The return of Taliban – The Tribune India

Julio Ribeiro

I dislike any form of religious extremism and extremists of all persuasions. Blind faith spells danger for people who think and argue, akin to the ‘Argumentative Indian’ of Amartya Sen.

The Taliban is anathema to me. It is also anathema to many Afghans who had grown up in the last 20 years of US presence and domination in their not-easily governed country. Students, women and sportsmen come first to mind. They flowered in these two decades. They tasted the freedom that liberal democracies offered and they liked what they saw and what they experienced. The girls, in particular, shed their outsized tents that passed off as burqas, restricting their movements. They took to schooling in a big way, became doctors and lawyers, got elected to what we in India call Legislative Assemblies, sought and succeeded in obtaining jobs as TV news anchors and even formed an Afghan women’s football team!

All that has vanished with the departure of the Americans and the simultaneous entry of the Taliban. The very mention of the word ‘Taliban’ induces fear. Even though the Taliban has proclaimed that Taliban 2.0 will be different, not many Afghans believe them. The memory of their earlier rule still lingers ominously in their mind’s eye.

In their approach to the Taliban, western democracies have chosen caution, so has India. We have decided to wait and watch, a decision that was readily taken in the absence of other options. The great majority of our countrymen, employed or doing business in Afghanistan, are anxious to exit that country and return home. A great many have done so already. They are the lucky ones, evacuated by the IAF or Indian airlines. They went through a trying time, full of adventure and anxiety. Their tales will reverberate with their children and grandchildren before they go off the storytelling grid.

Some Afghan nationals have managed to leave their country to escape from the clutches of the Taliban. They are those whose services were used by the US and other embassies for logistical needs. They had become a part of the ethos of the embassies they served and got accustomed to the goodies those countries provided. In short, they had a taste of the good life, certainly a better life than they were accustomed to.

The US will probably accommodate those who worked for them in their immigration quotas. The UK has also promised British citizenship to a few. Other democracies will follow suit. So, what about India? Our Afghan connection harkens back to the time of Tagore’s Kabuliwala, or even earlier. In fact, a small Afghan settlement has taken root in Kolkata over the past few decades. In Delhi, we have many more Afghan nationals staying for many years.

Union minister Hardeep Puri has cited the present crisis in Afghanistan as justification for the CAA legislated by Parliament in 2019. Since the Act was enacted two years before Taliban 2.0, it cannot be counted as justification for the CAA. Puri may boast of a brilliant ‘forecast’ of probabilities, but the Act is applicable to only those who entered India before 2014!

Hindu and Sikh traders whose forebears had settled in Afghanistan decades ago were also evacuated by our Air Force. Some Afghans who follow the Islamic faith were also among the rescued. They were locals who had helped our embassy or other agencies in supplies and logistics. They would be sitting ducks in the emirate once the Taliban settle down! How are they going to be treated by our present government? Here, too, we can only play the watching game!

These Afghans and the Afghan students now studying in our universities, the Afghan military cadets at present undergoing training at the IMA, Dehradun; the OTA, Chennai; and the NDA, Khadakwasla; as well as the police officers training at the NPA, Hyderabad, need sympathetic consideration devoid of religious bias. We have to rise to the occasion, adopting the secular approach of the US, Canada and Europe. The CAA may need course correction! A great Hindu country like ours cannot let Hinduism down.

To a comparatively uninformed citizen whose knowledge of happenings in Afghanistan is founded entirely on newspapers and the television, the biggest problem the Taliban will face is money to run their administration. The Afghans employed in the US-sponsored government were paid with American assistance. That will not be available now. Smuggling of narcotics and arms has always been a source of income in the countryside. If smuggling routes are effectively sealed, the Taliban will be in big trouble.

The Taliban’s immediate endeavour will be to get other nations to recognise its government. That will not be easy. China and Russia, besides Pakistan, of course, will be ready. Pakistan is almost bankrupt. Only China is economically capable of propping up a nascent emirate which lacks domain experts to run a state.

I presume China with its Belt and Road Initiative will be interested in wielding influence in its own backyard. It has the support of Pakistan, whose sole interest is to use the Taliban and its religious zealots to inflict the ‘thousand cuts’ on us. China will certainly not mind that!

The Taliban have made some conciliatory statements about Indian infrastructure initiatives in their country (we have invested $3 billion), but our leaders will ‘wait and watch’. The dice is certainly loaded against us after the Americans left. The Chinese will probably pick up the slack left by us. We now have the Chinese to watch besides our neighbour to the west. The going will be tough.

The goalposts keep changing every few days and will continue to do so till the Taliban consolidate their hold on the country. The various factions and the numerous warlords will keep the situation fluid. Rumours, not confirmed, suggest that the Taliban have declared August 31 as the last day for ‘foreigners’ (including Indians) to leave the country. If true, such orders will complicate evacuation plans.

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The return of Taliban – The Tribune India

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