Updated: August 26, 2021 7:11:51 am
Even as India has been playing it cautious and has not been overtly critical of the new Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat Wednesday said the Taliban were the same as 20 years ago. He also expressed apprehension that terror activity from Afghanistan could “overflow into India”, while underlining that India was prepared for that.
He was speaking at an event organised by private think tank Observer Research Foundation, also attended by the commander of America’s Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral John C Aquilino.
The pace of Taliban’s capture of Afghanistan had surprised India, Rawat said, with Delhi expecting it a couple of months down the line. However, he added, “Everything that has happened, was something that had been anticipated. Only the timelines have changed… From the Indian perspective we were anticipating a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. We were concerned about how the terrorist activity from Afghanistan could overflow into India. To that extent our contingency planning had been ongoing and we are prepared for that.”
On the Taliban, the Chief of Defence Staff said, “It is pretty much the same. It is the same Taliban that was there 20 years ago.” Saying “news reports and reports from expats who have come from there are all telling us the kind of activities that the Taliban are into”, he added, “All that has happened is that the partners have now changed. It is the same Taliban with different partners.”
Rawat’s comments mark the first critical commentary by a senior Indian official on the Taliban. Till now, Indian officials, whether at home or at international fora, have treaded carefully, expressing concern about the situation and the potential threats that can come from Afghanistan, without linking the Taliban to them directly.
Privately, Indian officials have expressed fears that the Taliban’s rise might embolden militants looking to attack India, especially in Kashmir.
On how the Afghanistan situation compared with issues of the Indo-Pacific region, Rawat said they were “in a different plane all together”. The Indo-Pacific issue was more about the freedom of navigation in the Indian and Pacific oceans, he said, adding, “The Indo-Pacific and Afghan situation should not be looked at from the same prism… Both pose challenges to security in the region, but they are on two different planes. And those two parallel lines are unlikely to meet.”
Rawat added that India had to be prepared to fight all terrorist activities, and was committed to ensuring “a terrorist free environment in this region”. “As far as Afghanistan is concerned, we will make sure that any activity which is likely to flow out of Afghanistan and then find its way into India will be dealt with, in the manner in which we are dealing with terrorism in our country.”
Rawat said India would welcome any support from the other Quad nations (the US, Japan, Australia) on this, “in at least identifying the terrorists, and getting some intelligence input to fight this global war on terrorism”.
Admiral Aquilino said the US was committed to getting all its citizens and those of its partners out from Afghanistan. “There has been close coordination between India and the Central Command to ensure that our citizens are safe and extracted,” he said.
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