New Delhi: Ata Mohammad Noor, an Afghan leader who picked up a rifle to save the lives of Indian diplomats during a terrorist attack in 2016, wants New Delhi’s help in the ongoing Kabul-Taliban peace talks as the situation in Afghanistan remains sensitive and tense.
Noor, who has fought the Taliban his entire life, is currently in India to convince the government to play a more “proactive” role in the dialogue.
The CEO of the Jamiat Party, Noor is the third prominent leader of Afghanistan to visit India amid apprehensions in New Delhi that the Taliban may once again assume power in the country as it did in 1996. Over the past month, Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), and former Afghan vice-president Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum have visited India as the talks between the Taliban and Kabul have intensified.
“The situation in Afghanistan is currently quite complicated. That’s the reason I am here in India. I really hope that India will be more proactive because India has got power, it has got leverage, and it has got influence in the region,” Noor told ThePrint in Persian, while sipping tea at a Delhi hotel.
“If India does not do that, then this will give more ground to the Pakistanis. As the Americans are leaving, the Pakistanis are finding more space in Afghanistan,” Noor said.
While India was not directly part of the US-led peace deal that was signed between the Donald Trump administration and Taliban leaders on 29 February, New Delhi has now become an active stakeholder in the intra-Afghan dialogue that began last month in Doha. However, it has been India’s stated policy that it will not engage with the Taliban, as it continues to see the fundamentalist group as being aided by Pakistan.
When he saved Indian diplomats with American rifle
Now 56, Noor was all of 19 when he got trained as a fighter during the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-1989). He subsequently joined the Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban.
Four years ago, as the governor of Balkh province in Afghanistan, he helped thwart a terrorist attack on the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, one of the country’s biggest cities.
Speaking to ThePrint, Noor said he reached the site of the Mazar-i-Sharif strike in 12 minutes and “started shooting the Taliban and other terrorists from Kashmir with my M4 sniper rifle”.
“I put my life at risk but I had to protect the diplomats and Indian friends. I felt we should give it back in return of what India did for us when we faced difficulties. There were some insurgents who had come from Kashmir as well. I reached there in 12 minutes, took up my arms and left for the consulate to defend it,” he added.
“I was the governor at that time and more than 10,000 soldiers were under my control. But I deemed it my personal responsibility to defend my brothers who were stuck there,” he said.
According to him, during the operation, the terrorists made attempts to enter the Indian consulate twice but they could not make it since he and his men had blocked an arterial road. However, the terrorists made their way to another building from where they started shooting.
“I started shooting with my people and continued shooting till the morning so that they cannot attack back. I am sure it was me who killed the first person and finally gunned all of them down. With their blood, they wrote Kashmir and Afzal on the wall,” he said.
Noor also got helicopters into the operation to bring soldiers, and said he managed to guide the pilots as well.
He is regarded as a “long-standing friend of India”, as External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar acknowledged in a tweet after their meeting earlier this week.
Pleasure to meet our long standing friend Atta Noor. Valued his views on developments in Afghanistan and the larger region. Reiterated India's commitment to peace, security and development of Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/COGIn6QDNY
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) October 21, 2020
‘India is a big & strong country’
As the dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban continues in Doha, Noor is worried that Afghanistan may go back to what it used to be.
He said India has the capability to become a “facilitator” of the peace talks and join other countries who are playing the same role.
“The peace talks going on in Qatar have not yielded any results yet. And the Taliban are being more aggressive. It seems they are being supported by others … India is a big and strong country and should be one of the facilitators (in the peace talks),” he added.
Otherwise, he said, there may come a situation where some of the Taliban leaders come to power and become part of the government while others continue to wage attacks.
“If that happens, we will get back to what happened in 1996. The situation can be worse than that,” he added. Being an important stakeholder in the development process there, India cannot afford to let that happen, he said. “I really hope India can be more proactive. India has more nationalist and strategic friends in Afghanistan.”
‘India should engage with Taliban, but not give them legitimacy’
According to Noor, the ongoing peace talks can throw up very different results, each with consequences for India.
“There can be two situations arising out of the current peace talks. Either it will conclude and there will be a new government or the peace talks will fail and the fighting will continue. If the new government comes in, India will have its strategic partners in the new government, as always, by defusing all the plots hatched by other countries,” he said.
“Both countries are fighting terrorism … We do not want to drag the feet of India in a prolonged war. But India should engage with the Taliban … I want India to engage with the Taliban but not give them legitimacy.”
According to him, China is playing its role in the peace talks “aggressively” and so are the Russians and the Iranians.
When Noor met Jaishankar Wednesday, he asked him to begin negotiations with the Taliban, something that the Afghan government has also been asking New Delhi to do as the US-led forces begin to leave the country after a 19-year-long war.
If the talks fail, the insurgents will have an “upper hand” and this will give more leeway to Pakistan.
“At that time, we would need to stand by the Afghan government … We will have a united resistance against the Taliban if the situation becomes so,” Noor said.