Taliban’s Hand Over of Airbases to Pak, China Poses Major Security Implications for India

Foreign Affairs

New Delhi: The possible hand over of the Bagram airbase by Taliban to China and Kandahar base to Pakistan for operational purposes, may pose serious security implications for India.

While a team of aeronautical engineers of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is inspecting all the five airbases in Afghanistan, including Kandahar, Bagram and Kabul, a delegation of Chinese leaders held a meeting with the Taliban top hierarchy to discuss various security-related issues, including the possible takeover of the Bagram military airfield, sources said.

“The Kandahar base will give an operational military edge to Pakistan for better coverage of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) for security purposes and targeting Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in times of conflict with India.

The Bagram base, on the other hand, will give Beijing an additional airbase to contain India and also secure its investments in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC),” a counter-terrorism expert said.

The developments come as the PAF has already activated two air bases in POK and another in Baluchistan amid the fluid security situation in the region. The two airbases in Kotli and Rawalkot, are barely 100 km from Srinagar. The Shamsi airbase in Baluchistan has also been reactivated and strengthened.

At the same time, a new army cantonment near the PAF base in Jacobabad, Sindh highlights both the growing unrest in these areas as also the threat Islamabad perceives from India post the Balakot air strikes, sources said.

The Kotli airbase is located in the cantonment area of Pakistan Army’s 3 POK Brigade that is part of 23 Division. As part of the reactivation, over a hundred air-Defence personnel have been moved to Kotli. The Rawalkot airbase comes under the operational jurisdiction of 2 POK Brigade of 12 Division. All these bases are being equipped with fighters and communication radars besides other operational equipment, they said.

Experts said the military hardware left behind in Afghanistan by the US could potentially lead to arms proliferation in entire Asia and beyond. Tanks and special vehicles left behind by the Americans in Afghanistan are already being shipped to countries like Pakistan and Iran, sources said.

“The collusion between Pakistan and China could ultimately land the leftover American military hardware in the hands of Beijing which could reverse engineer the technology to upgrade its military. China could also exploit the detailed analysis of the American military technology for developing counter-technologies like radars and jammers to foil the operational edge of the American military hardware being used by the Indian Defence forces,” an expert said.

The US has left behind over 200 military aircraft and helicopters, including 14C 130 J super Hercules military transport aircraft which is also used by the Indian Air Force.

Meanwhile, the Taliban is also in talks with Turkey for securing the Kabul airport and has finalised the contours with Qatar for providing civil aviation services like the Air Traffic Control to restart the Kabul airport. Qatar’s involvement in operating the Kabul airport implies further evacuation of Indians and Afghans seeking to come here could only be possible through Qatar Airways.

Apart from analysing the operationally-fit military aircraft and cannibalising others to equip its grounded American flying machines for want of spares, the Pakistan Army-ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) combine is also seeking to have long-term leverage with the Taliban Government in the making in Kabul.

The ISI is seeking a significant role for the Haqqani Network it has nurtured over the years or former military commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the new regime in Kabul. The Taliban, however, is not inclined to accommodate them, a reason why the Government formation in Kabul is being delayed.