Will India and the Taliban be allies against ISIS?

Story by  Shantanu Mukharji | Posted by  Aasha Khosa • 2 Years ago
Taliban leaders in Kabul
Taliban leaders in Kabul


Shantanu Mukharji

A pinpointed CIA warning notwithstanding about a suicide attack at the Kabul airport, the ISIS (Khorasan) carried out deadly fidayeen attacks on August 26 killing nearly 200 people including US marines. According to security experts, such a lethal assault in Afghanistan is perhaps the first in the last two decades. 

This devastating explosion jolted not only the US administration but also its NATO allies; the entire world and the region in particular. ISIS(K) has announced its presence literally with a bang. Even the Taliban which ascended to power only a fortnight back appeared shaken about its future and challenges for its new innings.

President Joe Biden looked frail and bereft of self-confidence while addressing a press meet; he was not composed or in control and seemed to be at the loss of words to articulate his thoughts. His words could no longer inspire the Americans, particularly those who lost their loved ones in the attack. Later though he seemed to have regained his composure while speaking about America’s resolve to hunt down the perpetrators. Soon after his warning, a drone attack was launched by the US in Nangarhar killing two masterminds of the Kabul attack.

It’s quite a daunting task before the Taliban to take on ISIS(K) that may be numerically less than the Taliban but are ruthless and brutal in their attacks. Their grotesque misadventures in Iraq and Syria are still fresh in the memories of the survivours. In Afghanistan too, they mercilessly killed pregnant women and children inside the hospitals. Many ISIS(K) fighters are the disgruntled lot of the Afghan Taliban. The group practices an extreme religious ideology. Due to these factors, they are unwilling to give space to the Taliban to govern hence the pinpricks in the form of intermittent bombings would continue and also delay the Taliban from settling down.

 With the US and NATO forces out of Afghanistan, ISIS(K) would be believed to be asserting more in the immediate future and as per indications available, it will eye Kashmir and other targets in India to push its hate and violent agenda other than trying to recruit radicals in a big way to expand its footprint in the region. Its modus operandi will be similar to the one exercised under Al Baghdadi some years ago while rampaging through territories of Iraq onwards Syria. If such a thing happening, it willbe a huge tumult in the region with the Afghans taking the maximum brunt of the mercenaries and Pakistan is also unlikely to escape the wrath of violence.

Meanwhile, talking about Pakistan, its popular daily Dawn in its editorial of August 28, aired concern about ISIS (K) gaining upper hand and called upon all the Afghan forces to sink their differences aided by the international community to meet the IS threat looming large over Afghanistan. This seems more imperative as the Afghan security forces seem very demoralized after they saw US troops withdrawing and tremendous chaos prevailing with no prospects of any order or tranquil.

In a related development, a top Taliban leader, Sher Mohammed Stanekzai who is a product of the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun in a long video lasting nearly 45 minutes (August 29) called for the betterment of political, cultural, and economic ties with India. This is perhaps for the first time a key Taliban leader has spoken something, which is seen as a favourable statement towards India. He even called for improved trade ties with India through Pakistan.

Equally, Stanekzai stressed for a revival of Turkmenistan Afghanistan Pakistan India (TAPI) gas line project. This is surely a silver lining for India as many experts felt India’s perceived failure to reach out to an ascendant Taliban has placed India at a point of disadvantage. This is highlighted in a very recent write-up in Al Jazeera too. To stay as an active player, India is thought to be befriending the Taliban after the dust settles down.

Also, India needs to expose Pakistan’s nefarious designs of keeping the Taliban away from India’s reach using the ISI. Pakistan remains the biggest roadblock for the Indian moves to warm up to the Taliban that promises to be a different version of its earlier avatar. Pakistan needs to be effectively countered if needed, through some aggressive propaganda. It may appear a bit far-fetched but Indian agencies could discretely cooperate with the Taliban against the ISIS menace as it threatens both Afghanistan and India’s security interests. The nitty-gritty of this plan could best be left to the wisdom and judgment of the Indian professionals.

Indian foreign ministry mandarins and allied knowledgeable quarters could also consider pooling in resources from Afghans who had had their education in India. Similarly, 3 billion dollars worth of development projects already executed could be taken forward. The Taliban in all likelihood will accept the gesture despite Pakistan throwing spanners. A robust diplomatic drive to prevail upon the Taliban not to be indifferent to Indian overtures may yield desired results.

In the meantime, there are reports of US drone strikes and explosions near the airport meaning peace is still distant. Only the coming weeks will give an idea how things from the security angle are unfolding in Afghanistan and its crucial socially and politically to combat the ISIS (Khorasan) lest it goes unchecked with a show of brute force and religious extremism.

(Writer is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst, and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views are personal)