The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has added to India’s worries over possible boost to jihadi violence in Kashmir.
Bangladesh’s Awami League government is worried over its possible impact in domestic politics, with senior officials anticipating not only an increase in jihadi violence but also greater efforts by the Islamist Opposition to bring down the present Hasina Wajed regime.
In Myanmar, the military regime entertains mixed feelings.
It fears more Rohingya jihadi activity in the Rakhine province but is also keenly watching where China manages to negate the Western efforts to isolate the Taliban regime.
If the Chinese support works for Taliban, which has declared Beijing as its ‘most important partner’, it might as well work for the Burmese military regime.
“Bangladesh is carefully observing the fast-evolving situation in Afghanistan, which we believe, may have an impact on the region and beyond,” the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Bangladesh believes that a democratic and pluralistic Afghanistan as chosen by its people is the only guarantee of stability and development in the country.”
Last week, when Taliban top leader Sher Muhammed Abbas Stanikzai met the Indian ambassador in Doha, an obvious nervous Bangladesh national security official called me to find out whether India is planning to recognize the Taliban regime.
When I assured him, India was only maintaining contacts with the Taliban to evacuate its citizens and Afghans willing to relocate to India, the official said: “Indian recognition of the Taliban regime will lead to a loss of a lot of allies, India now has in the region.”
The conversation invariably turned to Bangladesh and the official, who cannot be named for obvious reasons, pointed to 2001 when India’s Vajpayee regime backed off from supporting the Awami League and courted the BNP-Jamaat e Islami coalition.
Hasina has even gone on record later to blame India’s R&AW spy agency for her defeat in the 2001 polls.
Pranab Mukherjee’s active role in pushing US to back down from the military-backed caretaker government and influencing then Bangladesh army chief Gen Moeen U Ahmed to organize ‘free and fair polls’ went a long way to restore Awami League’s confidence in India.
Hasina, on assuming power in Jan 2009, responded gratefully by addressing India’s security and connectivity concerns.
Manmohan Singh’s push for Teesta River water sharing hit a Mamata wall but Hasina was convinced about Delhi’s firm intent to back her, come what may.
Except for essentially domestic pinpricks like Amit Shah’s infamous “termite” remark on Bangladesh, the BJP government under Narendra Modi has done nothing to rattle Hasina so far.
Awami League is keenly watching not just how the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan impacts on the domestic radical elements and the Islamist Opposition (which often work in tandem) but also how Delhi handles Afghanistan.
Any turnback on its traditional allies like Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud and warming up to the Taliban will be seen in Dhaka as a dangerous precedent, one suggesting that Delhi could, for reasons of realpolitik, turn its back on the Awami League and deal with the Islamist Opposition, if need be.
Veteran Indian diplomats with experience in the neighbourhood dismiss such prospects as unrealistic.
“In Dhaka, India has only one option,” said a former foreign secretary.
Another former ambassador said: “Any regime change in Dhaka will be a double blow for India after what has happened in Afghanistan.”
A third diplomat with long years in both Afghanistan and Myanmar said: “Our friends in Bangladesh should not worry as India is not turning its back on its friends in Afghanistan. We are only having to deal with the Taliban because they have taken power.”
But there lies a broad hint — Hasina must win the 2024 elections and if she loses, India will be compelled to deal with the government of the day.
Like in 2007-8, Hasina would surely expect Indian support to check the US and its Western allies from backing a regime change move.
The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan was followed by an Opposition leader Kamal Hossain calling for Hasina’s ouster and the US Tom Lantos Commission hearings on “forced disappearances” in Bangladesh.
US involvement in the 1975 coup and its backing of the military-backed caretaker in 2007-08 deeply worries Hasina and now that US and India are strategic partners, she would surely count on Delhi to deflect Washington’s black paw.
The Myanmar military regime appears more pleased than worried with the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.
If Taliban, with Chinese backing, secures legitimacy and is recognized, it helps the Burmese junta stay in power. After all, both have achieved power through force.
But whether the Rohingya groups like ARSA, quiet for a long while, receives a morale booster and sends a few suicide bombers to hit targets in Yangon or Naypyidaw should trouble the generals who have enough armed resistance to deal with.