Our media has been pegging away, at a nagging length, on the ‘terrorists’ in the Taliban cabinet and who are controlled by Pakistan. The information available to us would have been so much more reliable had our embassy not shut entirely. Our ambassador had to leave early because in the Taliban versus US-Ghani conflict we clearly sided with the losing side.
Is the media campaign against an alleged Talib-Pak compact part of our rearguard action? Considering that the first demonstration by women was against Pakistan interference in Kabul proves two things: that a demonstration can take place under Talib rule and that Pakistan being the target is occasion for reflection: Indians are not unpopular at the street level, Pakistan is.
Consistency continued to define coordination with the defeated occupiers at the UN where, as rotational President of the Security Council, we navigated a resolution on Afghanistan on terms which caused Russia and China to abstain.
This does not mean we are not on talking terms with Moscow. In fact, Nikolai Patrushev, Russian National Security chief was in the capital on the same day as CIA Director William Burns. It may be too early to spot a pattern, but overt engagement by the NSA with his counterparts and a low key if not exactly covert contact with the Taliban by the MEA — this seems to be the emerging pattern. The Shanghai Co-operation Organization sponsored regional conference on Afghanistan in Dushanbe on September 16-17 may clarify future approaches.
How long will the media froth in the mouth about Talib-Pak perfidy? Supposing the Talibs consolidate themselves independent of Islamabad, will the media change? How will it make the somersault? The town criers have their difficulties. Having spread saffron with a sense of dedication over decades, they surely cannot be expected to abruptly put saffron back in the bottle.
The Modi regime’s requirements are not for short-term Taliban bashing. It would like the ‘ogre’ in public view at least until UP elections, February to March. What with the farmers agitation, joblessness, dipping economy, scary price rise, vaccine vacillations, Covid confusion, demoralizing Bengal defeat, courts finding their feet, all these and more can only be thwarted by a double-fisted saffron punch.
There is nothing else in the toolkit. Political fortunes would sink if, say, Yogi Adityanath were by some miraculous trick seen with a Taliban. In other words, all regional initiatives involving Talibs have to be kept on hold. In any case, Muslim bashing is almost a reflex action.
The recent controversy sought to be created on Naseeruddin Shah’s oracular sermon distancing Indian Muslims from Talib celebrations in Kabul was a function of the majority community’s stereotype expectations of Muslim behaviour. Naseer, his supporters and detractors completely misread the Muslim reaction to the emergence of Talib power in Kabul. Muslims are thrilled at the Americans being trounced, not Talibs coming to power. That the Talibs beat the mighty power entitles them to admiration, not their Islamism and the accompanying optics.
When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited President George W Bush, during his March 2006 visit to New Delhi, to address a joint session of Parliament, Muslims protested in such large numbers that Ramlila ground overflowed onto the roads. It was acute Muslim anger at Bush for having spread Islamophobia worldwide in the guise of the global war on terror.
Bush’s address to the two Houses was called off. The President picnicked at the Old Fort instead. In other words, anti-Americanism is all pervasive among Muslims for an obvious reason: US led war on terror indiscriminately cast them in unacceptable stereotypes.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi may know a thing or two about political profit from the war on terror. By an amazing configuration of stars, Modi was sworn in as Chief Minister of Gujarat on October 7, 2001, exactly the day when the US began air strikes on Afghanistan.
When the world’s most spectacular fireworks dominated TV screens 24X7, terrorism became the flavour of the season for our leaders. When I turned up at Godhra after the train carnage, Collector, Jayanti Ravi, was unable to give details because, she said, the case had been instantly handed over to Vijay Vipul, DIG anti-terror squad even before preliminary inquiries had been made. The carnage was an act of terror: period.
With the suddenness of revelation, Joe Biden has announced an end to ‘never ending’ wars on terror, a stance most disorienting for the rulers who cannot conceive life sans Islamophobia.
The Taliban is not the only problem. All countries ringing Afghanistan are Muslim. The only non Muslim neighbour is China, which is worse. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has been meeting Iranian leaders in Tehran. He may be able to corroborate well known Palestinian journalist Abdel Bari Atwan who is convinced that the ferocity of the Taliban advance was not the only reason for victory.
Covert help from Russia and Iran were too. One reason for eliminating the iconic Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani was the fact that he planned military strategy for the Taliban, persuaded them to shed their anti Shiaism and convinced his regime that the Taliban was the only force with wide support among the country’s 18 million Pushtun — they alone could forge a wider coalition to defeat America. He appointed Esmail Qaani as the Liaison Officer with the Taliban. Qaani is now Soleimani’s successor.
All of this should provide comfort. Pakistan may not be the only puppeteer pulling the strings.
(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic issues. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on [email protected])