Modi could emulate Indira Gandhi’s feat in liberating Bangladesh by helping Afghans, but will he do that?

Afghans are knocking on our doors to seek refuge. But we denied entry even to a woman Member of Parliament. We have cancelled all visas and virtually locked our gates to any Afghan migrants

Modi could emulate Indira Gandhi’s feat in liberating Bangladesh by helping Afghans, but will he do that?

Faraz Ahmad

This is a moment of reckoning for Narendra Damodardas Modi, our dear Prime Minister, as also his alma mater, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS ) and its Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat. This is the moment which could turn Modi into a great hero and find a permanent place in Indian history.

Yes, it is the hour when he should turn the pages of history and recall how Indira Gandhi tackled Pakistan when its army led by General Yahya Khan – disdainful of democracy and secularism – let loose the ‘butcher of Dhaka’ General Tikka Khan on the poor, unarmed and hapless Bengalis of then East Pakistan simply because they seemed more modern, secular and sought their democratic rights, which was a blasphemy for the Pakistani army.

They butchered men and children in thousands and raped women en masse by entering women’s hostels in Dhaka and other towns and cities because they hated the audacity of the Bengalis, whom they considered mere subjects, to question and challenge them.

Basically, the Pakistani ruling elite hates democracy, secularism and anything modern. That is why its Prime Minister Imran Khan, a puppet of the Army-mulla mafia, had the audacity to congratulate the occupation of Afghanistan by Talibani mercenaries.

Today’s Afghanistan, in many ways than one, reminds us of what happened in the then East Pakistan and how Indira Gandhi tackled the influx of refugees and how her empathy for the fleeing Bengalis led her to eventually liberate it militarily and create Bangladesh. But before that, she was engaged in a lot of diplomatic exercise for eight gruelling months.

Afghanistan today is a vast prison from which men, women and children are desperate to escape the tyranny of those moustache-less bearded soldiers of fortune. Their brand of Islam means subjugation of women, exploitation of poppy cultivation and making money by exporting psychotropic drugs.

The Afghans are desperately knocking on our doors and seeking refuge here. But we denied entry even to a woman Member of Parliament. We have cancelled all visas and virtually locked our gates to any Afghan migrants, unmindful of the tyranny of the Taliban on the Afghan people.

This tyranny! That’s what they learnt from former Pakistan Martial Law Dictator General Mohammad Ziaul Haq and they know nothing beyond that. Naturally then, whatever development Afghanistan has undergone in the last 20 years, which is not too little, will all be undone by these gun toting mullas.

Not so long ago, Mohan Bhagwat had claimed that if the government would permit them, the RSS would defeat Pakistan within no time. Now is the time for him to prove that. But before that, Mr Modi has to remember what he claimed only recently: that he sat on a dharna in July-August, 1971 to urge Mrs Gandhi to send our troops across our eastern borders and drive away the Pakistani forces.

In reality, that was the time when Mrs Gandhi was busy signing an Indo-Soviet friendship treaty with the erstwhile Soviet Union, which the leaders of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, BJP’s predecessor, suspected and resented—the treaty which gave us the confidence to move our battalions ignoring the explicit threat from US President Richard Nixon and an implicit fear of Chinese intervention.

But before that, she went round the world beseeching Europe and America to intervene on behalf of the people of East Pakistan to restore them their Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in Pakistani custody somewhere in Pakistani Punjab, and honour the people’s mandate. She continued her diplomatic endeavour, while the Opposition right from Jai Prakash Narayan to the Jana Sangh and some sections of the media kept harassing and mocking her as ‘powerless and gutless’. Wonder whether Mr Modi would care to remember that. But it is worth remembering to learn from her strategy and experience and how she succeeded in her effort.

Cut to our times: when we were welcoming “Doland” Trump, as Modi addressed him in Ahmedabad, the US was playing footsie with Imran Khan, working out a plan to withdraw from Afghanistan without any serious damage or casualties to US/NATO troops. For that, they did a deal with Pakistan to hand over Afghanistan on their departure to these soldiers of fortune, the people, specially women and children of Afghanistan, be damned.

Just like we ignored the threat of Corona, till it hit us on the forehead, we not only turned a blind eye to the US plans but even despatched our External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to Doha not once but repeatedly to register our agreement with the deal of US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who many in Afghanistan call “Zalim Khabeeszad”.

As for China, for all its support to Pakistan, the advent of Taliban regime will encourage Islamic jihadists in Uyghur and endanger Chinese security. Perhaps that is what the US may have had in mind as a bonus when they readily handed over Afghanistan to these Pakistani mercenaries. Therefore, for all its commitment to Pakistan, it can’t go the whole hog and turn a blind eye to the expansionist designs of these neo Islamists.

But we kept following faithfully the Americans even to our utter disadvantage. When we were getting oil cheap from Iran and were also offered a direct pipeline, when we were developing the Chabahar port, we dutifully obeyed Trump’s diktat and abandoned all our national interest.

Today the only way to approach Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan is via Iran. But that needs some kind of commitment of friendship treaty with Iran and thus help the Afghan people liberate themselves with our support.

It’s a test of Modi’s imagination and enterprise and it remains to be seen how he fares.

What was Indira Gandhi’s ultimate strategy to secure Bangladesh from the clutches of the army Junta of Pakistan? That’s the need of the hour in Afghanistan as well. Yes, we have to reassure the people of Afghanistan that we are with them and would come to their aid and defence in every which way. But before that we need to do a lot of diplomatic homework.

Sure, we need to secure our western borders before that, not by crushing the Kashmiris under the boot of the Indian armed forces, but by winning their confidence and taking them along in this struggle.

It is Modi’s moment. If he succeeds in chasing away the Talibani mullas from Afghanistan and restoring a modern democratic government in Afghanistan, all his past sins may be forgiven and he may long be remembered in history as a liberator. I wonder, though, if he and the RSS have it in them, given their past narrow mindedness.

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Published: 27 Aug 2021, 12:46 AM