Afghanistan Converting Threats into Opportunity

But first a recount of the current state of affairs in a country which has seen a rapid transition with collapse of governance in the past one month since August 15.

Broadly speaking the Taliban securing of Kabul has marked another phase of transition in the troubled history of Afghanistan. This has seen collapse of governance, fracture of the economy and banking system and portends of security vacuum with ceding of strategic space to malign state and non state actors.

The National Resistance Front of Afghanistan [NRFA] has emerged as a resistance movement to the Taliban but is in a nascent stage.

International terrorist groups are revelling in the situation that has seen one of their own taking power defeating the worlds premier global power the United States and the largest military alliance NATO. Gravitation of terrorist groups towards Afghanistan has commenced and the flow is expected to increase.

A strategic vacuum implies many states including those who had actively participated in the process of state collapse are in a dilemma lacking adequate understanding of the unravelling situation in Afghanistan.

A critical factor is the humanitarian crisis as economic and financial structures have collapsed, many are thus making a beeline for the borders of Pakistan and Iran looking for greener pastures in the neighbourhood, while the better healed are hoping to transit to Europe and other foreign lands.

India’s Opportunity

From the perspective of New Delhi the situation in Afghanistan is unravelling to the advantage of arch rivals Pakistan and China.

Despondency over the loss of the $ 3 billion invested in development is leading to a sense of hopelessness which is not easy to surmount at present.

The most immediate concern is the threat that can emanate in terms of terrorism impacting Jammu and Kashmir as well as rest of India with secure sanctuaries in Afghanistan actively promoted by the Taliban.

Yet the very nature of uncertainty in Afghanistan which has created a dilemma can provide an opportunity for India. This can be leveraged in the following ways-

Firstly think people rather than Taliban as the centre of gravity in Afghanistan. Concentrating on the Taliban is likely to lead to diplomatic and political distancing with the group presently in power in Kabul. This should not create distancing with the people at large. To reach out to the people India must provide relief to the people seeking a sanctuary temporary or semi permanent in the country, this is easily said than done given that there are concerns of Islamist radicalism as well as lack of empathy for the non Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan.

Yet there are many who are pro India and marginalised including Pashtuns but more particularly the Hazara.

Apart from provision of visas an urgent necessity there is a need for provision of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. As the channels for the support reaching the bottom of the pyramid is not clear, this should be through the UN agencies and forms the second opportunity that India needs to work upon.

Thirdly supporting the NRFA should be a default option, how and in what way this is to be carried out should not prove to be a challenge while the operational facets can be looked at in the days ahead.

Fourthly working with diverse regional and international actors who are interested in Afghanistan but do not know the path ahead is essential this will have to be undertaken on priority and preferably a special envoy for the purpose should be nominated so that the path ahead can be effectively exploited.

Fifthly getting the Taliban interested in India will remain the most difficult challenge particularly as the Haqqani network has assumed primacy in Kabul. The divisions in the Taliban can be fruitfully exploited to advantage.

Sixthly strengthening the counter terrorism architecture to prevent major terrorist attacks in the country assumes priority and steps towards the same should be undertaken through a holistic approach by the security agencies.

Finally doing nothing and waiting for the situation to develop is not an option.

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