After Pakistan ISI gained strategic depth with Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Indian security agencies are trying to get a grip of the unfolding security and strategic situation intrinsic to regional cooperation to counter the growing threats from the Taliban-terror nexus.
From Russian Secretary of Security Council Nikolai Patrushev to UK MI6 chief Richard Moore and CIA chief William Burns, India’s National Security Secretariat led by NSA Ajit Doval has held back to back consultations in the last few days. The latest being the political and security cooperation between India and Russia in Afghanistan. The high-level India–Russia inter governmental discussions on Wednesday are a follow-up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s telephonic talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on August 24.
Official sources said both countries want Taliban to adhere to its promises and are equally concerned about terror groups as well as opium smuggling, which is the second single biggest security threat in the region.
Representatives of the Ministries of External Affairs and Defence as well as the security agencies participated in the discussions that were also focused on humanitarian aid, emerging political and security situation, activities of terror groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, threat from drugs and the role of regional countries.
New Delhi had played a limited role during the Doha talks and the resultant situation unfolding in Afghanistan with the sudden exit of US forces is an outcome that has the potential of isolating New Delhi diplomatically causing considerable worry in intelligence and security circles.
Already there are intelligence reports of one lakh Pakistani army boots being moved from Pakistan-Afghanistan border, ready for deployment on the India-Pakistan border.
Presently, Afghanistan is a black hole, said a senior security official. The country is running out of supplies and without the US aid, there are economic challenges that can transform into security concerns very soon. This means Taliban’s dependence on terror and drug cartels will increase.
Experts do not expect China to do the heavy lifting, especially since it has no cultural and social ties with the people of Afghanistan.
This gives New Delhi the time and opportunity to do what it does best—extend humanitarian aid, continue trade, open supplies of food and medicines and remind the population of Afghanistan and the world of India's commitment to peace and stability in the region.
“Once situation stabilizes, New Delhi should reiterate its commitment to development projects of building roads, hospitals and dams,'' said a government official.
However, there are concerns here as well.
A section of the security establishment believes that merely undertaking development projects will not yield much influence in the face of a disconnected diplomatic and strategic investment. “Simply building roads and electricity connections did not help in Kashmir. So, India should not make the same mistake again,'' said a security official.
New Delhi is trying not to miss the bus to regional players. Indian agencies are already banking on the fault lines existing between Afghanistan and China as well as Pakistan .
''China would like to see peace and stability and a moderate regime in Kabul that does not become an epicentre for radical Islam as then the danger of the ideology seeping into Xinjiang will become a reality,'' said Amar Sinha, a former ambassador to Afghanistan.
Beijing and Islamabad work in close concert which in many way also limits Beijing's ability to independently influence in Afghanistan, he said.
Further, the fault lines between Pakistan and Afghanistan have deep roots, according to Sinha. No Afghan government, even led by Taliban, will earn domestic legitimacy if they appear to be a proxy of Pakistan army.
Of late, Beijing has been uncomfortable with Pakistan's policy of supporting radical Islamic groups. Pakistan is being pressured by China to crack down on such groups and it is learnt that China has asked Pakistan military to moderate its policy.
This may not have been stated publicly, but according to Sinha, China's move not to allow Pakistani citizens access back to their Uighyur families is evidence of Beijing's concern. On the other hand, there is simmering discontent in Pakistan society on reports of Chinese men marrying local girls.
''All is not well on that front. So the China-Pakistan partnership is based on other factors,'' said Sinha. Once again, economic factors dominate this relationship.
China's interest lies in diverting its huge surplus labour to Pakistan and provide strategic support to Gwadar port, which is at the centre of the CPEC project.
Lack of security for its citizens has slowed down Chinese investment and trade even as an unstable Pakistan is busy fending terror outfits like the Tehrik e Taliban, ISKP, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi which are using ungoverned spaces around Durand line to foment trouble.
The ISKP, recently blamed by the US for the terror bombing at Kabul airport, has suddenly gained more notoriety than Taliban. Incidentally, the ISKP action has come at a time when Taliban is opposing the fencing of the Durand line by Pakistan.
''The message to Pakistan is clear that the fencing of Durand line will not be acceptable to the Afghan people who occupy nearly 25 per cent territory on the Pakistan side, upto Peshawar,'' said an intelligence official.
Another sore point between Pakistan and Taliban is the latter's refusal to crack down on TTP which is accused of terror attacks in Pakistan. At best, Taliban is offering to facilitate talks between the two which is unacceptable to Islamabad, said sources.
India had maintained a strategic silence so far but it’s slowly breaking its way in.
However, for any success on the security front, Indian intelligence and security agencies may need to do some tweaking in their strategy.
Aurangzeb Khan Zalmay, the organiser of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement based in Europe, said that he is disappointed by the role being played by Indian agencies. ''It is true there are human rights violations in Afghanistan after Taliban takeover and Pakistan has a huge role in supporting terrorist groups like Jaish and Lashkar. But simply doing a propaganda war against Pakistan will not help India.''
Zalmay referred to certain videos being showed in Indian media of alleged Taliban leaders dancing with AK47s and sophisticated weapons attributing it to Taliban's recent takeover of Kabul. Zalmay said he was shocked because it was an old video of a marriage celebration from his village Bannu in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. ''This kind of propaganda will spoil the image of Indian media and intelligence agencies. I expect India to understand the Afghanistan situation better,'' he said.
Besides the Pakistani army's threat on the LoC, the separatist struggle in Kashmir appears to have got a psychological impetus with the return of the Taliban, said a security official. The pro-Taliban comments on social media are a worry for intelligence agencies who fear a self propelling tendency being created not just within Kashmir, but in other parts of the country as well, given the fact that Taliban's religious ideology has its roots in Deobandi Islam. It can create internal security challenges for India in case of communal flareups.