By Atul Chandra
There’s a flurry of activity in New Delhi after the installation of an interim government headed by Acting Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, a terrorist on the UN Security Council’s sanctions list, on Tuesday. A hardliner, Akhund was behind the demolition of Buddha’s statue at Bamyan. He is not alone in the new Afghan government. There are other Pakistan-backed terrorists who are part of the new government, including Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the deadly Haqqani network. Designated a global terrorist by the UNSC, he is in the key post of Interior Minister.
In all, at least 14 members of the new government are on the sanctions list of the United Nations Security Council. The composition of the cabinet has the imprint of Pakistani spy agency ISI all over it. Ironically, with Haqqani faction in command this government appears to be a puppet regime of Pakistan. It is now the biggest campaigner urging the West to recognise the new regime and also support it with financial aid. The US, which is concerned about the “affiliations and track records of some of the individuals” as well as the absence of women from the ministry, will wait and watch before loosening its purse strings.
There is heightened concern in India and Russia as well. Russia’s National Security Advisor Nikolai Patrushev met Minister for External Affairs S. Jaishankar and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval. The two sides discussed “deepening bilateral cooperation in the field of security with an emphasis on further inter-action on the anti-terrorist track, combating illegal migration and drug trafficking”.
While Patrushev was there, CIA chief William J. Burns also came to New Delhi to discuss the Afghanistan situation which had taken all of them by surprise.
India and the western countries who took the Doha-based Taliban negotiators’ assurances on face value, the composition of the Taliban government has come as a rude shock. The Haqqani group has gained the upper hand and the Doha political office with which India was negotiating has been marginalized. Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai is no longer in the picture. The ISI has clearly outfoxed them all by having the Haqqani group included as an important part of the government. The situation was best described by S. Jaishankar’s remark that “the endgame in Afghanistan was not something which anybody saw coming”. The big dilemma which the world now faces is whether to recognize a national government which has so many global terrorists at the helm?
What is adding to the alarm is the yawning gap between what Taliban say and what they do. The Taliban promised an inclusive government but women have been kept out of it. Women have also been barred from sports and there’s fear that it won’t be long before they are also stopped from pursuing education or stepping out of the confines of their homes. Their PR exercise showing a woman interviewing a Talib on television was a farce as the very next day women anchors were told to return home.
With Taliban gradually showing their true colour, it is feared that terror will come to haunt India once again. Visits by the CIA and Russian NSA to New Delhi for consultations shows how serious the situation is. For India it is far more serious than probably for the US as China is part of the evil axis comprising Pakistan and Haqqanis. Yet, all that India can do is to wait, watch and hope that Taliban play by the principles codified in the UN Charter.