Afghanistan: What Went Wrong? What Now?

Afghanistan: What Went Wrong? What Now?

we are sir good morning ladies and gentlemen faculty students of ob general global university it’s my great pleasure to welcome all of you for this webinar on afghanistan what went wrong what now for which we have brought together an outstanding panel and what promises to be an extremely interesting discussion this event is brought to you by the jindal global law school the jindal school of international life and the general school of international affairs with the full and active support of the vice chancellor’s office to start today’s proceedings i would like to invite the vice chancellor of ob general global university dr professor dr c raj kumar to say a few words and to inaugurate the proceedings let me briefly introduce him for those who do not know him dr rajkumar is a visionary who thought of the idea of creating a global university the university it was started in 2009 and it is 12 years now and in the 12 years the university has grown rapidly and received many accolades it today has over 7500 students 10 schools and around 900 faculty dr rajkumar himself is a well-known scholar he got his degrees from university of oxford from harvard from university of hong kong delhi university and lyola college in chennai he has a deep interest in human rights in terrorism uh in constitutions comparative constitutions all of which is relevant to a discussion on afghanistan dr rajkumar was the youngest vice chancellor at the time of being appointed to the op general global university and it is to his credit that the university is ranked as one of the top or the top private university in the country and it has been declared an institution of eminence by the government of india dr rajkumar i invite you to make your remarks thank you very much and it is absolute pleasure for me to welcome all our very distinguished panelists including three uh outstanding ambassadors and uh very distinguished journalists and my own colleague dr sridhar julia uh i think this conversation that we’re having today is a very important conversation for a number of reasons as things are unfolding uh in our neighborhood we are also conscious of the huge humanitarian crisis that is uh you know standing before us and as uh like-minded people thinking individuals it’s important for us to just debate and deliberate and even consciously recognize the importance of democracy and democratic governance in what we are seeing today in afghanistan we need to be conscious of the precious nature of these values and to what extent one cannot take these values for granted as we have seen in our neighborhood let me begin by formally welcoming our outstanding panel we have us ambassador prasad ambassador prasad was india’s ambassador to afghanistan during 2008 and 10. he was also in algeria nepal and the u.n conference on disarmament in geneva he served as a special secretary public diplomacy and head of the americas and the multilateral economic relations divisions in the ministry of external affairs in during 2000 to 2004 he also served in brussels geneva and paris in various capacities we also have with us ambassador rakesh sooth ambassador soon was india’s ambassador to afghanistan in the years 2005-8 also in nepal and france as well as permanent representative to the conference on disarmament in geneva and deputy chief of mission in washington dc he also served in brussels in dakar geneva and was the founder director of the disarmament and international security affairs division in india’s ministry of external affairs till 2000. i also want to extend a warm welcome to ambassador amar sinha rama sina was india’s ambassador to tajikistan and afghanistan during 2013 to 16 as well as secretary economic relations in the ministry of external affairs government of india he served in different capacities in the indian nation washington dc jakarta and brussels he was joint secretary trade policy in the ministry of commerce and industry where he handled the w-2 and other trade negotiations in hong kong upta bim’s tech g20 brics and ipsa i have a very special memory of visiting ambassador sinha when he was in afghanistan in kanrul and then we had the opportunity to visit kabul and masada sharif potential project and those memories are still lingering in my mind when we host this program we have with us a very distinguished journalist ms smitha sharma mr sharma is an award-winning independent journalist currently india ahead news she hosts flagship shows such as people’s editor and strategic speaking for the channel her articles and publications on foreign policy and securities have been published widely across the host of print and digital news media she is an alumnus of the asia pacific center for security studies in hawaii in the united states i also want a warm welcome to my colleague professor dr sriram chalia dean talia is a social scientist and an opinion maker on international issues he’s the dean of the national affairs he holds a doctorate and a master of arts in political science and international relations from the maxwell school of citizenship and public affairs syracuse university a master of science degree in history of international relations from the london school of economics and political science he was also a random christian british churning scholar at the university of oxford where he obtained a bachelor of arts in modern history is also a ba history honors from sense defense college delhi university thank you sriram for joining us and also the jsa for hosting lastly i want to formally welcome my colleague professor venu rajamani i would like to call him professor rajamani as he was india’s ambassador to netherlands in 2017 and 20 and permanent represent of india to the organization for prohibition of chemical weapons in the hague in this position he was responsible for india’s relations with the international code of justice and the permanent court of arbitration his other process include as press secretary to the president of india consul general of india in dubai and joint secretary multilateral institutions in the department of economic affairs ministry of finance government of india i’m also very delighted welcome my colleague professor tanvi nandan who has been helping us in organizing this conference with those words of formally welcoming all of you to this program i hand it over to professor venu rajamani to share and moderate this what promises to be a fascinating panel discussion thank you thank you vice chancellor uh friends says we have so much to discuss and so little time so i would like to straight away go into the topic but before we discuss what went wrong which essentially deals with the past and what now which deals with the future it is important to focus on what is also happening right now we all know that uh events have been taking place in afghanistan at a deceiving speed and the whole world is riveted on what is happening in afghanistan watching each and every development either within afghanistan or outside which pertains to afghanistan so to discuss the present let me invite the distinguished journalist senior edit contributing editor of india abroad news vita sharma to take us through some of the developments especially as it pertains to the human dimension as it affects women and girl children smith you have i think first of all i think it has been very inspiring that some of the first protests within afghanistan in the face of taliban soldiers came from women who stood outside the airport holding up posters saying that they also demand their rights we have also been seeing afghan women from within afghanistan as well as across the world speaking out some of the journalists have been speaking out very strongly at restrictions being imposed upon them at the same time there’s a shopkeeper who talks about the sale of jeans having gone down and suddenly a boom in sale of burqas yesterday the spokesperson of the taliban in a press conference said our soldiers do not know how to deal with women that’s why we have asked them to stay at home we need to train them we need to educate them and then we will bring women back to the workplace at the same time the spokesperson comments have always are in the first press conference itself he said women’s rights within sharia law how do you see these events do you trust the taliban do you think they will provide women with rights thank you so much ambassador venue raja muni and such a pleasure to see all of you also professor raj kumar and i think i’m very humbled to be in such a stellar panel with the collective wisdom and experience of you know three of our fine diplomats who have served in afghanistan and in the region in the past and also my uh you know sriram who always puts us journalists to shame by being such a prolific writer uh it’s it’s lovely to be here and uh of course you know to answer your question venue uh i think to begin with i would say it’s too early to tell it’s too early to say whether taliban 2.0 has changed for the better or for the worse are these delusions of change that are being projected of course it’s a different taliban without a doubt it’s a taliban which i’m sure we will be deliberating upon in the course of this discussion where you are also seeing an old guard versus new guard kind of a battle erupt it’s a taliban which unlike in the 90s i don’t think is a hundred percent pashtun force it also has its wakes it also has targets it also has foreign forces so while a lot will depend on what kind of a taliban are you looking at today and what kind of internal decisions are made within the taliban in terms of the power sharing arrangement or its power structure also its relationship to the tariq taliban pakistan and the pakistan connections those are all broader issues that the panelists will go into but coming to the issue of human rights i think uh the numbers that have been coming out of the country are heartbreaking in the last two months alone the estimates suggest we have looked at we have seen some 300 000 people displaced uh just the site that has been coming in from the airports it’s almost been six seven days now since kabul airport fell to the taliban and the kind of visuals of thousands tens of thousands of afghans with their babies with their young children scrambling on the tarmac we saw those young of khans who literally clung onto the tire wheels of the aircraft and where i think the important question that had to be asked was not why they were clinging on to the tires but why did that aircraft actually take off with them clinging on to the tires that also included a young afghan footballer uh you know i have been speaking to a lot of i’ve not unfortunately not been able to visit afghanistan in the past despite having had two occasions and it was jinxed in a way i’ve always been in awe of afghan women i think they are one of the most articulate brave incredibly beautiful women across the world who are so politically conscious who know to fight for their rights and who do not fear speaking out so for the last few months you know i’ve been in touch with a lot of afghan lawmakers activists students different generations and these last few days i’ve literally picked up my phone with trepidition every night and text it to them are you okay are you safe fearing the worst that i may not hear back from them at all fearing the worst that something could have happened to them and we will not even get to know of it for several weeks at a stretch so every time i see a message that comes back on my phone that says i am okay it brings in a relief but the next line inevitably in those messages is but i don’t know if i will survive to see the night see the another day i don’t know if i will be safe tomorrow or not there is the constant sense of apprehension of fear among afghan women children and i know the taliban has been trying to make all kinds of claims on international media if you go through some of the tweets of afghan young women itself you know pashtana who’s of course called afghanistan’s own malala a young activist and at the moment she’s been hiding like a lot of afghan women that i know of young girls that i know of who are currently hunkering down lying low speaking to us on whatsapp um who were doing video interviews earlier but now of course even we don’t want to put them in a position of risk uh pashtana informed that how while the taliban put out these videos claiming that young students were going on to schools the schools had been opening the important question that she raised was that what the world also needs to know is which grades are these that are opening i mean till class 6 anyways is something that we know that the taliban will allow perhaps for the education of young girls and also these are images from one or two schools maybe in kabul or in some other most centric places whole of southern afghanistan schools are yet to open up we don’t know if schools beyond classes six will actually open up i saw another tweet this was from sami mehdi he’s a journalist and a kabul university lecturer who said that universities in herat are ordered by mablavi farid the senior taliban official to separate male and female classes they are also told to find female teachers for girls if female instructors are not available only old men are allowed to teach girls at universities the school of leadership in afghanistan which was actually the only boarding school for girls in the country again young activists involved it last week completed in secrecy and silence the departure of nearly 250 of its staff students members and they have now resettled in rwanda so uh you’ve seen lawmakers like dr anarkali who’s from the afghan sikh community you have shinkai karakal who was the mp from kabul they have been forced to flee anarkali has come into delhi shinkai she says she’s moved somewhere i’m not sure the location just to imagine the horror of having to fold your lives the years of your memories of being uprooted from your homeland packing them in one small suitcase not knowing when is it that you will be able to return if you will be at all or when will you be reunited with your loved ones who may have been left behind i think it’s one of the most unfortunate heartbreaking aspects of any human catastrophe of this nature and just to conclude my thoughts i think uh we have to remember that in afghanistan as for the world bank estimates uh i think as of 2020 we were looking at a 48.7 percentage population of women in the population and the median age is 19.9 so there are entire generations of afghans that have been born post 9 11 attacks so i think for all those who are claiming that women’s rights will be respected within the sharia code a lot is yet to unfold and a lot will depend on how the aspirations of these educated afghan young girls women children itself because not all of them can actually manage to hop onto a flight not all of them have connections and it’s not even feasible we will have to consider the situation where of course tens of thousands of upgrades will be within the country and we’ll have to try and find a solution inside i’ll leave it there thank you smitha we all agree with you that it is an absolutely tragic situation especially as far as the women are concerned but for all citizens in afghanistan and we do not know uh whether the taliban taliban will deliver or can deliver on what it is promising what their official spokesperson are promising ambassador if i can turn to you now and still stay in the present international attention seems to be all focused on this august 31 deadline uh in in sometimes perhaps in an obsessive way and the u.s after being humiliated after having lost the war is now tying itself into knots over a deadline that it itself set the taliban at the same time is staying very strong and seeing no extension of deadline why is the taliban holding so strong onto the deadline why is it so important to them that the deadline be stuck to that all the foreign troops leave and where does it leave india do you think that whatever indian citizens are left in afghanistan we will be able to get them out either before august 31st or post august 31st if there are people still left what will happen will we be able to bring them out so you have to unmute yourself the 31st live deadline is an artificial one but that’s something that president joe biden himself announced and so taliban has just latched on to it so what has happened in afghanistan shows up u.s incompetence and it had to cut loose from its losses in afghanistan but it is also a blow to american standing and it is not an edifying spectacle to find the president and his senior officials justifying the exit of u.s forces in the manner in which it occurred they pulled out not only the 3000 remaining american soldiers from bagram but they pulled out according to rory stewart the british mp sixteen thousand american contractors saw the 60 70 odd helicopters that the afghan national army had and the few planes that it had it had no backup no support no maintenance and there was no way the afghan army could have fought on so right now the situation before the 31st is that the american force which is there in the kabul airport about between five to six thousand soldiers they are in a way hostages to the taliban so taliban had all the cards in its hands so when they said no extension it meant no extension so there was no argument about it in the g7 meeting yesterday france and britain tried to get biden to agree to an extension but biden said no for obvious reasons because the if the taliban start firing at the americans at the airport what will happen it will be a very ugly incident 31st july also has another significance taliban has announced that they will not have a government in place before that so pakistan’s advice to the taliban leadership is to resolve their internal differences quickly and form a government but you know smitha made a good point that this time the taliban has members from other ethnicities but the five major factions of the taliban they are all headed by pashtuns and i’ll come to it but kabul presents a very strange spectacles of different parts of the kabul government the previous government the defense ministry the interior ministry the palace presidential palace all occupied by different factions of the taliban in fact in the presidency different rooms are occupied by different factions so the two important leaders in taliban in the field were the head of the eastern military commission and the western military commission and they had respectively occupied the defense ministry and the interior ministry so it’s a power play so yesterday i saw a notice that kaim zakir who who has occupied the defense ministry he has been declared the acting defense minister and sadha ibrahim who’s occupied the interior ministry i wouldn’t be surprised if he is declared the interim interior minister there is going to be dressing up of the afghan government now under the taliban they will accommodate some of the other ethnicities and the older leaders in some positions which are non-important like not nothing to do with defense nothing to do with home affairs nothing to do with allocation of resources but the three other factions are there mullah who is the head of the taliban hasn’t yet made his appearance but he is expected soon if he is around there is son who leads the kandahari faction the two others are named earlier the kyung zakirans satya ibrahim they are from the helmand province and they have been fighting on the field for a long time mulayakub has a certain standing in the taliban because of who he is and then another important kandahari faction is led by mullah he was nominated deputy by the old american omar so he has a standing and he was the head of the political office of taliban in qatar and then there is a maverick the haqqani network which has close ties surprisingly both to the isi and to al-qaeda and that is led by khalifa siraj sirajuddin haqqani and it has two other important members who are both present in kabul jalaluddin who is from the older generation and khalifa siraji’s brother anasakani so all of them are going to be accommodated in the future governance of the country and like the pakistani core commanders they’ll find a way of finding accommodation and compromise and come together because they have to show that they are a cohesive force and so over the next year i suggest i think that things will take time to settle it will take taliban at least a year to have properly chosen ministers in place right now they will make compromises to get going thank you thank you thank you so much ambassador for that uh prediction on how things are going to evolve and from here i would like to straight away go to ambassador rochester then start by asking him whether would you also agree with ambassador jan prasad’s assessment that national government will become feasible in whatever shape and manner that it finally emerges and eventually are we going to see a poor saudi arabia emerge in our subcontinent is this going to be uh extremely conservative orthodox islamic government like in saudi arabia you have a royal family and of course western support u.s support which has held it up but here there will be new forces which will come into play but is it uh will it be a viable entity in the long run that is question number one and the second question is if you could start looking at the question looking at the issue of what went terribly wrong how did the collapse happen so much that nobody expected what was going to happen and who is most to blame is it the americans is it ghani and his government is it pakistan president biden also has been juxtaposing two extremes and saying either we had to stay forever or we had to leave immediately didn’t the americans have multiple options including holding the taliban at bay outside kabul till they evacuated everyone and they brought in a stable national government that they could have implemented ambassador thank you thank you venus if i forget some of the questions since there were so many i’ll come back to you don’t worry you might have to remind me but uh to begin with i think that the idea of a national government uh i still think uh there is a little bit of a doubt about it because if you remember the last taliban regime that was there was a heavily pashtun-dominated regime now this time we understand that the rebarish has a couple of tajiks and uzbeks in it however whether but nobody seems to know who they are at least i don’t i don’t know if jayanth or amar or smitha have any clue as to who they are and what kind of standing these tajiks and newspapers have in their respective communities now in the absence of that uh it will be a question dominated so in that sense the likelihood of its emerging as really a national government i would still have some doubts about it whether they are able to achieve that goal or not last time around the resistance came from the non-questions so that is why uh this time they have tried to uh bring in a couple of tajiku’s big faces but we don’t we haven’t seen them i mean otherwise you’ve seen statements by mullah brother for example you’ve seen statements by their spokesperson uh that zabula mujahid and so on the uh the fellow in doha uh strong exact share muhammad the past on exile i think is still in dua because we haven’t seen any statement from him from kabul um again but these are all punch tool names so the names that jan mentioned people who’ve been appointed these again are pashtuns so i think we need to wait and see as to what happens with the other ethnic communities so it is not just the ethnic communities but also the minorities also the women that smita spoke so eloquently about uh so its early days in that sense you know uh about uh now to come to uh who is to blame or uh why did the afghan army or the collapse in this unexpected fashion frankly you know uh there is now a myth that is you know you’ve seen this kind of a myth that has been created in recent days oh the afghans you know they don’t fight and you know they collapsed and you know they ran away they melted away they did deals and so on i mean i would take that with a huge huge bucket of salt because if you look at it i mean the afghans the total u.s can number of the total u.s casualties is about 2 400 in uh in afghanistan during this period and uh the afghans basically took on the brunt of the fighting from first january 2015 when the americans ended their combat operations and moved from operational enduring freedom to operational resolute support in which their mission was to advise train and assist afghan forces the afghans have lost more than 60 000 soldiers so to say that they can’t fight i mean is slightly uh you know a bit of a distortion of the reality uh so they can fight but i think what happened was that they were fighting uh with a lot of backup support first of all the logistics the air support that jones mentioned the also the intelligence reconnaissance in terms of satellite imagery in terms of drones that they had which were being operated and the feed that was being monitored and then fed out and all of that all those systems so then the uh medical evacuation systems which again depended on helicopters you know things like so i think in the absence of all of these support structures what you saw was the inability of the army as an institution now the army is an institution it is not a gorilla force a gorilla force will fight in a very different fashion as compared to an rb unit which has been trained to fight in a totally different manner and has a certain supply chain behind it which keeps it functional now that supply chain vanished so they then you know the rb unit that is there is kind of left out on a limb and uh i mean the taliban also had an excellent military strategy you know they started uh with the remote check posts and checkpoints and things like that where there would be a unit of say 10 to 15 people now you both you surrounded with 40 to 50 taliban fighters and cut them off and give them make them an offer to surrender in which case they will be allowed to leave or uh you know you negotiate the other thing that the taliban did which was very smart uh which they obviously had not done the previous time because the previous time around but then they entered in kandahar in 1994 and then went up and you know entered kabul in 96. at that time they were moving as a military force this time they had had their people in place over the last few years so who had made contact so what they did was they had reached out in a district or you know in places like that to the village elders and said look we are not here to take revenge so if you can organize a deal with these guys who are there and they you know decide to capitulate and surrender we’ll let them go in fact we’ll give them a certificate saying that they have voluntarily surrendered and they can leave i mean obviously they will leave their ammunition and their vehicles and their hardware behind but they can leave now uh this uh worked because given the nature of society the village elders would say look i mean why do we want to destroy the village i mean et cetera et cetera and they would go on they would sort of and this is how so this is where the strategy began in may on don’t forget on 14th of april was when president joe biden announced that we are out and he declared a deadline of the anniversary of 9 11. subsequently he sort of made 31st august as the deadline you know some a point that jon had addressed earlier so the taliban started putting their strategy into operation as it were activating from may onwards and so it began with the remote areas and then moved on to district headquarters and then moved on to from district headquarters to surrounding provincial capitals and then to provincial capitals and then to kabul so just to give uh uh you know give you an idea give others an idea as to the way it was moving i mean afghanistan has 427 districts 34 provinces further divided into 427 districts by the uh [Music] third week of june or thereabouts the chairman joint chiefs of staff general mili mark mili in the us testified before congress in washington that the taliban were in control of about 80 districts out of fortress uh they had earlier been in control of 50 60 districts so like this doesn’t suddenly seem so such a rapid uh increase so by the third week of july when he testifies again to congress he says they are now in control of more than 220 districts now so you see how it moves up and then from there the first provincial capital zaranj falls on 6th of august and then it just sort of you know the next one the next one the next because the ground has already been prepared by surrounding these capitals by having the uh local elders these you know the group of elders uh negotiating by a momentum having been built up and so between 6th of august and 15th of august you see the entire collapse of the machinery in a sense it then becomes because by this time what has happened is that it has become headless so it has lost any direction and the biggest proof of that was the uh departure of by ashavani you know that is the biggest proof of it so innocent now people sort of ask this question oh what happened there were seven cores that the afghan rb had yes there were seven cores but as each district and you know the course got shrunk and shrunk because what happened was that the soldiers you know go back to me your first outpost 15 fellows capitulate they leave behind their hardware and they get a surrender now when you get a surrender certificate they’re not going to go back to their abi headquarters and say i’m rejoining again first of all they’ll get court partial for having surrendered and not fought and second that is the undertaking they’ve given to the talibans otherwise the taliban will go after their families so they just desert and go back to their own village or their own home or wherever they are from and that’s it so this is how the numbers start coming down and by the time the taliban entered kabul five cores have vanished five cores no longer exist of the seven so but so this is how i mean this is i’m just trying to give you a sense of how the military strength a the headlessness and the absence of the backup support that it was used to and so on why it led to what it did you said who is to blame for i mean this was another of the questions who’s most to blame well i mean in something like this there is always enough blame to go around everywhere but i would say that i would say that the americans are certainly to blame there is no two ways about it because the americans for the last 20 years have been the biggest power on the ground you know let’s not forget i mean they have contributed the largest in terms of numbers largest in terms of money and we can we can debate yeah is that money being well spent that’s a fair point but certainly you can’t doubt the fact that even if we take away the defense expenditure everybody talks about you know a trillion dollars or two trillion dollars having been spent already by the us and so on and uh everybody says that out of that say they’ve spent about 900 billion was spent just on the military operations and the amount that has been spent on the economic development of afghanistan is about 143 billion now so let us take 143 billion out of 143 billion about 88 billion has been spent only on the afghan security forces on building up equipping paying their salaries training etc etc of the afghan security forces now they spent about nine billion on uh counter narcotics so you take away 88 plus nine that’s 97. so then that’s the balance you left but even if you say that another 50 billion is roughly what they’ve spent on economic development assistance cooperation disaster relief and so on even that is more than what the international community has spent far more put together if you take the number of casualties i mean the americans had the largest number of soldiers there they suffered the largest number of casualties so if they have suffered about 2 400 casualties all the other 33 other countries put together have suffered less than a thousand so there is no denying the fact that the americans were the biggest player on the ground so therefore if if it was a successful enterprise the success would have been theirs and if it’s a failed enterprise then i’m sorry but then they have to take the blame for it as well right but at the same time i would say that the afghans cannot absolve themselves entirely of the blame yes it is true i mean just earlier this morning uh [Music] the acting president umrullah saleh former vice president who is now in panchi he had given an interview where he said that you know he blamed the americans he’s accused the americans of having betrayed afghanistan strong words but and he said he said yes we saw some of these things happening and some of these things coming but then is a superpower going to listen to us even if we try to point it out to them which i quite take the point i mean would the americans have listened if somebody had tried to say look this is what you are doing wrong this is the mistake you are making this is the hubris of power but not withstanding that i would say that the afghans also shared part of the blame i i don’t know if there was a further question that i have forgotten now but if there are no you have covered quite comprehensively thank you so much thanks ambassador anything else you would like to add to what ambassador sood has mentioned could the americans have handled uh this whole departure from afghanistan any better with better results and the resistance based in pan share how genuine is it is it just political bargaining is there really a strong resistance which can fight the taliban and is there any country in the world which will actually support the mass once countries some countries had rallied to the to support of the northern irelands right and um thank you venue uh of course both our my predecessors have spoken in great detail uh to the different lists of of the reasons why it happened i would just add two uh more points first is that because of the negotiations and because of these efforts of of mainstreaming taliban the very definition of enemy had changed now a national army needs a very clear-cut enemy it cannot wage a war against its own people that messaging was very confused basically because everybody wanted taliban to come in as part of the government so now how much would army be motivated to kill the people which it feels is going to be part of my own national unity government in one month two months three months third is the legitimacy of the central government itself now that was not only undermined by the actions of the americans but also their own actions and particularly not only the 2014 elections which had some legitimacy the 2019 elections i think left the government’s legitimacy uh it was really scraping the bottom of the barrel for legitimacy uh where in a country of 38 million uh people 1.8 million vote and you declare or have you have yourself declared as president with a majority of 10 000 votes and i think it was fraud writ large on that election results so that did not connect the people or the provinces to the central government so there was a sense of inevitability that the government is going uh it doesn’t have legitimacy in any case taliban is coming in some form or the other so why do we among brothers why do we fight and that was the messaging which happened while people were busy with doha and moscow format and beijing the taliban was really sending out this message into the rural areas and that’s why the tribal elders flipped uh seriously and there was of course coercion bribery money power used so all that contributing to contributed to the literally melting away but melting away in afghan context doesn’t mean that the war has ended you know you could have just kicked the can down the barrel and that is what perhaps the panchayat resistance represents today the other thing that resistance represents i feel is the voice of the new generation of afghanistan because it is true that the current leadership of taliban or the current leadership in afghanistan are all hangovers from the mujahideen era fight against soviets perhaps the only teenager at that point who got associated with ahmad massoud and now with tamil masoor’s son who is still in his uh sort of mid-20s these also represent a certain new voice in afghanistan politics uh how credible militarily i feel that they are in a bad situation uh they can hang around there they can keep and share value but then it will remain an oasis and without connectivity now let’s not forget that last time resistance could be supported by whoever the countries that supported because all the borders were open so taliban obviously followed a very clear military strategy first to close all the sealed all the borders so that no assistance could come and second that no refugees stream out into the neighboring country because that is bad optics kabul alone airport is really the picture of afghanistan today so they didn’t want this message to go around that millions going into iran or tajikistan and pakistan so that is why i think they had sealed the borders besides of course revenue etc etc who will support amaroola see while very mil many countries will sympathize with the course you know including many countries in europe the problem is the practical aspects of delivering assistance uh and i so that’s why i feel that the military objectives are more difficult to sort of gain grounds there but in terms of the political objective what he’s trying to represent what he’s saying he still has kept the option of negotiations open if you see his uh yesterday’s interview with india today so he’s are talking about an inclusive government he’s talking about a non-televised afghan society which represents the plurality the uh the different ethnicities so i believe that not only him at a different level people who like who went to pakistan mr kanuni muha et cetera they all also feel that this is the opportunity where they could institutionalize the governance system which gives representation to ethnic minorities otherwise as ambassador prasad said what you have seen is totally pashtun dominated while there are people there are a few hazaras there are a number of ethnic minorities in shadow governance etc but even in doha office they are one or two i forget the name right now but they are more cosmetic they don’t have effective power and effective power uh as it is has already been grabbed as ambassadors i’ve told you it’s basically finance uh ministries economy ministry interior defense and of course the presidency uh beyond that they would be willing to accommodate so in effect if i had to answer your original question has taliban two any different in ideology no in narrative and in diplomacy yes they have changed uh they have uh you see first time they operated without social media today they are under uh intense sort of international glare so they have mastered the art of uh both narrative building presenting a different face but in their basic ideology i don’t think they have changed uh they would remain a very sort of uh pashtun oriented governance structure but that also perhaps reflects some of the social realities of afghanistan and that’s unfortunate part on democracy democratic routes they have a you know it’s not the democracy that we know that everyone has equal vote they are democratic in fact afghans i always feel that they have a way of sorting out things but it’s more collective it’s it’s organized on the basis of tribes the tribal leaders the seniors carry a lot of weight and and they can pacify matters so uh going forward i don’t know whether it is the interest of anybody to put afghanistan through another 20 years of civil war because what you are saying is uh is a fatigue on part of the afghans also while the americans talk of the longest war 20 years we forget that from afghan perspective it’s 40 years it’s longer than perhaps any other war that you have seen anywhere else so there’s a sense of fatigue there there’s a sense of moving forward and moving forward cannot be based on violent resistance and and fighting of course as everybody said that a lot of blame to go around and of course the largest portion is being put on mr biden’s store but i in defense of biden i would say to only two things that the stage was set with mr trump which we are forgetting in fact even the deadlines if you remember he had invited taliban leadership to camp david in september of last year before his elections till taliban rejected that offer because they wanted to sign the deal before they went to camp david so that they don’t have to give additional concessions uh and of course somebody must have realized that you cannot call them really on the anniversary of 9 11 to camp david that had happened so then he really followed us cost to earth policy in terms of giving the deadlines you see what did doha deal do doha deal set out timelines for american withdrawal in absolutely concrete terms and under that agreement any time that you have got beyond may of this year is a bonus so basically i look at it that by then actually delayed the inevitable by three months by 31st august of course it is artificial deadline but the fact is that there was a agreement which put 31st of may as a deadline what did trump do in january after he lost the elections rather gleefully after having said that additional withdrawals would be condition based he gleefully said that we have done accelerated withdrawal and whittled down the force presence to 2500. so basically he left mr biden three months window between february and may to take a call and so mr biden was damned if he reneged on the agreement the war would have continued and it would have become an endless war and of course if he uh went ahead then even today the republicans are turning around and blaming him the modalities could have been different but i don’t know if it had happened under mr trump in september or may it would have been any different because if you had allowed taliban or you have allowed to go away withdraw all the forces even before the peace process started obviously this was an outcome which should have been foreseen optics can be different but the fact is that a president that they have supported twice despite uh having been completely disillusioned uh and his fleeing away i think was the last nail in the coffin and that’s uh the outcome that i think we will all have to deal with in in the region the americans would be gone but we can’t leave and there would be ramifications in in security in people-to-people connect in how you sort of see the vision of sark going forward will suck stay the way it is or there will be other actors which will be influencing and and splintering sucks so there are many new possibilities which will open up which we don’t really know right now thank you thank you so much ambassador sinha for that fascinating analysis and as you said there is plenty of blame to go around and plenty of people to blame that brings me to our dean general school of international affairs dr sridham julia dr chawla you are writing a book right now on narendra modi’s national security crisis and this is as a big problem or crisis as it can get what do you think were there mistakes made by the indian government could we have done better in our dealings with afghanistan should we have opened up back channel contacts with taliban much earlier even now should we expand the engagement with taliban what else can we do thank you all it’s a pleasure to share this space with distinguished diplomats who served in afghanistan um i think and and all of you who have implemented indian policy uh towards this crucial neighbor of hours um you know for a while for a long while uh people have been saying that we should have uh made overtures to taliban earlier or sooner and of course we had contacts it’s i mean sometimes there are many things that are not uh you know made public so uh you know ambassador merci now is you know will be a testimony to that so but the point is um you know um nobody had foreseen in fact the question should be asked as to what did all the other stakeholders do i mean it’s not only about india right i mean everybody was a bystander everybody was taken by total surprise at the speed of the taliban offensive and the collapse of the afghan state so in that sense um if there is someone to blame um in terms of for for inaction or for not being proactive then all of us uh uh can can uh you know uh share some of that of that guilt now i mean look at countries that have direct borders with the con with afghanistan central asian countries iran um china none of them actually sprang to any action and in fact everybody was just staying out in many ways and simply of course you can argue the chinese and the russians played host to taliban and tried to win them over but have they really secured themselves in the process against the jihadist menace i don’t think so in fact um yesterday prime minister modi had a direct conversation with president putin and they both agreed that they’ll work very closely uh to try and bring about stability in the in the region and that’s it’s quite clear that um neither the chinese or the russians can be said to have been smarter quote unquote than us or iran or anybody else simply by opening channels and engaging with taliban in a public way um the security assurances or guarantees that taliban have made to china for example uh in public uh cannot really i don’t think they can they have the leverage to even enforce it for example can they stop islamic state is from um linking up with the north caucasus jihadist groups in russia or with east turkestan islamic movement in xinjiang in china i don’t think so so um i think um so and then the other question which has been raised is were we placing all our eggs in the american basket that’s another question that’s been raised and people saying um so one is did we delay um [Music] doing a deal with the taliban quote unquote and second is did we over rely on the u.s knowing very well that trump had indicated as um ambassador was just mentioning that they were on the way out and there are no appetite for any more uh interventions like these in far away parts of the world they had become isolationist and and driven more by domestic um politics than by maintaining this uh global sheriff role so um i think there frankly there was no lack of effort i mean you look at the number of regional consultations india has done i mean it’s endless i mean dr jay shankar i if i recall the moment trump himself when this qatar process started you know in last year 2020 and the deal was signed uh from then onward they’ve been scrambling non-stop trying to engage with all the stakeholders trying to come up with a common position i think there were so many meetings we’ve even lost count you know um it’s been a lot of consultation and coordination and not much action so that’s the fact and i think that’s because we had explored the possibility of supporting uh anti-taliban resistance we had explored the possibility of creating some kind of a balance of power on the ground to prevent a total takeover like what has happened now uh but there weren’t many willing takers for it i mean the point is i think uh the reputation of afghanistan as a kind of a quagmire that can suck in one player after the other and ultimately you burn your hands and don’t get anything out of it is so entrenched now uh that i think everybody was trying to just be a bystander and see okay we will see what happens after if there is a change or if there is a regime collapse so uh in that sense could all this have been prevented by the regional actors uh when the u.s itself uh had indicated that it was washing its hands of the whole problem um that’s of course in a way it was our dream we were all talking about regional endgame regional endgame regional powers we should all you know come together and do something and stabilize the country it hasn’t happened but i think it’s not too late the point is um at least now there are levers and um just for you know for the audience should know we are the chair of the 1988 sanctions committee in the u and the u.n uh which has got designated more than 140 odd taliban leaders the ones who are currently going to be interior minister and you know uh defense minister and foreign minister and all these people or even the president if if um baradar or somebody else becomes prison most of these people have been under sanctions multiple sanctions the u.s have lifted some but there are still human sanctions so that’s uh one thing on which we can exercise leverage i think and that’s where we should coordinate there are other aspects you know their foreign funds have been frozen people talk about the narcotics traffic and the drug money and the taliban can sustain themselves i saw a a report in the wall street journal just a few days ago saying that the total amount of money they’ve been making from um narcotics and from opm trade he’s around 460 million uh us dollars a year and i don’t think they can run a country of 39 million people uh now that they’re in governance just with that so they will need a lot of other things right that’s why they’re angling for recognition or trying to show some kind of moderation so this is where i think india can still be a player luckily and and maybe not luckily uh the fact is we have talked to them and we have ensured that our citizens and our people of concerned minorities like sikhs and hindus have been evacuated so far so far touchwood none of our citizens has been hurt or has been held hostage and that was the real fear right haqqanis are running kabul what will happen to indians there right so it was a real nightmare and i was still not out of the woods i believe there are few more people to get out but the point is we are using our card we are using our lines we are trying to make the most of this terrible situation what happens to our investments there i mean that’s the last point you know i’d like to raise three billion plus you know our development projects our hydroelectric dams you know the the roads the railways and all the things that uh you know the our esteemed panelists have been implementing for years as ambassadors in kabul what happens to them obviously they will not destroy the physical infrastructure but who is going to operate and maintain them our engineers are already all been evacuated our technicians have all come back now who is going to fill in those ranks just yesterday’s ability was saying we want to stop the flight of qualified afghans from the country because we need doctors and we need engineers and we need uh our teachers and so on and we appeal to them not to leave not to flee the country so i think governance is something it’s actually taliban’s vulnerability uh it’s not their strengths guerrilla warfare and uh being an insurgent gave them the offensive advantage now they are on the defensive puncher is just one example uh general dostam and jan are said to have crossed over into uzbekistan and they are not going to sit there quietly right and there are some reports that tajikistan is actually directly supporting the remnants of the of the northern alliance so uh i think we are in for a fluid time it’s not that all the cards have been lost and we just need to regroup and work with partners obviously our willingness to um to deploy boots on the ground is uh hampered our ability to call you know to have leverage uh uh but i think with air power and such things there are means by which we can still be supportive of elements if the taliban don’t fulfill their part of the of the deal because from my understanding very simplistic yeah just a moment i just want complete one point when my in simplistic terms taliban are saying you be neutral and don’t take sides in the internal afghan permutations and we are saying you be neutral and don’t take sides with pakistan against india i think if the if that basic deal holds if we see that i think there are there’s room for some kind of limited cooperation and possibly even recognition of this new dispensation in the future thank you okay thank you doctor smitha to come back to you what do you think about international the levers that the international community have dr charlie just now mentioned the un sanctions committee the g7 met but at the same time it is very clear that the americans just want to pull out they don’t want any more lives lost the europeans are most worried about refugees going into europe do you think the international community can do anything to change the situation in afghanistan for the better to pressurize the taliban to respect human rights to institute some kind of a democracy to bring about an inclusive government i think you know most of the levers were lost when the doha court came into being i think the accord will go down the history of international relations perhaps as one big agreement of betrayal because it just gave such undue advantage and leverage to the taliban without getting any negotiable outcomes really in terms of even getting a permanent ceasefire in place uh which was a constant demand by women rights groups by by activists as well on the contrary what we saw was that taliban assault and a military takeover not looking for political solutions having said that i think you know i just read that the world bank has perhaps halted its aid to afghanistan now i’m really not sure and i’m not an expert on this i think the diplomats would be way better to answer that but from a layman’s perspective from an ordinary citizen’s perspective i’m worried i i hope that whatever steps are taken do not end up squeezing the afghan nationals and the afghan citizens further you know we’ve in the past we have often debated the merits of of sanctions itself unless they are targeted at individuals in most cases whether i be it in north korea or iran i’m really personally yet to see substantial gains from sanctions against a regime and that’s something which i think needs to be thought very very uh you know carefully about before countries jump to these steps we are looking at all these fine words i know the statements seem to be sounding right the g7 statement we’ve seen those emergency counsel meeting of the united nations security council uh this month of course india had the presidency and was sharing those meetings but a lot of afghans have been asking that you know it was too little too late and are these anything that can translate beyond words so uh i think from an india perspective while the big question that is still looming large and i think sriram kind of addressed that is about whether india will be in a position to recognize the taliban or continue to not recognize the taliban in the 90s when the last time around india had to actually evacuate its embassy um india could not recognize taliban because a lot of the other countries also did so but today you are in a changed strategic position you are looking at another quad where there’s a china pakistan iran russia that’s a different dimension even the americans while leaving of course they are securing their interests in central asia through that connect so uh you still have you have russia china two of the veto holders and security council who are vindicated enough though the terms and conditions now being put in on hindsight that sooner than later they will be recognized the taliban but from an indian perspective i think in terms of the aid assistance that india gave most of it was actually targeted at the people of afghanistan that is where something uh i don’t think new delhi should put the full stops medical visas for afghans is that something we can continue to grant student visas and student fellowships i mean the taliban that today does not want a brain drain to happen and which is why it is saying that we don’t want our doctors and engineers to leave sooner than later tomorrow will they stop their afghans the younger afghans to stop going out of the country into higher educational institutes because there will be that danger awarded the afghans don’t return but that’s a risk that they will also have to kind of weigh in on that’s where again can we go in with more scholarships more fellowships for these students because at the end of the day these students will also have to stand up and fight for the resistance and i’m seeing so many young afghan refugees young afghan students who are taking to the streets of new delhi you know in solidarity demonstrations asking for the international community to not abandon them i think the biggest fear of afghans right now is that they should not be abandoned so uh for me personally the security council sanctions again that sriram mentioned i i really don’t know the security council limitations given that you know we at the end of the day countries like india we do not have a veto and what goes on in the security council when you have members of russia and china and given china’s clear interest in the cpec region in the park occupied region with the 62 billion dollar plus investments it has already made its alliance with pakistan how much of the indian narrative or the indian empire proposals can go through it’s something that i think only time will tell but uh uh you know just to end renew i i think i saw this tweet by share i will just read it out for one second um yeah you know the chairperson of the afghan human rights commission and she made a powerful in fact passionate appeal also she just wrote that i want the world to be silent for a moment to be afghans can scream our pain in its heart uninterrupted it speaks volumes about what our khans are going through and they should not be abandoned so can you keep the taliban engaged communication lines open without diplomatically recognizing them that will be i think a key question uh where you can leverage how much of leverage is left here really thank you thank you smitha ambassador can you comment on what has been said recently including the un sanctions committee and what how do you see the future of india’s development projects in afghanistan will the taliban stop it will we be able to continue taliban has a great problem ahead because the normal revenue collection in afghanistan is a maximum of hundred one and a half billion dollars and their budget has been around between 10 and 15 billion so there is a huge gap at the rock bottom they can probably operate with four or five billion dollars but where is that three and a half billion dollars going to come from so germany for example has declared that it will continue its development assistance of 500 million euros so that is a big gap which will be filled but you know indian development assistance can flow to the new dispensation if we find that if the indian government finds that our embassy and consulates are allowed to function if we find that lashkar-e-taiba and hezbollah which has helped the taliban in the field is not allowed to operate out of the eastern provinces like they did before coast bhaktiya paktiya paktika and nangarhar and also if the final thing is that if the taliban shows itself to be there is no good or bad taliban but there is moderate taliban and extremist taliban there is independent taliban independent taliban so if they show themselves to be moderate and independent then government of india can continue with the people connect smitha made a very good point that we should continue medical visas and student visas that is vital we should keep our doors open local conditions permitting of giving temporary shelter to those whose lives are threatened in afghanistan but if they are not threatened will be the happiest so that’s the present situation so basically the indian strategy will have to be will have to unfold as the situation on ground evolves so the next month or two we will see what happens thank you thank you very much sir ambassador can you tell us something about what kind of role will the regional players adopt russia china iran most important of all the chinese already in response to vice president kamala harris’s statements in singapore said who will believe the u.s anymore well um you know that there was a taliban delegation in july that had visited china and there were these photographs with the foreign minister wangi and all of that even after the takeover the chinese have taken a somewhat soft line in they’ve not criticized the taliban for the takeover they’ve in fact the chinese statements have been critical of america for having created a mess and their hasty withdrawal and irresponsible and all that uh china has said that you know we look forward to developing good relationships with the new dispensation and all the rest we can work on development projects so that is as in so far as china is concerned russia uh we also saw the chinese ambassador in kabul he went to kandahar he met brother there and so that is another thing uh the russian ambassador in kabul continues to be in position the russian ambassador has held meetings the statements out of moscow indicate that they are watching carefully and but they have not issued any criticism or anything like that of the taliban iran has been [Music] sort of somewhat quiet in that sense although taliban delegations had visited iran in the month of july it would also be partly because there is a transition that has taken place you know a political transition that has taken place in tehran with the new president having been sworn in on third or fourth of august i think president rice he took over and then he has announced there is a new foreign minister who has taken over so there is that element of transition that is taking place in iran well pakistan of course pakistan has said that the imran khan said that that they take over by the taliban sort of is breaking the shackles of mental slavery you know so for him uh that means that if we go by what iran also i mean the army has not been as gung-ho about this but certainly the pakistani politicians whether it is their foreign minister shamim kureshi or sheikh rasheed or prime minister imran khan they have been extremely euphoric and welcoming of the taliban takeover that’s insofar as the central asians have been very quiet they have been taking their cue from moscow in that sense so that’s that’s where the region stands saudi arabia has been characteristic uncharacteristically quiet uncharacteristically quiet you know they have not come out with i at least i haven’t seen a statement if somebody else has i would like to be corrected we saw ashwagani taking asylum or refuge in uae but once he went to uae it is curious that i have not seen anything from ashwagani i mean when he went there he said that he looks forward to going back etc etc to his own country but after that i haven’t seen so i mean it may well be that the uae is conditioned for giving him uh asylum at that point in time was that look you kindly stay out of the scene now you you know we don’t want you to play any politically active role uh so which means that they’re probably going to take their cue out of what the the pakistanis uh will do in that sense uh the americans will exercise leverage if you go back to the wider circle then the americans the west europeans will exercise leverage of the kind of the financial sanctions kind but but i don’t think that they have the [Music] now any desire or there would be any political support for any deeper engagement as it were either in terms of uh development activity or in terms of any other kind of deeper you know large presence embassies etc etc i think as we will see from that point of view we will see a more detached uh west as it falls thank you thank you sir and uh ambassador emerson hype i can come to you um if you would like to pick up from where ambassador has left it and in particular also talk about pakistan while there is triumphalism in pakistan today will this come back to bite pakistan because of the terriket alibaba and pakistan because of the problems over the durand line which are historic how do you see pakistan’s rule in the coming days thank you venue i’ll i’ll also just quickly mention something about the unsc uh i think many people don’t know that we are in unsc this year only because of afghanistan afghanistan vacated its seat which was declared candidature in favor of india and it’s very ironic that we are holding it in a time when the nation state itself seems to be uh in demise the afghan nation said having said that uh if we put too much in store by unsc i don’t think they are going to go very far because for the simple reason that there are three permanent members in in the retreating isaf and nato forces uh they have already done a deal with taliban led by the us and the other two are part of the troika which is russia china and u.s which also have some sort of understanding o
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Afghanistan: What Went Wrong? What Now?

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