Even as President Joe Biden was hosting the Quad Summit in Washington DC, both Houses of the US Congress were in the midst of heated debates on the abrupt and badly planned evacuation of American nationals and armed forcesfrom Afghanistan. There was scathing criticism of the ill-planned, clumsy withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan, by members of both the Democratic and Republican Parties. Similar anger was expressed at the perfidious role of Pakistan, in providing safe haven, weapons and equipment to the attacking Taliban forces.
One of the worst culprits in the Taliban attacks was Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Head of the infamous Haqqani Network, who has been appointed as the Taliban’s Interior (Home) Minister. Haqqani has the dubious record of having been declared a terrorist by the United Nations. He and his extended family live a luxurious life in Pakistan. They own extensive properties in North Waziristan along the Pakistan-Afghanistan, and even in Pakistan’s Capital Islamabad.
Pakistan appeared prepared to advertise its role in the Taliban offensive. Its ISI Chief, Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, arrived in Kabul at a time when moderate leaders in the Taliban were being eased out of office and replaced by hardcore Islamists like Sirajuddin Haqqani and Defence Minister Maulvi Mohammed Yaqoob.
Faiz Hameed’s Kabul visit, just ahead of Afghan Government formation, ensured that the ISI had direct control of the Taliban Government’s security policies. With women being persecuted ruthlessly, and all opposition crushed, amidst the assumption of office by the Taliban Government, 22 enraged US Senators moved a Bill calling for an investigation and assessment of Pakistan’s role in fomenting Taliban terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
More importantly, US legislators had correctly assessed Imran Khan’s propensities to use “radical Islam,” as a tool for state-sponsored terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere, beyond Pakistan’s borders.
There are naturally concerns in India about the prospects of the Afghan Taliban joining the ISI in coordinating the resort to violence and terrorism, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir. With Sirajuddin Haqqani now the de facto ruler of Pashtun areas bordering Afghanistan, one should expect that the ISI will join hands with the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan, to arm and train Jihadists from Pakistan, for a Jihad in Jammu and Kashmir.
Given the hundreds of thousands of weapons surrendered to the Taliban, by the erstwhile Afghan National Army, there will be no dearth of weapons and ammunition available to the Pakistan army, from the Taliban, for pushing and escalating armed insurrection in J&K.
While India has to be prepared for such an eventuality, Washington must be kept constantly aware of developments. The one factor which can restrain Imran Khan’s burning adversity towards India is the fear of American and even European distaste for moves backing groups like the Taliban, in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed already face international sanctions
India’s presence in the Quad is going to be useful in keeping the US and its western allies informed of developments and concerns, about support to terrorist outfits by Pakistan and its Taliban allies. More importantly, it enables India to seek greater coordination with France and other European powers while working on issues pertaining to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.
Pressed by India, the Quad decided the widen its relevance and influence by devoting substantial interest in economic matters. In the meantime, France and the UK participated in joint naval exercises in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. While the UK decided over six decades ago not to have a military presence “East of Suez,” it restored its naval links by sending an aircraft carrier for joint exercises across the Indo-Pacific region earlier this year. The British, however, muddied the waters by undermining a $40 billion submarine deal between France and Australia, by persuading the US to jointly supply an estimated nine nuclear submarines to Australia. Despite these developments, India has done well to create conditions where its concerns about Pakistan-sponsored terrorism are voiced and acted on in forums like the Financial Action Task Force.
The Washington Summit addressed concerns and policies with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and access to critical and emerging technologies. The persistent Indian effort played a significant role in the decision for the production of 1.2 billion additional vaccines for export, with investments of around $3.5 billion, coming largely from Japan. There will be an emphasis on strengthening global health and security.
The Quad will contribute significantly to measures to deal with the dangers posed by the coronavirus. India is stepping up its production of vaccines significantly, by 1.2 billion vaccines, as envisaged in the Quad Summit. India would be the major contributor of vaccines across the Indo-Pacific region till the shores of its East African partners.
More importantly, ASEAN countries have been reticent, as a group, to comment or act against China’s use of force on its maritime boundaries with countries like of Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Brunei, thereby endangering maritime security across the Indo-Pacific. As members of the Quad are dialogue partners of ASEAN, there is need to coordinate actions on issues of maritime security between the Quad and ASEAN.
In the meantime, there is an emerging unstated alliance between Pakistan and China to back the Taliban regime in return for access to the vast mineral resources of Afghanistan, which include a range of rare earths and minerals. There is agreement in the Quad that there will be close cooperation and coordination on policies of counter-terrorism and economic cooperation.
The Quad meeting provided a good opportunity for Prime Minister Modi to have one-on-one meetings with the heads of some leading American business and technology companies. There appears to be growing disillusionment with Chinese policies, even in American businesses and technology companies.
New Delhi should not spare any effort to make sure that US corporate investments, particularly in high-tech and other emerging sectors, are persuaded that India is the right place to do business.
The writer is a former
High Commissioner to Pakistan
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