Al Qaeda: In Search of a Home in Asia
Sayed Jalal Shajjan’s analysis on why the quest for peace in Afghanistan also requires attention to be paid to the competing desires of India and Pakistan.
Afghanistan is entangled between two foes. Both nuclear states, Pakistan and India are striving to influence the government in Kabul.
However, recent developments in the Afghan peace process signifies that India is feeling the heat after being omitted from a four-party meeting held in Beijing last month. The meeting was attended by representatives of China, Russia, Pakistan and the US, urging for a peaceful settlement of the Afghanistan issue.
Since the establishment of its new government, India has helped Afghanistan with reconstruction, announcing in 2014 a $2 billion aid package – the biggest to any country by India. Meanwhile, Pakistan has mostly nourished insurgent groups in Afghanistan.
India, despite its huge investment in the country, feels left out. If the Taliban agrees to share power in a future government, India will lose any influence it may have whereas Pakistan will dictate the terms through its proxy.
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In his book Directorate S, Steve Coll, dean of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, states that Pakistan’s military generals and inter-services intelligence officers were collaborating with the US army as well as undermining coalition military efforts to eradicate the insurgency in Afghanistan.
Permeated with the understanding that Afghanistan is vital to Pakistani national security, they had no intention of allowing the US to determine its fate. “Pakistan’s military leaders were playing a double game” of collaborating with the US army and supporting the insurgency in Afghanistan, Coll writes.
He also claimed that there have been proxy war developments between Pakistan and India. However, Amar Sinha, a former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan, has said that India’s “proxy” in Afghanistan is the Afghan people and Pakistan’s is the Taliban.
A day after Narendra Modi’s Government abrogated Article 370, which grants temporary special status to the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, a Pakistan Muslim League member of the National Assembly of Pakistan, Khawaja M Asif, said that peace talks between the Taliban and the US in Afghanistan could have been a bargaining chip for gaining control over Kashmir. He said that “it is practically disengaged now, we tried to keep the Afghanistan and Kashmir issues engaged together.”
The running mate of President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential election, Amrullah Saleh, who served in Afghanistan as spy chief, has time and again said that, to defeat the Taliban, US-backed forces must focus on Pakistan, which he calls the “root cause” of violence in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has held India responsible for supporting separatist movements and insurgency, with Pakistani officials claiming that there are Indian spies on the ground operating through a network of Indian missions in eastern and southern Afghanistan, home to Baloch insurgents.
Al Qaeda and Kashmir
As peace talks between the Taliban and US progress, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has said that “peace requires agreement on four issues: counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a comprehensive ceasefire”.
In March, the US and the Taliban “agreed in the draft” on the first two of these points, which means that the Taliban will officially discontinue its relations with al Qaeda.
In a video message in July, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri said “don’t forget Kashmir” and called on Kashmir-based jihadists to “single-mindedly focus on inflicting unrelenting blows on the Indian Army and government. So as to bleed the Indian economy and make India suffer sustained losses in manpower and equipment”.
In the message, Al-Zawahiri was focused solely on Kashmir and criticised Pakistan’s army and government saying that they could not be trusted to liberate Kashmir. He said “their history of failures, defeats, corruption and treachery is a witness to this truth”. He added: “At the very most, all they would like to achieve is to transfer to Kashmir the corruption and rot that Pakistan has endured at their hands for 70 years”.
He also claimed that Pakistan’s “conflict with India is essentially a secular rivalry over borders managed by the American intelligence” and said that Pakistan could no longer be trusted.
It is understood that, following the recent announcement by the al Qaeda leader, the Indian Government took precautionary measures to deny any of its members safe haven in Jammu and Kashmir.
Barkha Dutt, an Indian journalist, tweeted: “Please note that as America & Pakistan look at an end game in Afghanistan, the threat of a spillover of that debris, terrorists, and weapons are not to be discounted. Trump would want to claim he achieved what Obama couldn’t in exiting Afghanistan and will not care about costs to India.”
However, the Taliban called on both countries “to prevent the spread of crisis and resolve the issue in a calm and composed manner”.
“Linking the issue of Kashmir with that of Afghanistan by some parties will not aid in improving the crisis at hand because the issue of Afghanistan is not related nor should Afghanistan be turned into the theatre of competition between other countries,” it added.