By Shobhan Saxena,TNN
20 July 2008
Like a bad dream, the gory images have come back to haunt the land of famished fields and parched valleys veiled in dense layers of dust. Just about when the picture of a woman — covered from head to toe in a blue burqa with a narrow screen in front of her stony eyes — shot in the back of her head was turning grainy, the nightmare revisited Ghazni city last week.
Two women, wrapped in blue, were asked to kneel on the ground. And then a few fierce-looking men, with hate dripping from their eyes, nudged the women's bowed heads with the tip of their AKs, and pressed the trigger. As blood flowed into a sandy gulch, a few hapless Afghans watched the lifeless corpses — 'punished' for allegedly running a sex racket, wondering if the spectre of terror would ever leave their nation alone.
The blasts from the past of the country — at perpetual war with itself — are too gory to turn hazy with time. Between 1996, when their tanks roared into Kabul, till 2001, when they were smoked out of the Afghan capital by American bombs, the Taliban created a reign of terror in the tortured nation. They hanged their opponents from the cranes in public, flogged women with canes, riddled the Bamiyan Buddhas with bullets and turned the country into a stone-age calamity.
For a little while — from 2001 to 2003 — they vanished from the scene. But, last few weeks have been a cruel reminder that they are back, and with them the brutal days when the Taliban called the shots in Afghanistan.
A few days ago, a motorbike bomber blew himself up on a busy street in Oruzgan, taking down the local police chief, his four assistants and 20 civilians. One day before that, a bunch of heavily-armed Talibs launched a massive assault on a military post near the Pakistan border, leaving nine US soldiers dead. A week earlier, a suicide bomber rammed a car into the Indian embassy in the heart of Kabul, killing 58, including two high officials. So rattled were the Americans by the latest attack on their post that Gen David McKiernan, chief of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, revealed for the first time that the militants were crossing the border to attack his forces as well as firing at them from positions inside Pakistan, indicating that Afghanistan has replaced Iraq as the deadliest war zone for the US and its allies.
"It's clear now that like the LTTE, the Taliban is not only a terrorist organization, but they are also capable of fighting like a conventional insurgent force. They have really become strong," says B Raman, a former additional secretary of the R&AW. After the US air strikes on Afghanistan, says Raman, the Taliban retreated into Pakistan where they "regrouped, retrained and remotivated themselves to launch a new offensive". "While the US ignored Pakistan's nexus with the Taliban as it focused on Al Qaida and Iraq, the Taliban became stronger with the help of the ISI," says a renowned security expert in the region.
Despite the persistent denials from it, the ISI — often called a state within a state — the agency has been accused by both Kabul and New Delhi of backing the Taliban. After the bombing of the Indian embassy, India's national security advisor M K Narayanan went to the extent of saying that the ISI "should be destroyed". "There is no doubt that the Taliban is completely managed by the ISI. There may be certain segments in the Taliban which might have turned against Islamabad, but Taliban remains an instrument of foreign policy of the ISI," says Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management.
Though it hasn't been proved beyond doubt that Pakistan is inciting trouble in Afghanistan, there is no denying that Islamabad has been trying to cut deals with pro-Taliban Pushtun tribes in the border region to secure peace at home. The ceasefire not only failed, they also helped in fuelling militancy in Afghanistan, making the then US ambassador to Pakistan, Ryan Crocker wonder why "these deals involve agreements on the part of the militants not to attack the Pakistanis, but they seem not to include any language about cross-border raids."
Author of the bestselling Taliban, Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid has explained the "lack of trust between the CIA and the ISI" in his latest book, Descent Into Chaos . Explaining Pakistan's complex relations with the Taliban, Rashid says, "The Pakistani army never understood that after 9/11 the international community would have zero tolerance for Islamic extremism and that the ISI's backing of militant groups would have to cease, not just in Afghanistan but also in Kashmir. Logic also dictated that at home, Pakistan would have to take control of the madrasas that were turning out militants in thousands."
It's the fear of the Taliban toppling the Karzai regime in Afghanistan that is giving sleepless nights to India's security planners. They fear that if Kabul and Pakistan's western front falls to them, the Taliban and al-Qaida will turn their attention to Kashmir. "After the 9/11 response from the west, militancy came down in J&K," says Sahni, "but if the militants are victorious in Afghanistan, it's trouble for India." Raman agrees: "If they win their war in Afghanistan, they are not to going to chase the US or Europe. They will come to India."
Amid reports that fighters from Kashmir are already in Afghanistan, the Indian government is now preparing for the scenario when this battle-hardened militants return home. India is now toying with the idea of sending more paramilitary troops to Afghanistan. Though the government has not hinted at a larger military involvement in Afghanistan, some security experts have been talking of taking the war there, a move that may complicate things further.
As US Predators fire Hellfire missiles on Pakistan's tribal region, a dysfunctional government in Islamabad weighs its options and the next likely US president talks of bombing Pakistan, it's better for India to wait and watch rather than jump into a fire which is still scarring parts of our neighbourhood.
Source: The Times of India, New Delhi