Good Taliban: Where Are They?
India may have been the most popular country in Afghanistan according to a recent opinion poll there, but, ironically, last fortnight its Afghan policy did not seem to interest enough the major powers having a stake in Afghanistan. Turkey, which hosted an international summit on Afghanistan in its capital Ankara on January 26, did not even invite India as a participant, reportedly under the pressure of Pakistan, which, according to the same opinion poll, is the least popular country among the Afghans.
Two days later, January 28 to be precise, at the London conference on Afghanistan, not only was Indian foreign minister S M Krishna made to sit in the second row of world leaders, but India also had to “grudgingly accept” the outcome of the meet, which emphasised on buying peace in Afghanistan by first distinguishing the so-called “Good Taliban” from “Bad Taliban” and then literally buying out the former out of a special fund worth of $140 million to begin with.
However, as far as the Afghan people are concerned, India’s Afghan policy has been a great success, thanks to its “soft power.” That explains why 71 per cent of Afghans who participated in the poll conducted between Dec 11 and Dec 23 voted for India as the most favored country. In contrast, Pakistan was viewed favourably by only 2 per cent of the people.
In fact, the results echo the findings of a Gallup survey on Afghanistan released last November, in which 56 per cent of the people voted for India when asked which group or country played the best role in resolving the situation in Afghanistan.
The latest poll, commissioned by the BBC, the American Broadcasting Company and the German broadcaster ARD, showed India ahead of all other countries in popularity. Germany polled 59 per cent at second spot while the United States came third with 51 per cent. Iran followed with 50 per cent of the votes and Britain got 39 per cent. The vote in favour of India is seen as a reflection of its goodwill and the developmental activities undertaken on a large scale in the war-ravaged country. Since 2001, India has contributed US$1.3 billion in developmental assistance programs, including road construction, transportation, healthcare, education, energy and telecommunications. There are more than 4,000 Indian workers and security personnel working on relief and reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.
India has also completed the construction of the Zaranj-Delaram highway in southwest Afghanistan near the Iranian border. It is building Afghanistan’s new Parliament building, set for completion by 2011. Afghanistan’s best hospital in its capital of Kabul was built and is managed by Indians. India is also constructing the Salma Dam power project in Herat province. Besides, it has trained Afghan police officers, diplomats and civil servants.
Bilateral trade between India and Afghanistan has been rising. India is hoping that its investment in the Iranian port at Chabahar will allow it
trading access to Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. Pakistan currently allows Afghanistan transit rights for exports to India, but does not allow goods to move from India to Afghanistan. India’s Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor has a point when he says that soft power is India’s “greatest asset” in Afghanistan. Indian films and television programs are extremely popular in Afghanistan and are now translated into the local Pashto language. Tharoor believes that the positive thing about such Indian influence is that it engages the population in a way that takes into account what it wants.
India has also opened consulates in Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad and Kandahar, all bordering Pakistan. So it is no surprise that Pakistan sees India’s growing influence in Afghanistan as a threat. Islamabad alleges that the consulates provide cover for Indian intelligence agencies to run covert operations against Pakistan, as well as foment separatism in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. One of the biggest ironies of international politics is that the United States and NATO invariably follow Pakistan in fighting Al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan despite the fact that the latter is surviving and flourishing with the connivance of the Pakistani establishment.
It was Pakistan that first floated the theory that the Taliban could be separated from Al-Qaida, as there were some “good” Taliban and some “bad.” For Pakistan, the good Taliban are those in Afghanistan fighting against the Western alliance, and the bad are those fighting Pakistani forces in Wazirabad and the Swat region. With NATO forces perceived as “not winning” in Afghanistan and the Western public increasingly worried over the prolonged presence of their troops in the country, Pakistan has literally goaded NATO commanders and United Nations officials into opening various channels of communication with the Taliban.
In this endeavour Saudi Arabia which apart from Pakistan was the only country to maintain diplomatic relations with the Taliban when they ruled Afghanistan is lending great support to Pakistan. As veteran Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid noted, one such meeting with Taliban leaders took place on Jan 8 in Dubai. “According to my last count and information, diplomats or intelligence agents from Britain, Norway and Germany as well as several humanitarian agencies such as the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross have met with Taliban officials either in Pakistan or Afghanistan over the past 12 months,” Rashid wrote in a guest column on BBC.
The theme, “If you do not win over the Taliban, just buy them out,” dominated the London conference. Economic development and good governance in Afghanistan things that India pays attention to turned out to be of very low priority in London. But if recent history is any indication, the concept of “good Taliban and bad Taliban” has already failed miserably in Pakistan. Under this plea, Islamabad entered into peace agreements twice with the so-called Pakistani Taliban, and on both occasions, the results were nothing short of disaster. Similar disaster awaits NATO forces in Afghanistan if they persist with a similar policy.
Can Taliban followers be categorised? The so-called good Taliban also believe in the ideology of a chauvinistic theocracy that wants to push the modern Muslim world into a regressive region. They discourage a modern education system and women’s liberation and discard a modern judiciary ruefully. Women are the worst sufferers wherever Taliban seize areas and control them.
To pacify the “good Taliban,” Afghani President Hamid Karzai’s government recently introduced the Family Law Bill with the consent of his US masters. Among other things, the law states that the husband of the family is the complete master; that women need permission from their husbands wherever they move; and that women have no right to the custody of their children.
Let there be no confusion that evil is evil. There is nothing like good evil and bad evil. The Taliban represent evil. Any victory for them, whether perceived or real, will have ominous implications for more than 1 billion Muslims all over the world. After all, the Taliban and their Al-Qaida masters talk of uniting all Muslims and establishing a government that follows the rule of the Caliphs. Is the world prepared to go back to the 14th century?
By Prakash Nanda