In the holy month of Ramadan, as the Muslims around the world were observing fast and offering prayers, horrifying series of incidents were reported from Afghanistan. On 12 May 2020, in Kabul, at 10 a.m., three militants stormed the maternity ward of a hospital and killed at least 15 people. Among the dead were medical workers, a police officer, and mothers with their newborns waiting to see the light outside the hospital.
Around the same time, a hundred miles to the east, in the province of Nangarhar, a suicide bomber walked into the funeral for a local police commander and detonated his explosives close to the corpse. That explosion killed at least 25 and wounded 68 others.
In a country where indiscriminate killings never really stopped, on 25 March 2020, suicide bombers and assailants armed with guns had also attacked a Sikh Gurdwara (Har Rai Sahib) in Kabul and killed 25 congregants. Next day, in an audacious show of force and determination, the cremation procession of the Sikhs was also attacked. Violent deaths in Afghanistan were so frequent and scattered that an accurate count was impossible.
The Taliban, after an agreement reached in February with the United States, had refrained from openly owning up to any of the violent attacks. However, decentralized affiliates to the Islamic State and other militant organizations did claim responsibility for all the killings they had executed. According to information gathered by the news agencies, all these small and scattered affiliates reported to the central leadership of the Taliban who were “sheltered in neighboring Pakistan.”
Separated from Kabul by barely 624 miles (and a hostile country, Pakistan), New Delhi, the seat of the current federal government of the Hindu-first political party, the BJP, must have genuine grounds to be alarmed. Challenged by the combined Islamist influence in the Af-Pak region, the Hindu nationalist sentiments would definitely galvanize to keep the borders of India watertight against any possible intrusion from the West.
How have the Taliban been so emboldened? In its anxiety to bring back the troops home from Afghanistan before the presidential election season, the Trump administration entered into an agreement with its arch-enemy, the Taliban. This agreement in Indian assessment must be nothing less than a capitulation to the Taliban.
According to the terms of the deal, as the US troops would gradually pull out, the Taliban and the Afghani government would engage in negotiations to have the Taliban’s participation in the government. It’s the same Taliban who President George W. Bush, in the aftermath of 9/11, had vowed to “smoke out from the caves of Afghanistan.” His Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, had declared with pride that the USA was not in the business of “negotiating with the terrorists.”
While giving in to the Taliban, the Trump administration was not only incapable of securing renunciation of their present or past association with terrorism, the Taliban were also non-committal about preserving the changes achieved in the country over the past two decades. That would mean continued expansion of the Taliban's base built on crime and drugs and their oppressive practices against women and minorities. In fact, the hospital targeted on 12 May was in a predominantly Shia neighborhood.
Ironically, the government of Afghanistan was not a party to the agreement signed between the USA and the Taliban in Doha. Representatives of the Afghani President Ashraf Ghani would naturally fear the Taliban would bully them into giving a dominant share in the government.
Already, the Taliban’s cruel and dishonest paramountcy was on display: Even after concluding a rare three-day truce during the Eid holiday week, the Taliban intensified their assaults against the Afghan forces. In his message for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, the Taliban’s supreme leader issued a promise of amnesty for enemies who would renounce their loyalty to the Afghan government. Thus, the Taliban who swore by their roots in “austere Islamic ideology” wouldn’t keep words to their co-religionists!
In interviews given to the New York Times, many Taliban commanders admitted they could scarcely dream of fighting off the U.S. military. But that became possible “once their leadership regrouped in safe havens provided by Pakistan’s military.” Pakistan, a recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in American aid, also hosted approximately two million Afghan refugees and seminaries, the recruitment grounds for the Taliban’s front-line fighters.
The Taliban leadership now demanded that the girls’ education must end after sixth grade and the subject like culture must be taken out of the curriculum as it promoted “vulgarities such as music.” It insisted, “until an Islamic system is established, our jihad will continue until doomsday.”
If historians were to chronicle in the 21st century the factors giving rise to Hindu nationalism in India, they would better be looking closely at the developments in its neighboring countries, including Afghanistan.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.