Taliban at the Doorstep?

Published: May 1, 2009 - 14:55 Updated: July 1, 2015 - 13:36

Taliban capturing Swat. 'Special Pakistani Forces' of trained jihadis penetrating the LoC in Kashmir. America playing a double game. Is the Indian government at all serious about this apocalyptic threat?

Sanjay Kapoor  Hague / Delhi

Parliament elections are feeding the Indian habit to procrastinate on key issues. The lame-duck government in Delhi is blissful that it does not have to engage with Taliban-racked Pakistan, aggressively intervene in internecine bloodletting in Sri Lanka nor mess around in the internal affairs of a paranoid Bangladesh and Nepal. And, what is better is that it does not have to pay attention to the sweetly-laced agenda driven formulations of glory, courtesy Richard Holbrooke, the US president's chief troubleshooter on Af-Pak.

In Europe the Af-Pak crisis and its volcanic repurcussions are reverberating across the political spectrum. Western powers are deeply worried about the Taliban calling the shots in Pakistan and on the volatile Afghan borders. Hague hosted a conference recently on this issue looking at all the dangerous consequences in the subcontinent and how it can impact Europe and the US. Indeed, in Europe, this is as much conceived of as a potential threat and sign of global instability, as is the concerted threat of Islamic terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

As of now, India's volatile neighbourhood is not on a pause mode. History and events have a way of moving inexorably in a manner that can destruct nations and societies if they are not challenged by resolute individuals or governments. From this standpoint, the new Indian government that gets sworn in before June 2, 2009 has its work cut out.

It will not only have to show creativity in managing its accounts in a recessionary environment, it will also have to show courage to stonewall attempts by foreign powers, violence spawned by desperate non-state actors, and internal political compulsions to bend its will when it comes to safeguarding national interests. In other words, it has to fight the dark forces that are destroying our neighbours in a manner that decisively damages the secular, democratic and inclusive character of India.

Take Pakistan, for instance. Here violent extremism is drawing it in its vicious vortex. There are frequent bomb blasts, armed attacks and suicide bombings that reflects Islamabad's manifest inadequacies to govern. Its much-vaunted army, that provided protection to many Arab kings, is looking untrained, demoralised and defeated. Commentators have begun to seriously wonder whether they have the ability to ward off a rampaging Taliban that seem to be at the doorstep of Islamabad.

Leader of Islamic outfits like Fazl-ur-Rehman, who also gave legitimacy to Taliban in the past, are now quaking in their shoes even as bearded AK-47-wielding marauders take over Buner, a town outside of Swat Valley. Rehman said that "if the Taliban continue to move at this pace they will soon be knocking at the doors of Islamabad". Distressed columnists have been writing about how the government has abdicated its responsibility towards controlling these people who subscribe to a Wahabi version of Islam.

There have been eyewitness accounts of how armed Talibans in trucks have been moving around freely in Buner and other areas (there are reports that they have been "asked" to vacate by the Pakistani establishment - are they listening or pretending, in tacit understanding?). They also displayed the temerity to move around army cantonments without being challenged by the army.

Is Pakistan on the threshold of being taken over by the Taliban or is it another of those cleverly designed operations of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to manipulate the Americans -- to first give them money and then help them to execute their agenda to put their knife into India on the Kashmir issue?

The Indian government is keeping its fingers crossed over. There is fear that the ISI may provide content to the writings of Taliban expert Ahmed Rashid and other sympathisers in the US-based think tank, Atlantic Council - that the problem in this region would fester till Kashmir is not settled.

Recently, the large-scale incursion of "Kashmiri militants" through Shamsabari range in Kupwara, Gurez and Bandipore forests in Jammu and Kashmir, earlier than usual, suggests that the militants and their handlers are up to something nasty in the coming days. An intelligence source told Hardnews that the battle skills of the infiltrators and the manner in which they have fought the army shows they are highly trained in arms and have local support. Many of these infiltrators conduct themselves like professional members of 'Special Forces' and they have successfully engaged with the country's elite para-commandos.

Some decorated Indian soldiers have lost their lives in these operations. The army brass, due to its archaic methods, have been found wanting in stopping many of these militants. There has been reluctance or delay in using choppers and satellite imagery to track these infiltrators. A recent acquisition of an Israeli defence satellite after the Mumbai attacks may help in keeping track of
their movements.

The spike in the infiltration, intelligence sources insist, is due to the tacit approval of the Pakistan army. Otherwise, why would intrusions come down dramatically when Pervez Musharraf was arm-twisted to give an assurance to India that they would stop Kashmiri Mujahideens from jumping over the fence?

Intelligence sources believe that a section within Pakistani army could have a role to play in this. The question is - are they doing it on their own or at the behest of the Americans who want armed Indian manpower to stabilise Afghanistan?

Coincidentally, infiltration into India has increased since Holbrooke began his shuttle diplomacy in this region. Although the Americans have been careful in not mentioning it, there are think tanks that continue to float trial balloons on whether peace can return to this region till there is a permanent solution to the 'K' word. Recent reports from Asia Society, with which Holbrooke has been associated, clearly bring out this link.

The Pakistani government and its army are desperate to ensure that the American and western gaze does not shift away from Kashmir. They feel this would allow India to breathe easy and provide circumstances in which it can fill the vacuum left by the US in Afghanistan, once it decides to pack its bags and go home. Financial slowdown evidently could hasten such a withdrawal.

One of the reasons why the British Empire collapsed so fast after World War II was due to a severe crisis of funds, despite the colonial loot and plunder across the globe. The British government did not have the resources to keep its troops stationed in different parts of the world.

President Barack Obama and his administration are showing similar symptoms after the global slowdown. His regional approach is to get Iran, Russia, India and China involved in the Af-Pak tangle and jettison its 'military responsibilities' in Kabul. The Pakistani army and the ISI realise that they cannot really keep their country united till the boundaries created by the British government in 1947 remains unchanged and the status quo is maintained on Kashmir.

The US under Obama is playing a difficult game. In the view of many in the diplomatic circles in Delhi, it does not square with Indian national interests. CIA chief Leon Panetta wanted India to cooperate with ISI and Pakistan to fight Islamic terror, a suggestion that drew secret guffaws from officials in North Block.

Despite Pakistan investigating the November Mumbai attack at India's behest, there are grave misgivings about its intentions. Officials suspect that at some stage they will turn around the probe to show that there was some local Indian support to the terror attack. Holbrooke tried to show that the attackers came from the ungoverned space between Pakistan and Afghanistan and raised the imperative that India must help in quelling these forces.

There is a lot of haze about how different exertions are going to play out. If violence destabilises Pakistan, then how would it impact India? Does the Indian government have a clue how it would immune itself from the rise of Islamic fundamentalism that perceives unresolved Kashmir issue as a major grievance? Will the fire spread?

Taliban capturing Swat. ‘Special Pakistani Forces’ of trained jihadis penetrating the LoC in Kashmir. America playing a double game. Is the Indian government at all serious about this apocalyptic threat? Sanjay Kapoor Hague / Delhi

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This story is from print issue of HardNews