Is there something you are missing which fighting the Taliban? Something you can do differently?
Definitely. First of all, the violent extremist organisations that we are confronted by are not just Taliban. There are four groups — first, Taliban and Haqqanis; second Pakistani groups including LeT, JeM, LeJ, TTP and others; third are regional groups like ETIM and IMU, and fourth are international terrorists like Daesh and Al Qaeda.
These four groups have a symbiotic relationship with the Afghan terrorists. They need the Afghans, the Afghans need them. Second, they have symbiotic relationships with the two other relationships I described earlier, the criminal economy and state sponsorship.
What should be your response?
Our response cannot be peace and reconciliation. We can make peace and reconciliation with the Afghan groups based on certain principles, but cannot reconcile with the other three groups. They are not fighting there for anything related to Afghanistan. They want to have a sanctuary there to fight others. LeT would like a sanctuary to fight India, ETIM to fight China, and so on. We told our Pakistani interlocutors that Taliban will allow sanctuary to the TTP, your enemy. Therefore, blind support to the Taliban will be creating a frankenstein again.
Therefore our regional and global partners will have to look at a global strategy to pursue these different elements pursing different objectives.
Russia, China, Pakistan want to do things differently, engage Taliban to fight Daesh. What did you say at the meeting in February?
We objected to the first meeting in December. We said, as a friend you cannot have a meeting about us, but without us. We were present at the next meeting in February. But we also said we wanted US, India and Iran, because these are our partners, especially US and India are critical partners to advance our counter-terrorism and peace and reconciliation agendas.
We said to them, if you want to make peace with the Taliban, that’s one thing, but you cannot make peace between the government and Taliban, especially with the government not being there.
Third we said, your peace with the Taliban will never be seen as legitimate by the Afghan people or the governement. This idea that Taliban and Daesh are opposed to each other is wrong. No Daesh has come from Syria or Iraq, it’s actually the morphing and mutating of Taliban, TTP and IMU into Daesh. They are the same people, but there is a lot of re-branding here.
People who are now saying that Daesh is the enemy of Taliban and Taliban will fight Daesh are wrong. We give them specific examples — there was a local dispute between Taliban and Daesh in Nangarhar, but Daesh and Taliban worked closely with each other in northeastern Afghanistan to fight us.
In addition, using one terrorist group against another is not an ethically correct way forward.
We did ask our friends, if you have such influence with Taliban, use it for peace, bring them to the table, which will be the most effective strategy against Daesh. If you remove the Afghan Taliban from Daesh and other foreign terrorist groups, including Pakistani groups, then they will not have sanctuary in Afghanistan. If they are trying to get sanctuary, it’s only because of the Taliban. The best way to defeat Daesh and other groups is first either defeat the Taliban militarily or if they prefer to have a principled peace, accept Afghan constitution, cut ties with international terror groups and renounce violence then that would be the best way forward.
Rather than getting Taliban to fight Daesh, bring Taliban to the negotiating table, you will never have Daesh.
You mentioned ETIM. Has their activities increased in Afghanistan?
Yes. For all the above reasons. They work closely with the Taliban, they are in Badakshan, under protection of the Taliban. They are also in Zabul, where they come in from Pakistan.
We tell the Chinese, you have our full commitment in fighting ETIM wherever they are in Afghanistan. But we also have to appreciate where they come from and how to actually separate the Taliban from them. They agree with us and they say lets look at peace and reconciliation as a first strategy.
What has been the response of the new Trump administration?
Their commitment to Afghanistan is strategic and long term and not driven by a few operational or tactical issues. We have a strong convergence of interests. The most important interest we share with US and India is to defeat terrorism, which is a common enemy of all of us. The US again strongly expressed commitment to work with Afghanistan under the NATO framework. They are not looking at a drawdown or withdrawal.
What more can India do in the security sector in Afghanistan?
Rather than going into details of our defence cooperation I would say the most important objective here is the strengthening of the ANSF. This is a goal we’ve set for all of our strategic partners. We have a shared interest — the Afghans have demonstrated their will and capability to fight. The enemy we are fighting is three times bigger than the enemy we were fighting in 2009-14. Then we had 150,000 international soldiers. There are much less now, but we are battling them successfully. The Afghans are ready to fight. Not just for themselves, but also to protect the world from the menace of terrorism.
They need tools and resources. Let me clarify — we are not asking for troops from India or any other country apart from the NATO mission. Asking for a wide range of strengthening measures, which I think we will keep away from public conversation.