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Exclusive for TIO, By Ambassador Anil Trigunayat, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, USA: Taliban – denotes a learner( student). I guess a quick one. Taliban have indeed learnt more than how to fight over the last two decades. They have learnt to create smart narratives. They could use Social media, even as a non-State actor, far more adroitly than the Pakistan government or for that matter anyone else in the vicinity. It was also clearly evident when a Suhail Shahin, speaking in Hindi -Urdu, became a darling of the Indian media let alone anywhere else and became a household name. Even not so friendly Haqqanis and Hikmatyars love the Indian chatter. This is indeed a strategy that worked well. Making an imprint in a democracy is an easier task and an argumentative Indian gives the others a benefit of the doubt and debate a’ la “ Shastrarth of the Yore”. But that is not all.
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Having fought against the Americans and the West and eventually forcing them to leave the difficult terrain of Afghanistan, early on, they started working on the newer or more adventurous powers to fill the vacuum especially those for whom the antecedents of the leaders or the format of governance were the last and the least of considerations, if at all. China fits in that mould rather well. Their history with Pakistan and its handling and harbouring of sanctioned terrorists including the notorious Masood Azhar, whom they protected for long on flimsy technical considerations, is amply clear. Russia is not far behind and has been trying to cultivate the Talibs since 2010 as sweet revenge against the Americans while ably deciphering the geopolitical script on the fuzzy wall.
Turkey and Iran have also tied them indirectly and with the help of the sole “go to guy’ in Qatar. Iran started supplies of oil and gas and essentials to the bereaved country with which it maintained nearly $ 4bn in trade. Doha’s deft diplomacy had earned it huge dividends as nearly all western embassies have temporarily relocated to Doha seeing its gigantic efforts in mediation and evacuation. They are rich guys too and were the first to send a huge technical team in Qatar airways flight soon after Americans left to revamp the Hamid Karzai International Airport. Karzai is likely to be part of the new dispensation along with Dr Abdullah as the Taliban tries to form a reasonably inclusive government under its Sunni Spiritual leader Akhunjada in the neighbouring Iran style of governance with the only difference that Tehran still prefers democracy.
But money makes the mare go. And we are talking of a lot of horsemen here, even if using Humvees. Beijing has been in talks with the Taliban for a while. Tt engineered its own Troika with Pakistan and Afghanistan. The high-level visit to China (Tianjin) of the leader and co-founder of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar – a well-known international face, who signed the Doha Agreement was significant. A Plan of Action and Assurances on mutual concerns were underwritten in Pathan style. Taliban committed to not allow terrorism from the territory under its control, universally, but specifically against China that fears the Uyghurs and Turkestan Islamic Movement -whose plight has been subsumed as an internal affair of their giant neighbour. In return, BRI becomes a reality with attendant economic and financial assistance. CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) gets a clean pass beyond Central Asia with Kabul -Peshawar highways as well as Wakhan Corridor. So far China has stood by its word and has not moved its embassy from Kabul. In fact, a Taliban delegation visited Chinatown in Kabul to assure the Chinese businessmen.
At the UNSC Resolution 2593, Beijing and Moscow disagreed with the draft and abstained despite India’s consistent efforts to bridge the gaps, since it was the Chair of the UNSC during the momentous month of August. But by doing so they have conveyed the impression to the Taliban and Afghans that they really cared for them. It remains to be seen how quickly will they be able to take concrete steps by recognising the Taliban led government and provide the requisite assistance to alleviate the emerging humanitarian crisis broadly caused by the freezing of their accounts and financial lifelines by IMF and others.
Taliban’s good behaviour, to the extent that it is in their hands, might enable the US and the West to extend assistance otherwise they will be ceding strategic space to China and Russia whose core concerns have already been signed off by the Taliban. Therefore, one could witness an extension of a loose alliance of CRIPTQ into CRIPTAQ ( China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan and Qatar ) which would force alternative alignments in the region.
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Speaking to La República an Italian Newspaper, Taliban Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid commented that the Taliban will primarily depend on financing from China “China is our most important partner and represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity for us because it is ready to invest and rebuild our country”. He maintains that the New Silk Road the Chinese infra initiative was held in high regard by the Taliban. He added that Afghanistan has rich copper mines in the country, which thanks to the Chinese can be put back into operation and modernised and China is a pass to markets in the world’. A trillion-dollar mining and rare earth opportunity is a big carrot for the resource-hungry dragon.
In the end, as the geo-economics of the Afghan scenario plays out, it will depend on whose purse strings will be loose. Meanwhile, India, which has already opened formal channels of communications with the Taliban, should take the lead in providing immediate humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people as the UNSG Guterres urged the member states to dig deep for the people of Afghanistan in their hour of need. Apart from what India is best known for, it will remind the proud Afghans as to who their real friends are.
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Curated By Humra Kidwai, Compiled By Alizah Rizvi
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