India has, in a major shift, opened channels of communication with the Taliban. Without specifically confirming this communication, India has also not denied that it is in touch with select ‘nationalist’ factions of Taliban. These include leaders such as Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who is a part of the leadership council.
With US withdrawal from Afghanistan certain, Taliban has acquired major bargaining power. As a result, intra-governmental talks in, both, Qatar and Turkey have reached a stand-still, although in appearance, they have not been completely aborted. Taliban now controls 105 out of 398 districts in Afghanistan. In 201 other districts, Taliban claims control, while in 92 districts most are Taliban-controlled, while some are under the Afghan government.
Regional countries such as India, China, Pakistan and Iran are adjusting to the new reality in Afghanistan. While China, Pakistan and Iran have actively courted the Taliban, India has begun to do so now out of strategic and security compulsions. Outside of the region, Russia and Turkey have established a major presence in Afghanistan, especially Turkey, which is jostling to occupy the vacuum left by the US.
India’s major concern will be checking the cross-border terrorism, in the event of Pakistan getting emboldened by change of guard in Afghanistan. It is in view of this that India has begun to talk to a section of ‘nationalist’ Taliban leadership, which is generally anti-Pakistan. Interestingly, the immediate fallout of the Taliban’s rapid ascendence to power has been the activation of terrorist organizations like anti-Pakistan Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and the activation of Baloch separatism – developments which have complicated the security scenario for Pakistan.
The overall situation in Afghanistan – with the US withdrawal set to be complete by September 11, 2021 – portends a grim scenario for action against terrorism. It is an indictment of the failed US war against terrorist groups waged for over 20 years, which are more active than before and spread across Middle-east and Africa. The US – which had entered Afghanistan to destroy terrorism and stayed back to supposedly establish ‘democracy’ there – is now at the mercy of assurances from a stronger-than-ever Taliban. The US had counted on Pakistan’s support for its ‘war against terror’, overlooking the fact that Pakistan’s support was just a charade and that it was helping Taliban regroup in the Afghan hinterlands, even as the US went from one misadventure to another in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
India, by revoking Kashmir’s special status in 2019 and adopting a security approach to control terrorism in Kashmir, has effectively secured itself to a great extent, in anticipation of US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Now, in engaging with a section of a divided Taliban leadership, India is further hedging against Pakistan and trying to close potential channels of anti-India terrorism.
Attack on IAF Airbase
An attack on an airbase of Indian Air Force occurred on June 26-27, when a drone dropped two explosive devices on an airfield in Jammu. The explosions were linked to LeT and JeM – Pakistan-based terrorist outfits. While there were no casualties, yet, the incident has caused a stir within the security establishment, as it portends a new form of technological warfare using drones. It was also an audacious attempt to target India’s strategic military assets and infrastructure.
The incident has served as an urgent call for security establishment to engage with new technologies of warfare – such as drones, in which DRDO is considerably lagging in development. In recent years, drone technology has greatly evolved, making them difficult to detect and much lower in cost, available for deployment for civil as well as military purposes. Their range and payload have improved, and they can easily be bought in the market and can be built using kits. Being made of composite plastic and fabric, they cannot be easily detected by radar, and can fly at very low heights of below 100 feet.
According to Indian government, 167 drone sightings in 2019 and 77 in 2020 were recorded along the India-Pakistan border. Currently, India does not have sophisticated infrastructure to detect and target drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). It expedited the process of drone regulation in the wake of drone attacks on two major oil installations in Saudi Arabia in 2019. In the wake of the Jammu attack, the efforts to devise regulation – especially for small drones – has again picked up pace.
A New Political Beginning in Jammu and Kashmir
The all-party meeting between PM Modi, HM Amit Shah and the parties from Jammu & Kashmir, portended the beginning of the political process in J&K. The agenda of the meeting was delimitation, holding of elections and the restoration of statehood to J&K. The demands for restoration of Article 370 were not raised at the meeting. It was decided that delimitation would be executed and after that the demand for full statehood would be implemented.
Delimitation would result in the redrawing of boundaries of assembly and Lok Sabha seats to represent the changes in population. After the 2001 census, no delimitation commission was setup as the J&K Assembly passed a law – upheld by the Supreme Court – putting a freeze fresh delimitation of seats till 2026. This froze the J&K seats at 87 viz. 46 in Kashmir, 37 in Jammu and 4 in Ladakh, while 24 seats are reserved for PoK, thereby creating a perception of inequity for the Jammu region.
The all-party meeting not only inaugurated the start of a political process in the form of delimitation, but also handed a tactical victory to the central government and the BJP vis-à-vis Kashmiri politicians and Pakistan. The Indian government has effectively ensured that the issue of Article 370 revocation will be buried permanently and that the goalpost of, both, Kashmiri politicians and of Pakistan has shifted to a much more diluted and nuanced demand for the restoration of statehood for J&K.
Elections in Iran
Iran’s Presidential elections, witnessing the lowest ever turnout, handed a victory to the country’s former judiciary chief, Ibrahim Raisi. Raisi is a hardliner, and has already been sanctioned by the US over his involvement in mass execution of political prisoners in 1988. He was among the 7 contenders – including 5 conservatives – to fight the elections. Many other prominent faces were disqualified and barred from contesting elections, on flimsy grounds, by Iran’s Guardian Council.
The elections portend a new beginning for Iran. While the broad contours of policymaking will not be overhauled by the new President – as the main seat of power has always been the Guardian Council. Yet, the hardliner faction in Iran is likely to consolidate and become stronger, as Raisi has deep linkages within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The marginalization of moderates will portend a change in Iran’s domestic politics, and have an impact on how the country’s deals with the outer world.
The New Atlantic Charter, G7 Meet and Biden-Putin Summit
Visible patterns of western consolidation were witnessed through a series of international meetings. The ‘New Atlantic Charter’ signed by UK’s Johnson and US’s Biden was an attempt to consolidate the West to rise to new global challenges, in the form of the rise of China, spread of COVID19 and climate change. The Charter reaffirmed their faith in ‘democratic values’.
At the G7 meeting, the developed countries reached a landmark decision to implement the uniform minimum corporate tax, aimed at closing cross-border tax loopholes by the big corporates. The global uniform corporate tax rate of at least 15% was agreed upon. This will ensure that big corporates are not able to shift their profits and tax revenues to low tax jurisdictions.
Besides this, the rhetoric of the G7 meeting was aimed at emphasizing that America and the rest of the West are back in form and will seek to promote ‘democracy’. In a message to China, they also called for investigating the origins of COVID19 virus. India’s participation at this year’s G7 as a ‘fellow democracy’ was a subtle framing of India’s engagement with the West as an important ally, which the US hopes to use for countering China.
The US’s bid to contain China was also subtly reflected in the Biden-Putin summit, which was held in Geneva. While nothing conclusive came out of the meeting, yet it set incipient rules of engagement which were much needed by, both, the US and Russia. The summit heralded a return of basic civility in relations. The US is closing most fronts in order to keep focus on China, while Putin hopes to benefit from basic civility with the US in order to pursue his agenda more smoothly in Ukraine, Middle-east etc.