“Terrorist run government?” Afghanistan Status Uncertain

By Sri Krishna


New Delhi: The coming to power of Taliban 2.0 in Afghanistan gives rise to several questions and among them is  does it legitimise terrorism considering that most of the 33-member cabinet in Kabul are on the wanted list of terrorists of not only United Nations but also several other countries. What one could well apprehend in the days to come is whether the country would be used as a haven for terrorists.

With the Taliban getting support from Pakistan as the ISI Chief Faiz Hameed was among the first to reach Kabul and most of the Taliban group having been based in Pakistan in places like Quetta, the international community would be treading cautiously.

But, what is of more significance is that both Russia and China have rushed in to handshake with the Taliban, clearly showing the status of Afghanistan which is critical for both the Bear and the Dragon to get a foothold in the region.

With America out of the way, Afghanistan which has always been the country where even the British during the time they were a major colonial power always sought to keep a foothold in the region. Now  Pakistan too has sought to get a foothold in the region and probably what is working in its favour is the support it gave to the Taliban when it was fighting against the Kabul government of President Hamid Karzai.

Although the Taliban have been saying that this government would be different from the previous one, but, its actions belie this and carries little credibility as was seen by the action of the Taliban against women protesters in Kabul and the treatment meted out to the media covering  the event. One of the major factors that could encourage the Taliban to continue with its orthodox methods and strict implementation of laws governing education, women and children is that they took the country with barely any resistance.

A look at those in the government would show where the government stands. Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, who is on a UN sanctions list, was named as the acting prime minister. Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar will be one deputy, as well as Abdul Salam Hanafi, who was most recently part of peace talks in Doha.

Akhund is a Taliban veteran who was a close associate and political advisor to Mullah Omar, the founder of the movement and its first supreme leader. A member of the group’s Supreme Council, he served as deputy foreign minister in their previous regime, and was placed on a UN Security Council sanctions list connected to the “acts and activities” of the Taliban. From Kandahar, he also served as the Taliban governor of the key province. The United Nations said he had a reputation of having been “one of the most effective Taliban commanders”.

Like most Afghans, Baradar’s life was forever altered by the Soviet invasion of the country in the late 1970s, transforming him into an insurgent. He was believed to have fought side-by-side with the one-eyed cleric Mullah Omar. The two would go on to found the Taliban movement in the early 1990s during the chaos and corruption of the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal.

After the Taliban regime was toppled in 2001 by US-led forces, Baradar is believed to have been among a small group of insurgents who approached interim leader Hamid Karzai with a potential deal that would have seen the militants recognise the new administration. Arrested in Pakistan in 2010, Baradar was kept in custody until pressure from the United States saw him freed in 2018 and relocated to Qatar.

Abdul Salam Hanafi, who is also on a UN blacklist, was a deputy education minister when the Taliban were last in power, when they effectively blocked girls from school. Hanafi was named as another deputy to Hassan. A UN travel ban on Hanafi was lifted to allow him to take part in talks as part of the Taliban’s political negotiating team in Doha. After the Islamists were ousted from Kabul in 2001, he was placed in charge of the Taliban-controlled northern Jawzjan province, bordering Uzbekistan. The UN Security Council have also accused him of potential involvement in drug trafficking.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of a famed commander from the anti-Soviet jihad, Sirajuddin Haqqani has doubled as the deputy leader of the Taliban and head of the powerful Haqqani network. He is the interior minister in the new regime. The US State Department’s Rewards For Justice Program offers a multi-million dollar reward for information leading to his arrest. He is one of the FBI’s most wanted men due to his involvement in suicide attacks and ties with al Qaeda.

The Haqqani network is a US-designated terror group long viewed as one of the most dangerous militant factions in Afghanistan. It is infamous for its use of suicide bombers and is believed to have orchestrated some of the most high-profile attacks in Kabul over the years. Known for their independence, fighting acumen, and savvy business dealings, the Haqqanis are mainly based in eastern Afghanistan and hold considerable sway over the Taliban’s leadership council.

Mullah Yaqoob, son of Taliban co-founder Mullah Omar, heads the group’s powerful military commission, which oversaw the vast network of field commanders charged with executing the insurgency. He is the Defence Minister. There are no women in the cabinet.

The United States said it was concerned by the track records of some of the Cabinet members  which could be the view of many countries. “The world is watching closely,” a US State Department spokesperson said.

The Taliban, or “students” in the Pashto language, emerged in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. It is believed that the predominantly Pashtun movement first appeared in religious seminaries – mostly paid for by money from Saudi Arabia – which preached a hardline form of Sunni Islam. The promise made by the Taliban – in Pashtun areas straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan – was to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power.

For India, the Taliban would  need to be tackled deftly considering that the Indian Airlines Flight 814, which was hijacked in December 1999 landed in Kandahar which was than under the control of the Taliban. The aircraft  was hijacked by five masked terrorists shortly after it entered Indian airspace and ordered to be flown to a series of locations before finally landing in Kandahar.  The hijackers released 27 of 176 passengers in Dubai but fatally stabbed one and wounded several others.

Taliban militiamen fighters encircled the aircraft to prevent any Indian military intervention, which was found by current National Security Advisor Ajit Doval when he landed there. They also found two ISI officers were on the apron and others soon joined them; one was a lieutenant colonel and the other a major. Doval said that if the Taliban hijackers did not have ISI support, India could have resolved the crisis.

The hostage crisis lasted for seven days and ended after India agreed to release three terrorists – Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, and Masood Azhar. The three have since been implicated in other terrorist actions, such as the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl and the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The hijacking has been seen as one of the millennium attack plots in late December 1999 and early January 2000 by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists with tacit support by Pakistan for Masood Azhar and the other terrorists are  currently based in Pakistan. Surely, if any proof was needed of Pakistan based terrorist organisations having links with Taliban, this was probably the most blatant example.

The Taliban  swept across Afghanistan in just 10 days, taking their first provincial capital on August Six . By August 15, they were at the gates of Kabul. Their lightning advance prompted tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, many arriving in the Afghan capital, others heading for neighbouring countries. The Taliban’s return to rule brings an end to almost 20 years of a US-led coalition’s presence in the country.

– The writer is a senior journalist and media consultant. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda.