5 December 2021

Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and US policy: Q and A on Asia with Voice of East Editor

This is a full email interview with the Editor of Voice of East. Voice of East is an independent, non-profit media organisation with core focus on issues related to Pakistan and the Muslim World.

Q: On Afghanistan: I have heard claims that the US and Britain will use the Taliban as allies or proxies against the regional countries, due to some informal agreement that may have been reached by them with the Taliban. I do not personally see how this is possible, because NATO has exited the country and all its clients fell from power. What do you think of this claim about the Taliban becoming agents of the West?

A: I absolutely do not see this happening. Ground realities are contrary to this claim. The Taliban want to have diplomatic relations with all countries including Western countries, even the US and to deal with them on an equal level. They see themselves as legitimate rulers of Afghanistan and will not act as proxies of any power. 

Q: On Afghanistan: I expected the Afghan government to survive for several months at least. Even the resistance groups against the Taliban collapsed, meaning the situation is even better for the Taliban than ever, including before 2001. Are you surprised by how quickly the Afghan government collapsed? 

A: Yes and no. 

Yes, because even we (Pakistanis) were surprised by how quickly the Afghan Taliban took over. We always knew that they would come to power once the US left the region but had no idea it was going to be so quick. Their lightning fast takeover of Afghanistan even took us by surprise.

No, because everyone in the region knew that Ghani’s government was installed by the Americans and that the Afghan National Army was piggybacking on the US Army; they did not have any real sway in Afghanistan. It was obvious their government would collapse once the American forces left. Despite the logistical support provided by the US Army, the ANA had no moral authority and popular support inside Afghanistan to stand on their own feet. 

Q: On Pakistan: I have heard the claim that Western intelligence agencies encourage separatism in Pakistan and are siding with India on that front, because they believe this will disrupt China's Belt and Road Initiative. How do you see this idea?

A: The ground realities and the geopolitics of the region support this claim. The Western intelligence agencies are not only encouraging separatism in Pakistan, they are using every trick in the book to destabilise Pakistan. The West has increasingly started to see Pakistan as an influential strategic partner of China and as it fallaciously believes China to be a threat to US/NATO hegemony, Pakistan also becomes a country they believe needs to be dealt with. On top of that, Russia’s balancing act in the Eurasian region where it is extending military and economic cooperation with Pakistan while keeping traditional relations with India intact, is also worrisome for the US.

Q: On Pakistan: Some people have warned that Afghanistan will be very chaotic now and that this will affect Pakistan's own security situation, specifically believing extremists will try to take power in Pakistan. How do you respond to this?

A: This warning holds true to some extent. Pakistan's security situation was affected immediately after the Afghan Taliban took over in Afghanistan. Pakistan witnessed resurgence of terrorist attacks in the provinces bordering Afghanistan, KPK and Balochistan after many years. Previously the TTP (Tehrik Taliban Pakistan) had been carrying out terrorist activities in Pakistan through safe havens in Afghanistan. Ghani govt. under the patronage of the US was protecting these terrorists, and also it was pro-India. It’s an open secret that the Indian intelligence agencies were working hand in glove with the Afghan intelligence agency NDS and also funding the TTP.

The beginning of Afghan Taliban’s rule was a big blow to Indian designs against Pakistan which were being enacted on Afghanistan’s soil. The TTP too were displaced after Afghan Taliban’s takeover and their sleeper cells in Pakistan were activated. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Pakistan, the govt. of Pakistan demanded from the Afghan Taliban to deal with the TTP: either control them and stop them from crossing into Pakistan or eliminate them. That option was not viable for the Afghan Taliban. Now they are mediating between the TTP and the State of Pakistan so that TTP would stop being a security threat to Pakistan. I personally do not see any fruitful results of Pakistan-TTP talks. 

There is a fine line separating the Afghan Taliban from the TTP (Tehrik Taliban Pakistan). Some differentiate between them by simply calling the Afghan Taliban, ‘Good Taliban’ and TTP the ‘Bad Taliban’. The truth is more complex. We know that both of them are extremists in their interpretation of religion, but Afghan Taliban cannot be categorised as terrorists. They are not Kharijites and do not do Takfir (declaring other Muslims infidels) like the TTP do. Even when Afghan Taliban were fighting other Muslim groups like Tajiks, Hazaras or Ahmad Massoud group, they did not declare them non-Muslims. The TTP consider the State of Pakistan legitimate target as they declare the civil and military leadership of Pakistan to be in collusion with the ‘infidels’. It is a documented fact that the TTP has been infiltrated, even led by intelligence agents of different Western, Israeli and Indian intelligence agencies who pose as Muslim Imams/Mullahs and encourage suicide bombing and other terrorist activities. This has been happening even more frequently in terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and Daesh. The sad truth is that TTP is a motley crew of brainwashed mercenaries who have nothing to do with religion. It’s a very lengthy topic and cannot be comprehensively covered in this brief space.

“Believing extremists will try to take power in Pakistan?” Looking at our country’s history and the powerful role of our military, I do not see that happening, ever. 

Q: On India: Do you see the Biden administration as being more on the side of India than Pakistan? How does this compare with Trump? I am aware that American strategists wanted partnership with India, neglecting to mention Pakistan.

A: The Biden administration’s bias for India is very apparent. President Trump had good chemistry with Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan and if he had stayed in power, US-Pakistan relations would have improved (as much as the US’ deep state would have allowed). The US admin (mistakenly) believes that their interests lie in fully supporting India as they see it as an antidote to China. This is fallacious thinking. India can never compete or defeat China in any field. The truth is that India is imploding from within. There are multiple separatist movements going on in different Indian provinces, not to mention the freedom struggle in Kashmir, which is like a gigantic volcano waiting to erupt and destabilise the whole region. Secondly, the RSS’ political wing BJP has pushed the country’s economy into a downward spiral ever since coming into power.

I strongly believe that the US is committing a strategic blunder by giving preference to India over Pakistan. It would have been pragmatic to engage with both South Asian countries. Pakistan’s role is crucial in bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region. Far from acknowledging the importance of Pakistan, the Biden admin is side-lining the state of Pakistan in a very provocative manner. 

Q: On India: Russia wants good relations with India, Pakistan and China all at the same time. This may be difficult because India is strongly opposed to China, and the US is using this to get closer to India. Some people in India believe Russia is their ally against China, although Russia and China are now strategically closer together than ever in their history. Would you agree that India is more under American influence than the influence of other countries?

A: I completely agree that presently India is more under American influence than the influence of other powerful countries. We are witnessing a clear recalibration of alliances taking place in the region. Slowly but surely India is moving away from the ‘Russian camp’ and strategically aligning with the US, as it too sees China as a threat just like the US does. Talking about Russia, we see that it continues cooperation with India, apparently ignoring the Indian overtures to the US. But there are subtle signs that Russia is not happy about India preferring the US over it. Russia is now even warming up ties with former Soviet era rival Pakistan, and increasing military and economic cooperation with it. Russia and Pakistan have been holding joint military exercises named ‘Druzhba’ since 2016. 

In July this year Russia and Pakistan signed a deal for the construction of ‘PakStream Gas Pipeline' in Pakistan. One only has to look at Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s diplomatic visit to both India and Pakistan in April this year to see in which direction the wind is blowing. Where it was cold and stony in India, the diplomatic meeting between foreign ministers of Pakistan and Russia was oozing warmth and familiarity. Secondly, relations between Russia and China have never been better in history than they are at the moment. Russia seems to be thinking about the whole Eurasian region and it seems highly unlikely that it will give preference to just one country (India) over other regional powers.

This Q and A is part of a series replacing a Mont Order November 2021 discussion. It was handled via email on 21-26 November. The full text of the series can be read on Academia.edu as the Mont Order November 2021 Conference.


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