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Not in the halls of UN or behind the mic, but Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam should be lived here and now

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Will India only preach Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam as Vishwas guru or practice it earnestly too in this need of the hour. 

Stonings, lashings, amputations, and executions in public were some of the daily chores under Taliban rule. Terrified of such systemic subjugations and persecutions, people are rushing to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban have descended on Kabul.

It is reported that human body parts were found in the landing gear of a flight from Kabul. Taliban must have been celebrating this news for achieving a new feat, i.e. an innovative way of casting fear into the hearts of those who disbelieve their Islamic ideology. ISIS might have felt humiliated for not getting such an innovative punishment idea that is grimmer than burning alive in a cage, chopping the heads off with a chainsaw, or dropping a person head-down from the top of a building.

I am not trivializing any death and pain here, but I am just underscoring the sorry state of affairs that we have come to witness. The world is already passing through a serious pandemic. At this juncture, the quick collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government is shocking to some, confusing to many, and happy for few nations. For India, a greater geopolitical crisis is looming around Afghanistan that could have far-reaching security implications.

The disturbing scenes of people flocking at the Kabul airport to get the hell away, and giving away girl children to safer strangers, clearly depict that Afghan people do not want Taliban and Islamic rule. We have seen similar humanitarian crises in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and other African nations wherever Islamic insurgents get dominant and bolder, on the pretext of implementing Sharia law. 

Such mass refugee exodus is not common even in an autocratic rule like North Korea, Cuba, Columbia, Venezuela, Nazi Germany, etc. So, why do people always run away from Islamic rule? Is the Taliban really such a formidable threat to displace millions in Afghanistan?

The Taliban 2.0

The new Taliban have been promising general amnesty, women’s rights, and security only with the caveat called “under the Sharia Islamic law”. Is the world reading between the lines and carefully taking note of their intent? 

Until recently the Taliban have lived in hill caves and huts, as nomads running pillar to post escaping US fire and air power. Over the last two decades, the Taliban have lost touch with governance and have no clue about administration, reconciliations, inclusion, or an aspirational society. 

Moreover, except for their propaganda, they have no knowledge about the power of the mobile revolution or social networking. Whereas the Afghan people are well connected and the atrocities of the Taliban can no longer go unnoticed. Basically, they are stuck in the middle ages and the Afghan people have moved on.

So, the Taliban are now putting up benevolent faces and appealing to Afghan government officials not to run away and to resume duties. World leaders must realize that the Taliban has no real power or leverage in Afghanistan now. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they make a move until the formal decision of the US leaving and why would they display a soft and accommodative stance.

Now that they know the US cannot afford to come back anytime soon, and that no other world power has deep pockets to intervene especially after a tiring pandemic struggle, the Taliban is luckily better positioned to guilefully play truth and dare. After a few episodes of soft play and appeasement, seasons of dreadful fatwas will be slowly unleashed upon the Afghan people.

On the other hand, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi welcomed Taliban to China with pompous reception giving them undue legitimacy for negotiating China’s investments for exploiting rich mineral resources in Afghanistan. Notorious for bugging, China must have got critical honeytrap material of the Taliban delegation, for they are primitive and not on any diplomatic mission. China for sure must have gained further leverage over them to keep the Taliban in their pocket. 

Ultimately, the Taliban have no moral or ideological high ground and have no financial or mass support base domestically. As long as Taliban remain fanatic, they can never successfully imitate the UAE’s economic or administrative model. The Taliban in 2021 is virtuously weak even with the backing of rouge Pakistan or autocratic China.

Nature of State

Many Islamic nations like Pakistan, Iran, Turkey etc have been experimenting to accommodate progressive ideals like democracy, freedom of speech and religion, and human rights within the tenets of Islamic law. But in all those cases, Islam always takes precedence over man-made laws or ideals. 

Authentic Islamic scholars have staunchly declared that Democracy and true Islam cannot go hand in hand. Without democracy, no meaningful freedom of speech or human rights exists. Hence, there is perpetual friction, pain and suffering, loss of life, and destabilization of human progress in those Islamic countries. This domestic unrest gradually spills over to neighboring countries and consequently destabilizes the whole region.  

Nevertheless, Islamic theologians, to buy time and chances, assert that pure and egalitarian Islamic rule is possible only under a caliph (Islamic State), or emir. That is why most Islam-inspired (wanna-rule) militant factions and nations keep pitching for emirates and caliphates like ISIL, ISIS, UAE, and few other Middle Eastern states. 

Essentially, Emirates and Caliphates form of governments enable its Islamic autocrats to enjoy the perks of staying in power perpetually, and to never get challenged or lose power from within. Elections, peaceful political change, or democracy are despicable innovations (bidʻah, heresy) in Islam according to Sharia rule proponents.

However, a struggle to reconcile Islam with the modern world and human values was attempted in the past within the Islamic world. For example, when Pakistan was to be born in 1956, it adopted its title as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. 

For the first time in the Islamic world, a new form of state is established i.e, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. As an experiment, a compromise was reached between a purely Islamic caliphate and a nationalistic, secular republic. But this experiment has also failed due to constant unrest, political tensions, human rights violation, and lawlessness over the decades, and the people of Pakistan are confused about their Islamic identity and destiny. 

In all Islamic dispensations, Pious-than-thou can take genesis against political opponents, journalists, activists, moderates, and normal Muslim folks as well. Suddenly one fine day any fellow Muslim can be branded as enemies of Islam, and persecution follows. 

Gulam Nabi Azad during his emotional farewell speech in Rajya Sabha has rightly said “Muslims are fighting Muslims in the Islamic world, not because of Hindus or Christians.” Irrespective of the nature of the state, in all Islamic dispensations, people of the book or otherwise have to live in fear.

In the post-communist era since 1992, Afghanistan was run as an Islamic state (Islamic State of Afghanistan), and the Taliban ruthlessly administered its control areas as Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Emirates allows several tribal Taliban warlords to apportion the country into different pies and enjoy an autocratic rule over it. 

After the US intervention, western powers and international institutions from outside ensured that the new country being promoted is democratic. Like Pakistan, the country was made known as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as this was the last acceptable innovation within the Islamic world. The civilized world couldn’t push further than the Pakistan experiment.

However, modern civic values (like justice, freedom, equality, rule of law, and tolerance) were incorporated into the constitution for the betterment of Afghan society. And the overall region witnessed decent stability with less internal conflict. 

In Iraq too after Saddam Hussain, similar progressive efforts were made. The once chaotic kingdom gave birth to the Republic of Iraq, with the right interventions and compulsions from the world community. Very foreign to the Islamic society there, Iraq had to adopt a constitution, elections, separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as numerous independent commissions. This democratic republic framework and political alliances have enabled Iraq to reemerge strongly from the dreadful clutches of the ISIS Caliphate.

Now with the US withdrawal, the Taliban are about to revert Republic Afghanistan to an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The Taliban supreme leader had already declared that there will be no democracy but only Sharia law. It is shocking that some world powers are remaining as mute spectators, and brazenly wanting to negotiate with the Taliban for peanuts like peace and security. Peace and security should actually be the default byproducts of a democratic and republic governing setup.

If the Taliban really wants to oust a corrupt west-backed ruler i.e President Ashraf Ghani, they have achieved it easily. If the Taliban’s intention and struggle is to rule Afghanistan without corruption for the betterment of the Afghan people, well they have already grabbed the power.

But what is the underlying urging need to change the nature of the Afghan state from the Islamic Republic to an Islamic Emirate? Here lies the real fallout. And the world must seriously contemplate as to why the Taliban wouldn’t want to confine and freely rule under the republic and democratic setup if they want so.

Taliban is now putting up temporal soft, and accommodative faces. Their true colors will only be exposed in the future once they get a strong enough foothold in the country. Their treacherous game plan is bound to adversely impact the peace, security, and stability in the region. And civilized nations should recognize their inherent weaknesses and deal with them swiftly from a position of strength. 

The world cannot afford to make apathy blunder now and compromise on the Taliban unilaterally changing the nature of the Afghan state. Afghanistan cannot go backward from a modern democracy as this could lead to human catastrophe with unnecessary loss of life and liberty.

India’s Role

Many world leaders and international institutions are not willing to comprehend the full gravity of the situation in Afghanistan. Agonizingly, the current world leadership is after a quick peace deal and is getting ready to hand over the future of 37 million Afghans, and the regional stability, to a few religious fanatics and unorganized insurgents. China is at the forefront of this charade as they give a damn about democracy.

After a horrific pandemic from 2020, and after prolonged and expensive engagement in Afghanistan for the last two decades, the democratic nations may not seem to have enough appetite and resources left to focus much on middle east external affairs. And consequently, Taliban is getting a free ride. Despite challenging times, President Donald Trump’s policy would have never allowed Taliban adventures by imposing huge costs on them. He will not back down, ordering a Qasem Soleimani on Taliban congregations if they get any bolder or cross the line. Sadly, a strong leader is missing in the Whitehouse and India needs to roll up its sleeves and take the leadership role suo-moto.

India has been actively participating in the reconstruction efforts like building roads, dams, schools, power plants, parliament building, donating busses, etc making India the largest regional provider of aid for Afghanistan. India’s humanitarian and economic aid for Afghanistan alone stands at about USD 700 million. India has stepped in, and done extensive nation-building when things are favorable.

But inconsolably, now India seems to be hiding behind the democratic bloc during this hour of crisis. Some reports also confirm India conducting offline negotiations with the Taliban. India should know the Taliban is no bunny rabbit to appease and cuddle with but is a treacherous snake. India cannot afford to throw 37 million Afghans and regional stability under the bus just to safeguard few investments.

Coincidentally India has taken over the UNSC presidency for August. And in fact, India has the highest stakes in this crisis. India should not simply follow other western powers but should see itself as the leader at this crisis moment. Not in the halls of UN or behind the mic or during a hi-tea, but Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam should be lived here and now.

If the Afghan people who treat India as their friend and whom India treats them as part of one global family are not cared for now at this crisis moment, what good is for all those grand pronouncements and preaches. The real character gets revealed in a crisis.

So, India must not recognize any new Afghan government other than a democratic one. Canada has already declared to not recognize the Taliban as the Afghan government. India should further take the lead forward, and the world will eventually follow. The least India can do at this crisis moment is to stand with the people of Afghanistan and its new aspirational society. In this way, India can also simultaneously safeguard its long-term interest. India should form a coalition of nations and rally NATO to not recognize any Afghan government that is undemocratic.

Pakistan already has been proved to be an enabler of the Taliban. China’s territorial and economic ambitions at the cost of host countries are no secret. People can clearly see their agenda and will eventually reject China and Pakistan in the long run.

In any case, it is inevitable that the Taliban government will gang up with Pakistan, China, and Iran against India. It is beyond India’s control and the costs of not doing anything significant and meaningful now will be higher than cozying up to the Taliban.

By virtue of being democratic, non-predatory, and honest the world will encourage and embrace India’s leadership. India doesn’t have to stoop low for appeasing a few senseless tyrants for temporal and tactical gains. Even people and leaders in India who have a soft corner on Taliban, and who consider them as freedom fighters, and who are asking to engage with them, do not want to live under Taliban rule. Hence there is no point in recognizing them as legitimate partners.

History reveals that a coordinated counter-response to the pain and suffering of the subjugated people will always be delayed. Only after significant collateral damages have piled up, a collective international response will be undertaken, but only at higher costs, lives, and with difficult decisions. 

To be true to one’s principles and values, India needs to be lionhearted in this Afghan crisis, to gain respect and global credibility. History can never forgive those who are capable but sit on the sidelines when needed. Even Jagat guru Shri Krishna also swung into action when the situation warranted. “Democracy in Afghanistan is non-negotiable” should be the rallying cry, for whoever may ever rule Afghanistan. Afghan people are looking towards India. Will India only preach Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam as Vishwas guru or practice it earnestly too in this need of the hour. 

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