“Outfits like Lashkar and Jaish will try to use this as a motivation to try and increase their recruitment,” the Surgical Strike hero said.
Taliban, the Deobandi Islamist religious-political movement and military organisation, took over Afghanistan again after twenty years of its ouster from the power. As the US and coalition forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001, looking to eliminate Al-Qaeda and find Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban regime, considered hand in glove with the terrorist organisation responsible for 9/11 attacks, was toppled and made to flee. The Taliban, during these twenty years, kept fighting the US, NATO forces from the caves in the mountains of Afghanistan, as well as the bordering areas of Pakistan. However, after the Biden administration finalised the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban made rapid advances, embarrassing the Afghan Security Forces and taking over the country’s capital Kabul on August 15, 2021.
To understand and reflect upon the speedy conquest of the Taliban, the failure of Afghan National Army, the involvement of Pakistan in the Taliban’s offensives and challenges for India after the change of regime in Afghanistan, HW News talked to Lieutenant General Deependra Singh Hooda, the former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian army’s Northern Command. The General Officer was the Northern Army Commander during the ‘surgical strike’ in September 2016.
Explaining why the Taliban could have taken over so quickly and why the Afghan Security Forces could not defend the country, General Hooda highlighted the loss of morale and motivation among the Afghan soldiers as one of the major reasons.
“When the President of the country himself runs away, where is the motivation? Which government are you fighting for? There, of course, was some sort of lack of motivation on their part. Also, I think they were over-dependent on the Americans for logistics, air support, and technical assistance in maintaining their systems. So when the US decided to withdraw, this support also became unavailable. I am also told that the soldiers were not paid salaries for two-three months and there was a lot of corruption within the government. The numbers regarding the strength of the Afghan National Army (ANA) were also inflated. The said they had 300,000 soldiers. I believe it was only on paper, and the actual strength was not that much. Some of the soldiers also switched sides after the Taliban perhaps offered them some money. These are some of the major reasons for their collapse,” General Hooda said.
When asked about the involvement of Pakistan and its intelligence agency in Afghanistan, General Hooda said the support by Pakistan and ISI to the Taliban is not something new. “In the last twenty years, they have continued to support the Taliban directly or indirectly. Pakistan surely has huge influence on the Taliban, particularly the Haqqani network. They have heavy presence in the new government. However, I would say it would be premature for the Pakis to declare victory.”
Elaborating on his statement, General Hooda said: “The Taliban does have links with the TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan), which is attacking the Pakistan army in the north-west frontier. Though the Taliban has said that it would keep the TTP in check, it is too early to say whether they would manage to do so. So the instability that would be caused by the Taliban takeover, will first and foremost impact Pakistan. They will have maximum number of refugees which are going to attempt to come across. They are going to have disturbances at their borders. That’s why I am saying it’s not an all-win situation for Pakistan.”
Though General Hooda said it would be premature to speak on whether India should recognise the Taliban government, he clarified that talking to them in Doha, Qatar was in our interest, since we had to get Indian nationals out of the war-torn country.
“Yes, India’s influence in Afghanistan now seems minimal, but the fact remains that India is the largest of the regional countries in South Asia. So it isn’t as if the Taliban can also completely ignore or try and directly take on India. Therefore some talks in our interest are preferable, but we should draw the red line. Talking is fine for now, but recognising the government will take more time. Even the countries which are considered in support of the Taliban have not recognised their government yet,” General Hooda said.
Highlighting the possible threats to India’s national security after the Taliban takeover, General Hooda said: “There’s no doubt that there’s going to be instability. There’s no doubt that these pan-Islamic outfits like Al-Qaeda, IS are going to get emboldened. There will be some kind of a psychological boost to these terrorists. We need to track all activities and watch them carefully. However, the lot of terrorism incidents that are going to happen will depend on our own preparations and capability. If we are strong at the border, which we are, then its not possible that hundreds of Talibanis will start coming inside. We need to improve our intelligence, detection capabilities. Attempts will be made to attack India, that’s for sure. But the whole instability in Afghanistan has potential to spread across other bordering countries like Pakistan, China, India.”
While pointing out that some fractions in Kashmir are already celebrating the Taliban “victory over western powers”, the ‘surgical strike’ hero talked about the effects of the Taliban takeover on militancy in the Indian state. “The outfits in Kashmir will see this as a psychological victory that’s been achieved. Outfits like Lashkar and Jaish will try to use this as a motivation to try and increase their recruitment. A lot of American weapons have now been taken over by these terror outfits. So you could see influx of some better weaponry into Jammu and Kashmir.”
At the same time, General Hooda stressed that he doesn’t see these outfits having the ability to completely destabilise the security situation in Kashmir. “As I said, the posture along the border is very strong. We are no more in 80s and 90s. The number of terrorists left in Kashmir that we could talk of are mere 250-300. Significantly upgrading these numbers is not going to be possible. It is unlikely to happen that suddenly you have 1000 guys. We still have to be careful. There will be attempts. Lashkar and Jaish will certainly try and make attempts in J&K. But considering the security situation and deployment of our forces in Kashmir, I don’t see the situation going out of hand.”
With ongoing border disputes with China and Pakistan, and the arising situation in Afghanistan, when asked if India has too many hostile neighbours, General Hooda said: “It’s a reality. We have an active LAC. We have an active LoC. Although there is ceasefire going on, Pakistan remains a hostile neighbour. And now you have instability in Afghanistan. The situation for India at the current moment is not ideal. These are challenges we will have to look at and manage the three situations.”
“You cannot wish it away. You can’t say ‘I wish this problem doesn’t exist’. China, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the problems that exist today. So we’ll have to deal with them.”
Talking about the US withdrawal and answering whether he blames the US for the chaos in Afghanistan, General Hooda said: “Starting from Obama, to Trump and now Biden, all the US Presidents had said that ‘we need to get out of Afghanistan’. That has been a consistent theme. Where the criticism is due is the manner in which they so hastily planned the withdrawal. The fact that they seemed to have had no idea about the capability of the Afghanistan army is baffling. Biden kept saying that they will fight the Taliban and they will hold on. By doing this, he has completely handed over the country to Taliban. The thinking here was that there will be some fighting, and then the Afghanistan government and the Taliban will come to some part-sharing arrangement as far is government is concerned. But there’s no part-sharing government. It’s completely the Taliban. So yes, Americans are to be criticised.”
“People are going to look at the US and ask ‘Is it a reliable partner?’, ‘Do countries like India have to deal with things on their own?’ These questions are going to be asked. Its a reputation damage that the US has suffered,” General Hooda said.