India should help Afghanistan eliminate Pakistan-sponsored terror
Some 42 countries attended the Sixth Heart of Asia Conference held in Amritsar on December 4. The most enduring image from the conference was Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s outburst against Pakistan. He openly slammed Pakistan for its aid to terrorists operating inside his country. His pique and anger today is understandable.
Ghani began his tenure by investing considerable political capital in a rather risky outreach to Pakistan to broker peace with the Taliban. Pakistan’s response was to encourage the Taliban to mount an all-out offensive to overthrow the legitimately elected government in Kabul, the moment the Americans withdrew.
In fact, Ghani cited a key leader of the Taliban, Mullah Rahmatullah Kakazada, as saying that if they did not have sanctuaries in Pakistan, they would not last a month. From September to October this year, the Taliban intensified its assault. Hurt and bitter, President Ghani lashed out at Pakistani advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz. Acidly thanking him for the Pakistani offer of $500 million aid, he pointed out that this money was of no use sans peace and stability in Afghanistan. In a most pointed snub, he said: “this money, Mr Aziz, can be much better used for containing extremism”. This angst is truly justified.
The Afghan Tragedy: Since 1979, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, some one million Afghan citizens have been killed in the non-stop war. Some five million Afghans were forced to become refugees in Pakistan and Iran and another two-three million displaced internally. Pakistan’s ISI started a jihad (with the help of the CIA and Saudi Arabia) to fight the Soviets. A decade later the Soviets withdrew. Surprisingly, the Afghan Army held the ragtag Mujahideen off for over three years. The ISI’s poster boy Gulbuddin Hekmatyar surrounded Kabul and subjected it to a merciless bombardment that killed over 30,000 civilians.
Hekmatyar failed to take the city. It finally fell not to the ISI’s minions but the soldiers of Ahmad Shah Massoud of the Northern Alliance that was friendly to India. The ISI now raised the Taliban and sent its own soldiers with tanks and guns to conquer Kabul by a proxy war. The Taliban’s most brutal and medieval dispensation now made Afghanistan a base for global jihad. This was followed by 9/11 and America launched a swift campaign that made a mockery of the Taliban’s military pretensions. Pakistan was drafted as a frontline state in the war against terror.
It ripped the Americans of $31 billion and had the cheek to shelter Osama bin Laden for six years in Abbottabad. American energies and forces, meanwhile, were diverted to Iraq and the ISI did its best to get Taliban back. Drained by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US decided to withdraw. They virtually handed over Afghanistan as a vassal state to Pakistan that tried to reimpose the Taliban. The Heart of Asia conference took Pakistan to task by identifying terrorist organisations—Daesh (ISIS), al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Haqqani network— causing violence in Afghanistan. Pakistan dragged its feet on LeT and JeM, and insisted that the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Jundullah, and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Turkistan Islamic Movement also be included. Issues of Connectivity.
Only 12 per cent of Afghanistan’s land area is cultivable. The Mongols of Genghis Khan had so comprehensively destroyed the Afghan irrigation infrastructure that the country was pushed back from settled agriculture to nomadism. It later depended on the silk route for tariffs and trade. With the rise of sea trade, even this income atrophied. Afghanistan was reduced to a rentier economy needing vast influx of economic resources from outside to sustain. Even today, the International community spends some $10-12 billion annually on the floundering state.
The only way it can be made self-sustaining is by restoring its commercial connectivity with the largest market in Asia—India. Pakistan has been against this India-Afghanistan tie-up. However, ignoring Pakistan, India went ahead with the Chabahar port agreement. This will help Afghanistan become an economically viable and self-sustaining nation.