With the Pakistani military joining the Taliban in large numbers, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency has instructed their fighters to target the Indian-built assets in Afghanistan.
The Indian government has invested over $3 billion into the Afghan reconstruction effort since the late 1990s. The 218-km road between Delaram and Zaranj Salma dam, as well as the recently inaugurated Afghan Parliament building, have been the main symbols of India’s contribution to the country. The Indian workers involved in civil works have also been asked to move out, including those of the Indian public sector company WAPCOS that had some officials on the ground for dam projects. India had recently also announced works worth around $350 million, which includes the construction of the Shahtoot dam for providing drinking water to the city of Kabul.
In the Quetta and Pishin districts of the Balochistan Province, locals and eyewitnesses told Deutsche Welle that there had been an increase in pro-Taliban activity. The Pakistan state authority has denied any participation in the movement. “The Taliban enjoy local support in our area, but the rallies are not possible without support from state authorities. Initially, the clerics were asking for donations for the Afghan Taliban at mosques; now they are coming door-to-door to generate funds for the Afghan jihad,” a local told the publication on condition of anonymity.
The Pakistani government, however, negates the reports about pro-Taliban rallies and donations, saying that the allegations are “baseless”. Though Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is officially banned in the country, experts say that Islamabad’s alleged support for the Taliban gives the group new momentum. Pakistani locals are joining the Taliban in Afghanistan as a result of the Taliban’s gains in the war-torn nation. Several Pakistanis have been killed in Afghanistan in the past few months while fighting alongside the terrorist group against the Afghan forces.
The announcements for their memorial services can be seen on social media as their bodies are returned to their hometowns. Sympathisers chant pro-Taliban slogans at funerals and congratulate the family members on the martyrdom of the deceased. Besides providing safe havens to the Taliban’s leaders, most Afghan and Western officials believe that the Pakistani government has provided financial and other support to the group. There have been reports stating that Pakistan provides medical facilities to the Taliban’s fighters and support for their family members.
Despite the Taliban having no explicit expressions of anti-India sentiment, it seems that Pakistan intrinsically promotes it in the group. As they depend on Pakistan for their war effort, many Taliban members personally express their hatred for Pakistan and frustration against it. However, certain elements within the Taliban, such as the Haqqani Network, are very closely linked to the ISI and are anti-India. Pakistan reportedly uses the Haqqani Network repeatedly to attack the Indian Embassy located in Afghanistan.
“The pro-Taliban rallies indicate two things – the state’s inability and unwillingness to counter violent extremism as the next step after military operations. The government has not done much to mainstream Islamic madrasas and extremist groups because of political and strategic contradictions,” Amber Rahim Shamsi, a senior journalist and political analyst, told Deutsche Welle.
“It is a contradiction that the authorities keep saying one thing to the international community, but the ground reality depicts a different picture,” she added.
Pakistan is increasingly likely to use the Haqqani Network to recruit Afghans and send them to India to conduct terrorist activities. According to the New Indian Express, as of now, the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan is using a private company to process visas. The company does not have the resources to carefully investigate the backgrounds of Afghan applicants for Indian visas. To be able to conduct more thorough background checks on Afghans travelling to India, the Indian Embassy should partner up with a more politically prominent company or create an efficient ecosystem for visa processing, to discourage infiltration.
Over 10,000 Pakistanis are believed to have taken part in the conflict in Afghanistan to support the Taliban’s offensive against Afghan president Ashraf Ghani. Government sources monitoring Afghanistan told ANI that the Pakistani and Taliban fighters in the area have been tasked with targeting the Indian-built assets and removing any evidence of good will work being done by India there. India has made an immense contribution towards the education sector in Afghanistan and has played a big role in training their teachers and support staff.
Islamist terrorist groups backed by Pakistan, including the Haqqani network, have waged a long-running war against India in that region. Additionally, the Indian government is also concerned about how long it can maintain its presence in Kabul.
So far, no assurances or indications have come from the extremist group. Indian agencies are also closely monitoring the situation at Kabul airport. There are many airfields under American control, including the Bagram airbase, which has been evacuated due to the ongoing power struggle with the Taliban.
There is currently intense Taliban activity in Afghanistan against pro-Indian targets, including the leadership of Baloch separatists in Kabul. Recently, quite a few assassinations have taken place against them. The ISI may also exert pressure on the Taliban, once the Taliban, the US, and the Afghan government settle their issues, such as reducing India’s presence in Afghanistan. Currently, it’s not clear what India intends to do about the same.
According to counter-terrorism expert Nisha Kant Ojha, India needs to support anti-state groups within Pakistan from Afghanistan’s soil to break Pakistan’s grip on extremist non-state actors. The Indian government should allocate resources in Afghanistan to support the Baloch separatists and the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, which opposes Pakistan. There is a possibility that either of these could develop into a powerful national movement against Pakistan’s core.