There’s nothing surprising about a new Taliban statement praising India’s perceived rejection of U.S. overtures to play a military role in Afghanistan. But the fact that the Taliban’s consultative body is believed to be ensconced in Quetta should be reason enough to suspect Islamabad’s influence in the group’s latest comments.
The statement appears to warn India against any attempt to fill American shoes when the U.S. moves to quit Afghanistan in 2014. And the timing of the statement is significant.
“No doubt that India is a significant country in the region…They are aware of the Afghans’ aspirations, creeds and love for freedom. It is totally illogical they should plunge their nation into a calamity just for the American pleasure,” the Taliban said in a statement issued on June 17. It also praised India for sending U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “empty handed towards Kabul.”
The Taliban statement said Panetta spent three days in India trying to transfer the heavy burden to their shoulders. It also quoted “some reliable media sources” as saying that the Indian authorities didn’t pay heed to the demands because the Indians know (or should know) that the Americans are grinding their own axe, The Hindu newspaper noted.
“Indian people and their authorities are observing this illicit war for the last 12 years, and they are aware of the Afghan nation and their demands,” the statement said.
The Taliban is reportedly backed by the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is waging war in the tribal areas and has consistently warned the government in Islamabad against reconciling with the U.S. or India on the Kashmir issue.
The authenticity of the latest statement is being questioned by some, although it should be noted that the statement is in keeping with some past statements from the Taliban. In addition, it has come in the wake of some tough talk from Panetta aimed at Pakistan.
More substantively, during his trip Panetta was keen to suggest that India should play a greater role in the training of the Afghan Army, which would build on the India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) that was signed during Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s New Delhi visit last year. Significantly, neither Kabul nor New Delhi is talking much about this deal. Regardless, the U.S. encouragement is in contrast to previous U.S. wariness over a military training role for India in Afghanistan, lest it upset Pakistan.
The Indian government has for its part maintained a discreet silence over the subject, a silence that has apparently been interpreted by the Taliban as a rejection of U.S. nudging on this issue.
While there need be no reservations about India boosting efforts to increase the training of Afghan military personnel in Indian territory, increased ground involvement of Indian military personnel on Afghan soil could have long-term implications that need to be carefully examined. Certainly, at no point should India contemplate sending troops to Afghanistan for combat roles.
Meanwhile, there’s nothing to suggest that the Taliban have disapproved of Haqqani network attacks on Indian interests in Kabul or elsewhere. And the Taliban’s closeness to Pakistan should make India wary of any Taliban overtures.