, the last few Americans still in South Vietnam were airlifted out of the country as Saigon fell to communist forces. North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin, accepting the surrender of South Vietnam later in the day, remarked, ‘You have nothing to fear; between Vietnamese there are no victors and no vanquished. Only the Americans have been defeated.’ The Vietnam War was the longest and most unpopular foreign war in U.S. history and cost 58,000 American lives. As many as two million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians were killed. What was the outcome? Rambo series describe it the best! It was at max technological supremacy!
II. The same thing Donald Trump is saying after the Afghanistan withdrawal:
‘Never In history has Withdrawal from war been handled so badly’ In addition to the obvious, all equipment should be demanded to be immediately returned to the United States, and that includes every penny of the USD 85 billion dollars in cost the former President roared. If it is not handed back, we should either go in with unequivocal military force and get it, or at least bomb the hell out of it. Nobody ever thought such stupidity, as this feeble-brained withdrawal, was possible! Former top American diplomat to the United Nations Nikki Haley described it as a shameful retreat. Joe Biden just completed his shameful retreat from Afghanistan, leaving American citizens and Afghan allies behind under the rule of a terrorist government. If anything happens to them, Biden is to blame. Not only are Russia and China enjoying Joe Biden’s retreat in Afghanistan, but they’re also ready to seize the moment. The implications of Joe Biden’s foreign policy could be catastrophic for America, Haley said. Our prayers are with the families and loved ones of these heroes. Our so-called Commander in Chief is abandoning Americans, our Afghan allies, and members of NATO who only came to Afghanistan to help us. We are in a crisis of leadership-President Biden has failed.
In a nutshell the American’s came as roaring tigers killed Laden, the prime objective of American war on terror, drove away Taliban gathered international support and then withdrew to again create a vacuum and get the country back to where it was and left. A great finale to the great Rambo series that should be named as ‘the last debacle’ and not what it was ‘the last Blood’! Two wrongs do not make one right. Vietnam and now Afghanistan stand out. There is also a third one Fiedel Castro’s Cuba by the way, which led to what was called as the Cold War between the USA and the erstwhile Soviet Union!
III: The aftermath of the withdrawal and the security scenario in J&K:
Maulana Masood Azhar reportedly met Taliban leaders in Kandahar, obviously he was not there to spread a message of love or peace. It had to be to discuss things that are extreme and volatile in nature and perhaps were. It was reported that Jaish-e-Mohammed top man sought the Taliban’s support in their India-centric operations. Senior officials of the intelligence agencies, said that following the input, Jammu and Kashmir has been put on an alert as the intelligence agencies are now anticipating the movement of terrorists from across the border.
Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the head of the political commission, was among those Masood Azhar met. Jaish-e Muhammad (JeM) commander Masood Azhar enlisted the Taliban’s assistance in his Kashmir Valley operations, the report said. The Taliban and the Jaish-e-Mohammed are considered ideological comrades in interpreting sharia, the Islamic law, following the Deobandi school of Sunni Islam.
Since Masood Azhar’s release in 1999, Jaish-e-Mohammed has been active in carrying out terrorist actions in Jammu and Kashmir. However, in a statement, the Taliban has said the Afghan territory will not be utilised for terrorism against any country. But they also promised amnesty to those who sided with the Western Militaries when USA established the Afghan Government but if reports are to be believed then that statement was a hollow one as reprisals are continuing with no holds barred phenomenon dominating.
Taliban have also said, which seemed apparently a clarification of their stance on Kashmir, called it a bilateral and an internal matter. The group is now trying to stabilize its hold on the country that has seen more than four decades of unrest and is still craving for peace. At the same time, the Taliban is now working on the diplomatic front to generate legitimacy and goodwill for itself.
But some memories have come back alive, especially of the mid nineties after the insurgency erupted in Kashmir. As a reminder the following was not uncommon:
Foreign terrorists (Mehmaan Mujahideen as they were called) could be seen moving about in parts of Kashmir. Afghan militants were actively brandishing heavy weapons like LMGs and sniper rifles.
The Kashmiris of that era have not forgotten them as the were spotted and seen in city interiors. They could be easily recognized by their body structure, shoulder length hair and their language.
The people still remember Mast Gul who was operating in the valley. He, along with his associates, entered the Charar-e-Sharief shrine of Sheikh Noor-ud-din Wali at Charar-i-Sharief in 1995. To avoid any damage to the holy Shrine, he was offered a safe passage by the administration, which he refused. All holed up militants started building bunkers inside the town which resulted in migration of all inhabitants of Charar-i-Sharief to different areas of Kashmir valley. The town was cracked down by Indian troopers for almost a month with no results. With the result, Gul and his associates concentrated inside the Shrine and Khanqah. During intervening nights of 11 and 12 May 1995, shrine and Khanqah mysteriously caught fire, forcing holed up militants to come out in open. Gul managed to escape unhurt and was spotted in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir later.
Many Pakistani and Afghan terrorists were either killed or arrested by the security forces in the nineties. Even the retired Police officers who fought the Afghan terrorists say that It was a common sight in those days, but subsequently they were thinned out as they got eliminated.
Defense experts believe that the Kashmir situation may bear the effect of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. Taliban and Pakistan connections are not a secret. Once the Taliban settle down, Pakistan would definitely seek their help in Kashmir, said one of the experts. He added that hundreds of Pakistanis are operating along with Taliban and if not Afghanis, Pakistan’s terrorists are definitely going to trickle into Kashmir.
On the ground, a lot has, however, changed during the last 20 years in Kashmir valley. The security grid is stronger and technologically sound now. Infiltration routes have been almost completely blocked with the presence of the Army and BSF. Outposts have been consolidated with heavy weaponry which has helped to control the situation to a large extent.
It won’t be possible for large groups to infiltrate. But you cannot stop trickling of foreign terrorists in ones and twos. We have had Pakistani terrorists getting killed in the last month only.
The security agencies in Kashmir are on maximum alert to tackle any threat of the foreign terrorists entering Kashmir. IGP Kashmir Vijay Kumar said that police have activated human and technical intelligence to find out whether any foreign element, including Taliban, is planning to infiltrate into Kashmir. If at all any such thing happens, I as a police officer assure the people of Kashmir that police, army and the other security forces will deal with the challenge professionally.
Apart from Taliban elements entering Kashmir, another cause of concern would be highly sophisticated weapons left behind by US troops in Afghanistan. Sources said that there is a possibility that small weapons of high caliber may be smuggled into Kashmir from Afghanistan via Pakistan. Security forces have seized a number of US made weapons from slain foreign terrorists in Kashmir. This includes the M4 carbine, which is widely used by US forces.
Intelligence agencies say at least six groups of terrorists have infiltrated the Kashmir Valley with some high value targets on their agenda. Inputs by various agencies are now being matched by the Multi-Agency Centre.
Indications are that at least 25-30 terrorists have been keeping various security forces engaged for the last one month. This number is apart from those terrorists who were already in Jammu and Kashmir.
Evidence on ground shows the level of violence in Jammu and Kashmir has gone up significantly over the last month. Every day for the last one month, either an IED attack on security forces or attacks on political leaders are being reported.
According to reports available, terrorist activity has also increased on launch pads, which were abandoned after a ceasefire was announced in February this year. These places are buzzing with activity now. Various intelligence agencies indicate that as many as 300 terrorists have again occupied the camps across the Line of Control. Reports further say that after the takeover of Kabul by Taliban two weeks ago, social media is buzzing with congratulatory messages.
Recently, a video which went viral got a lot of traction in Jammu and Kashmir. In that video, some boys who had gone over to Afghanistan to fight along with the Taliban, came back to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. The video shows they got a hero’s welcome back in PoK. The security agencies are watching social media regularly as such video clips tend to motivate youngsters in Kashmir too as they see them as Victorious warriors.
Well all these activities and incidents are bound to create ripples because the sudden US withdrawal has left the Taliban as the sole powerful machine in the war ravaged country. It was on December 24, 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, under the pretext of upholding the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Treaty of 1978. As midnight approached, the Soviets organized a massive military airlift into Kabul, involving an estimated 280 transport aircraft and three divisions of almost 8,500 men each. Within a few days, the Soviets had secured Kabul, deploying a special assault unit against Tajberg Palace. Elements of the Afghan army loyal to Hafizullah Amin put up a fierce, but brief resistance. On December 27, Babrak Karmal, exiled leader of the Parcham faction of the Marxist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), was installed as Afghanistan’s new head of government. And Soviet ground forces entered Afghanistan from the north.
The Soviets, however, were met with fierce resistance when they ventured out of their strongholds into the countryside. Resistance fighters, called mujahidin, saw the Christian or atheist Soviets controlling Afghanistan as a defilement of Islam as well as of their traditional culture. Proclaiming a jihad (holy war), they gained the support of the Islamic world. The mujahidin employed guerrilla tactics against the Soviets. They would attack or raid quickly, then disappear into the mountains, causing great destruction without pitched battles. The fighters used whatever weapons they could grab from the Soviets or were given by the United States. The tide of the war turned with the 1987 introduction of U.S. shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles. The Stingers allowed the mujahidin to shoot down Soviet planes and helicopters on a regular basis. New Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev decided it was time to get out. Demoralized and with no victory in sight, Soviet forces started withdrawing in 1988. The last Soviet soldier crossed back across the border on February 15, 1989. But nothing changed thereafter but the US did make an attempt to get things back to normal and everything was moving on fine and the last twenty years were relatively quiet with developmental projects, education, healthcare, roads and building infrastructure, power expanse and modernization coming in. But this great spell of the charm in Afghanistan cracked as the US decided to leave and uncertainty was back! Now it is up to the Taliban to change the course, either for the good or for the bad. For the moment it is time to wait and watch for the global powers and carve out a strategy to deal with the new regime under the Taliban but one thing is definite the group is unpredictable and obviously dangerous!
IV: Taliban-Indian envoys meet:
This way or that let the world face that it is the Taliban with whom the talks have to be continued because they are the ones who are controlling Afghanistan for the moment. Thus India too would have to get into this matrix and we did at Doha. The following things came up for discussions:
India raised its concern over the use of Afghanistan’s territory by terrorists, while the Afghan envoy assured that these issues would be positively addressed.
Discussions focused on safety, security, and early return of Indian nationals stranded in Afghanistan. The travel of Afghan nationals, especially minorities, who wish to visit India also came up
Stanikzai, the Taliban representative Ambassador trained with the Indian Army between 1979 and 1982 three years in the Army Cadet College, Nowgaon, and then at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun.
The River of Winged Dreams is what Afghanistan is at the moment. But there is also the other side of the coin which says that no fighter can keep on fighting and Afghanistan for almost five decades has been seeing an age of bombs guzzling blood. There is a possibility, though at the moment it may seem bleak that skylarks merge peace with thought and action. Anyway I will conclude this piece with an excerpt from the book ‘Russian soldier’. In fact any and every soldier would think it this way:
‘1984: There were no skyscrapers here. The blue domes of the mosques and the faded mountains were the only things rising above the houses. The mosques came alive in the evening with multi voiced wailing: the mullahs were calling the faithful to evening prayer. It was such an unusual spectacle that, in the beginning, I used to leave the barracks to listen. Kabul was exotic: enormous skies – uncommonly starry – occasionally punctured by the blazing lines of tracers. And spread out before you, the mysterious Asian capital where strange people were bustling about like ants on an anthill: bearded men, faces darkened by the sun, in solid-colored wide cotton trousers and long shirts. Their modern jackets, worn over those outfits, looked completely unnatural. And women, hidden under plain dull garments that covered them from head to toe: only their hands visible, holding bulging shopping bags, and their feet, in worn-out shoes or sneakers, sticking out from under the hems. And somewhere between this odd city and the deep black southern sky, the wailing, beautifully incomprehensible songs of the mullahs. The sounds didn’t contradict each other, but rather, in a polyphonic echo, melted away among the narrow streets. The only thing missing was Scheherazade with her tales of A Thousand and One Arabian Nights … A few days later was the first missile attack on Kabul. This country was at war’. And it continued till a few days back with the Taliban in control and the world is looking at them anxiously and anticipating something good with fingers crossed!