India must make efforts to foil Pakistan's plot aimed at severing any potential Indo-Afghan thaw by engineering incidents like Kabul Gurudwara attack
There has been no letup in the wanton terror attacks in Afghanistan even as the Taliban-led Kabul government is expected to complete one year in office on August 15 this year. Most current terror assault happened when a suspected IS (Khorasan-K) terrorists carried out a deadly offensive on June 18 at a Gurudwara in Kabul, killing four. Earlier too, Gurudwaras had been under attack by terrorists in Afghanistan, raising insecurity among religious minorities, particularly the miniscule Sikh population. The Taliban officials, however, visited the terror site and assured monetary help for repairs as the Gurudwara precincts were also damaged by the terror strike. The latest offensive is indeed alarming as it is evident that the Taliban has failed to contain the rising attacks by the Khorasan group which is emboldened by the laxity and the Taliban's incompetence towards addressing the rising incidents of terror targeting the minority community and their places of worship.
Meanwhile, knowledgeable quarters speculate that the IS(K), while claiming the responsibility of the Gurudwara attack, said that it had planned to signal India for the anti-Prophet remarks recently made by some BJP leaders, which led to a huge outcry in the Islamic world. Experts also believe that IS(K), being linked to Pakistan, may be delivering a message from Pakistan to deter any emerging thaw between Kabul and New Delhi. This argument, interestingly, is also not denied by security experts in Pakistan and is indeed disturbing. Disturbing, because the new regime in Pakistan was thought to be a shade better than the previous Imran Khan led government, and it was expected that the script would now change as far as Indo-Afghan relations were concerned. But the same blueprint seems to remain with the Pakistani ISI, strongly suspected to be in cahoots with IS(K) — active in Afghanistan to hit out at India's and Afghanistan's strategic and religious interests. The Kabul Gurudwara attack was a specific pointer towards this.
Importantly, the immediate fallout of this terror attack is a setback to the Indian plans of reopening its embassy in Kabul and consulates in Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad etc. It may be recapitulated, in this context, that it is the Taliban leadership which, of late, has been trying to negotiate with India to open its missions in Afghanistan for economic and consular assistance, but the recent terror incident has surely put a question mark on such plans. In fact, plans were even afoot by a team of Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to travel to Kabul to finalise the nitty gritty of the launching of the missions but it will now have to wait indefinitely.
Significantly, on its part, acting rather swiftly, the Indian Home Ministry granted emergency visas to 111 Hindus and Sikhs from Afghanistan, hours after June 18 terror attack at the Kabul gurudwara. All had applied for visas in September 2021, but the applications were hastened only after the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), attacked the gurudwara and killed four, including a Sikh granthi. Crucially, only 159 minorities remained in Afghanistan after the Taliban took control in August 2021, including three members who do not have any passport. The community had been specifically petitioning the government to clear the visas after the ISKP issued threats two weeks ago in retaliation for the controversial statement made against the Prophet. It may be reiterated that though the visas had been pending for months, it was cleared within hours of the attack at the Gurudwara on Saturday.
This terror-related development calls for drawing immediate attention of the Pakistani security establishment to rein in the IS(K) terrorists, reminding them that it has found a breather from the FATF and if it continues to nurture the IS(K), it could be further exposed internationally, as a proven terrorist. Such diplomatic efforts on India's part must put pressure on Pakistan and it's ISI to refrain from facilitating terror assaults on religious places of minorities. India could possibly use the good offices of some CIS countries in furtherance of this task.
Further, India should continue to engage the Taliban to collaborate with Indian security and intelligence agencies, albeit discreetly, to identify Pakistan's nefarious designs to foil any plan for future attacks on Hindu/Sikh religious establishments. India also needs to talk from a position of strength, and steadily meander its plan to reopen its diplomatic setup on the Afghan soil. This will keep Pakistan at bay, enable India to be more watchful of anti-India activities carried out jointly by ISI and IS(K), and eventually help neutralise those plans through professional operations. Terror attack on a defenseless gurudwara, killing innocent Sikhs under the pretext of anti-Prophet remarks, is condemnable. This Pakistan-IS(K) cover needs to be blown, and tough measures should be put in place for ensuring integrated security — protecting national interests.
The writer is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views are personal
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