China may turn a blind eye or even tacitly encourage a Pakistan instigated and Taliban supported resurgence of terrorism in Kashmir to discomfit India.
India lives in a perilous neighbourhood with two hostile nations breathing down its neck; countries who will stop at nothing to undermine its security and sovereignty. With Afghanistan in a state of political flux post the US withdrawal and the swift capture of Kabul by the Taliban, the geo-political dynamics of the region is undergoing a profound change with new and concerning alignments.
In fact, an exclusive troika consisting of Pakistan-China-Taliban is emerging in this unfolding scenario: an unholy nexus that could prove detrimental to India’s security and interests.
First, there is no doubt about Pakistan’s intentions. For Pakistan, the current situation is a dream come true. A Taliban led Afghanistan allows it to carry out its nefarious anti-India terrorist activities from Afghan territory with impunity and without accountability. The fact that Pakistan ISI chief, Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed was in Kabul to oversee the formation of the Taliban government is clear evidence of the clout that Pakistan carries with the Taliban; reports indicate that the ISI chief’s presence in Kabul was to ensure that the anti-India Haqqani network, which has close ties with the ISI, lands influential positions in the new government.
The surprisingly rapid takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban was clearly facilitated by Pakistan. Reports indicate that Pakistan deployed as many as 10,000 LeT and JeM recruits to fight alongside the Taliban. With the mission completed in Afghanistan the possibility of these terrorists being redirected to India is very high.
Second, the exit of the US leaves the door wide open for China to play a leading role in the region to complement its all-weather ally Pakistan. China has embraced this role enthusiastically.
Within hours of the Taliban entering Kabul, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry stated that Beijing was “ready to develop good-neighborliness and friendly cooperation” with Afghanistan.
Zhou Bo, a senior colonel in the People’s Liberation Army from 2003 to 2020 was explicit about China’s new role in Afghanistan. In a 20 August 2021 op-ed, In Afghanistan, China Is Ready to Step into the Void, he wrote: “Beijing has few qualms about fostering a closer relationship with the Taliban and is ready to assert itself as the most influential outside player in an Afghanistan now all but abandoned by the United States…”
With the US withdrawal, Beijing can offer what Kabul needs most: political impartiality and economic investment. Afghanistan in turn has what China most prizes: opportunities in infrastructure and industry building—areas in which China’s capabilities are arguably unmatched—and access to $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits, including critical industrial metals such as lithium, iron, copper and cobalt.
One of China’s current long-term strategic investment plans is the Belt-and-Road Initiative, an effort to finance and build infrastructure across the region. And Afghanistan until now has been an attractive but a missing piece of the enormous puzzle. If China were able to extend the Belt-and-Road from Pakistan through to Afghanistan—for example, with a Peshawar-to-Kabul motorway—it would open up a shorter land route to gain access to markets in the Middle East. A new route through Kabul would also make India’s resistance to joining the Belt-and-Road less consequential.
The Taliban have reciprocated in kind to China’s gesture. On 2 September, deputy director of the Taliban’s office in Doha, Qatar, Abdul Salam Hanafi said the Taliban will work with China to promote the Belt and Road Initiative. Additionally, he remarked: “China has been a trustworthy friend of Afghanistan… The Afghan Taliban is willing to continue to promote friendly relations between Afghanistan and China and will never allow any force to use Afghan territory to threaten China’s interests.”
The assurance that the Taliban will not “allow any force to use Afghan territory to threaten China’s interests” addresses China’s key concern: the support for China’s Muslim Uyghurs from Uyghur militants in Afghanistan—the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The ETIM has been blamed by China for several terrorist attacks within its borders. So, in return for economic development, China will demand that the Taliban put a lid on Uyghur militancy within Afghanistan and even deport Uyghurs back to China.
With China playing an increasing role in Afghanistan, India’s greatest fear is that China will turn a blind eye or even tacitly encourage a Pakistan instigated and Taliban supported resurgence of terrorism in Kashmir to discomfit India. Post the abrogation of Article 370 there are indications that a frustrated Pakistan is planning “something big” against India. China, which has expressed its own disapproval of the repeal of Article 370 may buy into Pakistan’s grand plan, to keep India in check as it has repeatedly stated. This “something big” may take the form of heightened terrorist activity in Kashmir in tandem with a mass uprising while a joint Pakistan-China assault seeks to decapitate Kashmir from India. India must be fully prepared to face such an extreme eventuality both mentally and militarily and be on guard on the domestic and external fronts.
To begin with, India must effect a drastic change in its national psyche. India must approach the problem of increased terrorism in Kashmir with the confidence and courage of an aspiring superpower. The timid, appeasing attitude—the hallmark of effete Indian diplomacy—must be replaced by an aggressive single-minded determination that India’s sovereignty and interests are non-negotiable.
Instead of trying to ingratiate itself with the Taliban by hankering for early talks as urged by several Indian commentators, India must lay down the ground rules for interaction with the Taliban.
If the Taliban are serious about nurturing political and economic ties with India (a senior Taliban leader Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai has stated that they attach great importance to their trade, economic and political relations with India and want to maintain that) then they must provide proof of their sincerity by detaching itself from the LeT and ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for these Pakistan supported Kashmiri terrorist groups.
On the domestic front, India must continue its hard-line policy in the Valley to stymie any outside interference. Two years is too short a time to assess its impact on a problem that has been festering for over 70 years. It may take five years or even 10, but the pressure must be maintained until the last vestiges of separatism are unequivocally eradicated from Kashmir. The fact that anyone would dare wrap the body of the deceased Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Geelani in a Pakistani flag on Indian soil points to the laxity of the Indian nation and its inability to uphold its own sovereignty.
The message must be clear: violence, fundamentalism and ethnic cleansing cannot be a part of a secular democratic country and will not be tolerated. This is a message which must be reemphasized to the political fraternity in the Valley as well especially to the likes of former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti who had the temerity to threaten India with a Taliban like situation in the aftermath of the Taliban victory in Afghanistan. In a speech to PDP workers, she had warned the Centre “to not test us” and “understand the situation, and see what is happening in your neighborhood,” referring to the Taliban victory in Afghanistan.
India must break free of its self-imposed restraint and expand its military capability and vision to preemptively strike any anti-India terror camps wherever they may be or in whatever country they are located.
India has a challenging period ahead. But with a new robust mind set, advanced military capability and a firm domestic policy we will be able to safeguard our civilizational values and our sovereignty.