The Taliban announced this year’s spring offensive ‘Operation Omari’ on April 12, 2016 dedicated to former leader Mullah Omar, who died three years ago. While the announcement of the offensive itself was not surprising, however, there were some new areas which the Taliban will focus on in the coming year.
The statement issued by Taliban talks about implementing operations in a manner which protects civilians and the civilian infrastructure. However, this has not been the case so far as out of the 3,545 civilians killed and 7,457 injured in 2015, 62 per cent were attributed to anti-government groups such as the Taliban.[i] The Taliban will also undertake a big public relation exercise as its scholars, elders and leaders will open a dialogue with Afghans in the enemy ranks to give up their opposition to the establishment of an Islamic government. The operational details are absent in the statement unlike the statement of last year’s offensive. The initials signs mean that there could be more kidnappings and targeted killings of enemy forces rather than large scale attacks by the Taliban. Taliban’s strategy is to stretch the resources of Afghan military so that its numerical advantage can be negated.
This year’s offensive has come in the backdrop of huge gains made by Taliban in last year’s operation. Taliban insurgency has spread through more of Afghanistan than at any point since 2001, according to the UN.[ii] Out of around 400 total districts, Taliban control 38 while contest 43.[iii] It is amid such gains by the Taliban that the Pentagon is mulling over resuming offensive airstrikes against the Taliban.[iv] Since it is in a position of strength, the Taliban has refused to participate in Afghan peace process spearheaded by Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) consisting of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the US and China.
Taliban gaining ground in Afghanistan will have security implications for India. However, there is scope for India to have back door negotiations with Taliban, especially when media reports suggest that its allies in former Northern Alliance, Iran and Russia have some communication with the Taliban. There is some strain in Pakistan-Taliban relations and India could benefit from talking to the Taliban. It could cooperate with Iran and Russia in order to talk to Taliban as a group. At the same time, India should tighten security around its facilities in Afghanistan.