The United States and the Taliban have come to a peace deal that is effectively a withdrawal treaty for the United States. Emboldened with the impending US exit, the Taliban has upped the ante in Afghanistan and has come to have a position of strength, but its not just the Taliban that the Kabul administration faces. There is also the Islamic State (Khorasan).
To understand such a situation and its possible ripples for India, Madhur Sharma interviews Kabir Taneja, a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and author of the book The ISIS Peril.Why do you believe the United States and Russia are being soft on the Taliban and are pressing the Afghan government rather than the Taliban that continues to carry out the attacks?This is not about Moscow.
In fact, they barely figure here. It is possible that they have opened backdoor channels with the Taliban but, beyond that, this is a game between the United States and the Taliban. The answer is simple the United States wants out.
19 years of war, thousands dead, and the Talibans being in a strong position is a realisation that the war has not gone Americas way and they do not see an outright, traditional victory. The second best thing for them to exit with was to negotiate with the Taliban, which is what we see today. Mind you, this is not an entirely new thing.
The Taliban wished for negotiations as early as 200405, but that was a long time back and the tables are just not in favour of the United States anymore.Zalmay Khalilzad has said the group played a significant role in the fight against ISIS. Do you agree with the assessment that the United States and Russia are courting the Taliban to contain ISIS in Afghanistan?
Since the Taliban and ISIS have clashed in Afghanistan, do you believe it makes sense for the United States and Russia to partner with the Taliban against ISIS, irrespective of the repercussions for the Kabul administration?I do not agree with such an assessment, but if the United States thinks that the level of medievalism and barbarity of the Taliban is acceptable enough for them to collaborate with them in attacking ISIS Khorasan, then that is their own strategic malaise.The theory of two wrongs making a right does not work in geopolitics, as we have seen from how the Taliban was conceived in itself.
In case it is indeed the case, do you believe it is a trade thats worth it? Do you believe ISIS presence in Afghanistan is so substantial and poses the sort of danger that makes sense for the United States to effectively partner with the Taliban to tackle it?The threat is substantial, but do remember the United States cannot decide these things unilaterally.
If the elected government of Afghanistan is not on board then the United States aligning with the Taliban in any false equivalence of fighting ISIS is a ruse.Its a bailout narrative for leaving while saving some face.Zalmay Khalizad has suggested India to engage with Afghanistan.
Do you believe India should engage with the Taliban, particularly when the Afghan government and the Taliban are locked in a conflict?To have conducive engagements with the Taliban would have required a deeper niche within the Afghan war over the years, which could then be built upon publicly now.Today, the Taliban will view any talks with India with it having a stronger position on the table.
The window when outreach could have been done clandestinely was shut long ago. For the time being, if the Taliban take the mechanism of the intra-Afghan dialogue seriously, this remains the only realistic platform for Indian officials to sit across the table from them for dialogue amidst multiple stakeholders that India also has good relations with, building a collaborative strength to meet the Taliban.Even as Zalmay Khalilzad suggests engagement with the Taliban, the groups chief negotiator has been quoted as saying that India has engaged negatively in Afghanistan.
How do you see this comment?I personally believe Khalilzads visits to India are fast becoming a formality. No US push will engage New Delhi to drastically change its views on Afghanistan.
Does the Afghan policy need a revisit? Yes. But will pressure or advice from Khalilzad be a turning point?
No. What implications do you think such a situation has for India? In case the United States manages to push ISIS in Afghanistan with tacit support to and from the Taliban, do you see ripples for India, particularly in Kashmir?
The problem for India may be seen in Kashmir, because the Taliban has still not cut ties with Al Qaeda and does not seem to have any intentions to do so either. But also that the likes of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and other such groups will have a geographic strategic depth in Afghanistan, which will be an almost a two-front opening to target Indian interests and weaken Afghan government and democratic processes resolve. However, I think Kashmir can still be managed.
The larger question remains for Afghanistan itself, would it be acceptable for Delhi to be absolved as an outlier in the great game? And, if not, what capacities were built to allow these pressures an escape?Further recommended reading: Talking to the Taliban by Kabir Taneja for the Observer Research FoundationMadhur Sharma is a student of journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, and a graduate in history from the Delhi University.
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