(This was originally posted in Hindustan Times by Rezaul H Laskar)
With air power emerging as a key element in the campaign by Afghan security forces against the Taliban, Afghanistan is looking to India, the US and Russia to help bolster the country’s fledgling air force, Afghan ambassador Farid Mamundzay said on Friday.
Amid reports of intense fighting in several parts of Afghanistan and the capture of a large number of districts and some crucial border crossings by the Taliban, Mamundzay rejected assessments by some Western powers about the possible collapse of Afghan security forces. He, however, acknowledged the situation is “very dire”, with the fighting displacing more than 200,000 people and resulting in nearly 4,000 civilian deaths since mid-April.
The Afghan envoy ruled out the possibility of seeking Indian boots on the ground but said New Delhi could assist Kabul with military hardware, intelligence and logistics support and financial resources in the fight against regional and international terrorist groups, including a “big percentage of foreign fighters”. Describing air support air support as a “game changer”, Mamundzay said: “Our assessment is [that] if we have the required air support, Taliban would never be able to capture any district. And just to give you one instance, should we have 15 to 20 Mi-35 helicopters, or 30 to 40 Black Hawks, they would not be able to hold ground.”
He added, “Taliban have the same equipment, weapons and ammunition that we have. Our superiority lies in air support and we appreciate the support that the US has recently promised, that they would support us with more air support. We call on all responsible countries in the region, including Russia, Iran and India, to provide us the required air support.”
Mamundzay said there is “active conflict” in almost 150 districts of the total of 400 districts in Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. “Taliban has been capturing a number of capitals of the districts, which has caused an outcry from the local population and the government. In the past three days, we have been able to recapture 10 districts. Now, this would continue for a number of months, we would capture districts, they would recapture it back,” he said.
The drawdown of US troops, he said, “could have been handled in a more organised and planned manner”. Mamundzay described the assessment by some Western capitals about the possible collapse of Afghan forces and the government in Kabul in six to 12 months as “very unrealistic”.
He said: “We outnumber Taliban by five or six times, a force of 70,000 to 75,000 cannot face a force of around 400,000…We are going through a turbulent time, but the resilience of our people and the heroic patriotism of our forces is there to defend Afghanistan.”
The Taliban are delaying the peace process by not setting a time frame for returning to talks “because they want to gain more territory so that they would speak from a position of strength should we get to the negotiating table again”, Mamundzay said.
The Taliban also want to prove to “their foot soldiers, ground commanders and affiliates and associates that they are back in power. We have reports that al-Qaeda, Jundullah, ETIM, LeT and JeM are celebrating Taliban’s victories,” he added.
The situation has been further complicated because none of the processes aimed at kick-starting peace talks – from the “extended Troika” backed by Russia to the talks arranged by Iran and the process in Doha – have “delivered any results”, the envoy said.
“We feel that Taliban are buying time for themselves to continue with their military adventurism and capture more land. And then when we get to winter, they will propose peace negotiations when fighting is difficult. And then they speak from the position of strength, that we hold XYZ percentage of the landmass, now agree to a peace deal on our terms, or else face defeat,” Mamundzay said.
Describing Pakistan as the “country in the region with the most influence over the Taliban”, Mamundzay said: “We expected Pakistan to play a very constructive role to bring Taliban to the negotiating table, use that influence that the Pakistanis used to help the Americans…We expected the government of Pakistan to help us in the same manner, in the same spirit so that Kabul and Taliban reach a dignified and lasting deal.
“We sadly have not seen the kind of role that we expected Islamabad to play. I hope in the weeks ahead, that calculus will change and they will begin to play a more constructive role.”
Asked about what India could do to find a lasting solution in Afghanistan, Mamundzay said India could enhance the political and diplomatic support it currently provides, including helping at the UN Security Council with the listing and delisting of Taliban leaders and forging the required consensus in the region for the peace process.
India should continue its economic and development assistance and also look at the possibility of “security assistance should we not reach a dignified and lasting peace deal with the Taliban”, he said.
“If we get to a stage where war is imposed on the Afghan public, then we look at India for military and security assistance to protect our people and to fight terrorist groups. So we have not yet got to that stage, we’re still giving a peace a chance,” Mamundzay added.