In what could further complicate the security of Indian assets in Kabul already under threat of a ramaging Taliban, Pakistani covert agency Inter-Services Intelligence has floated a new terror outfit styled as Hizb-e-Wilayat to carry out attacks exclusively on Indian assets in Afghanistan.
The instructions are clear that the first target should be Indian assets in areas that come under the Taliban's control, sources said.
As the situation unfolds in Afghanistan, here’s what we know so far of the terror group and its implications for India.
Who are the members of the Hizb-e-Wilayat?
Sources privy to the development have said that the new terror group is headed by one Dr Anwar Firdausi and the group itself comprises of more than 10,000 Pakistani fighters, who have entered Afghanistan through the porous borders.
Other than sending in this new group, the Pakistani agency has also sent in fighters from the terror groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, to continue targeting Indian assets in Afghanistan.
What is the Taliban and ISI connection?
It is of no surprise that the ISI has come to the aid of the Taliban and many in Afghanistan and India's intelligence agency believe that the Taliban victory could not have come without assistance from Pakistan.
Pakistan has had a long relationship with the Taliban -- from birthing it in 1994, supporting its first takeover in Afghanistan in 1996, to providing safe havens to the leaders post the 9/11 attacks.
In his widely discussed paper, titled,The Sun in the sky: The Relationship Between Pakistani ISI and Afghan insurgents, Matt Waldman, a noted international relations expert, wrote, “According to Taliban commanders, the ISI orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences the movement. They say it gives sanctuary to both Taliban and Haqqani groups, and provides huge support in terms of training, funding, munitions, and supplies. In their words, this is ‘as clear as the sun in the sky’. Directly or indirectly, the ISI appears to exert significant influence on the strategic decision-making and field operations of the Taliban; and has even greater sway over Haqqani insurgents.”
Over the last three decades, IS has viewed the Taliban as serving a significant purpose: a Taliban regime in Kabul would give the Pakistan military a free pass over territory that it has coveted for strategic depth in its enmity with India and also provide Pakistan a free agency over the Afghan routes in Centra Asia.
Why are Indian investments in Afghanistan at risk?
During the last two decades, India has invested $3 billion in reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan after the Taliban was dislodged by the US-led forces in 2001.
India has built roads, dams, electricity transmission networks and substations, schools and most prominently, the Afghan Parliament (at a cost of $90 million).
Besides the Afghan Parliament, India also built the Salma Dam in Herat's Cheshte Sharif district, helped restore the historic 100-year-old Stor Palace located in Afghan Foreign Office premises in Kabul and built the Zaranj-Delaram highway at a cost of Rs 600 crore.
These development activities undertaken by India were always seen as a finger in the eye of the Pakistani establishment, which alleged “encirclement” by India.
Taliban’s view of India
The Taliban clearly perceives India as an ally of the United States and its adversary for backing the democratically elected government in Kabul.
There is mutual distrust on both sides, which has been aided by the ISI time and again. For instance, the ISI has reportedly convinced the Taliban that India had recently bombed a group of Taliban in Kandahar. It further told the Taliban that India had handed over helicopters and military planes to the Afghan defence department.
The ISI has further been able to convince the Taliban that fighter jets were stationed in Kabul airport under Indian command with Indian pilots.
As a security expert noted, "The ISI’s moves are part of its bid to cement its leverage with the Taliban to have a significant say in managing the war-ravaged country to stay geopolitically relevant and diminish India’s role."
With inputs from agencies