India Denies Claims of Plot With U.S., Russia To Oust Taliban

By Suryamurthy Ramachandran | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - India denied claims Thursday that it was plotting with the United States and Russia to oust Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia, against whom the U.N. Security Council imposed fresh sanctions just last week.

India's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Raminder Singh Jassal, said New Delhi would not react to media reports in the U.S. that claim Washington was conspiring with India and Russia to replace the Taliban with a more amenable government, but would confirm that India's government does not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

However, a senior official at the foreign ministry, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said "no such conspiracy has been hatched."

The fundamentalist Islamic militia controls more than 90 percent of the war-ravaged country. Opposition groups, including those led by Ahmad Shah Masood hold the remaining ten percent.

The U.S. opposes the Taliban because it is sheltering Osama bin Laden, the Muslim militant suspected of being responsible for anti-U.S. terrorist attacks. India is unhappy with the Taliban's links to terror groups fighting against the Indian army in disputed Kashmir.

Russia, which invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s in support of a pro-Soviet regime and lost a reported 15,000 men in a subsequent guerilla war, backed last week's Security Council decision. India co-sponsored the resolution.

The head of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute, Frederick Starr, wrote in a Washington Post article that the U.S. "has quietly begun to align itself with those in the Russian government calling for military action against Afghanistan and has toyed with the idea of a new raid to wipe out Osama bin Laden."

Starr said Karl Inderfurth, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, had "met recently with Russia's friends in the government of India to discuss what kind of government should replace the Taliban."

The administration rejected Starr's interpretation.

Thomas Pickering, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said in a letter to the paper "discussions with India, as with other governments, have not been about overthrowing the Taliban. Rather they have focused on those Taliban policies that threaten our interests and theirs and the need to find a peaceful political settlement in Afghanistan by establishing a broad-based representative government."

Srikant Verma, an Afghanistan specialist at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, said India, the U.S. and Russia had come together to form an alliance to control the Taliban's activities.

He said the three countries were extending support to Masood, help that had resulted in a "recent spurt in [his] fighting power."

"Whether he is being promoted to replace the Taliban is a guess too hazard to make at this stage," said Verma.

Sreedar, an Afghan expert at the Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis, earlier predicted that sanctions would be ineffective, and that "only direct military action by the U.S., Russia and India, along with a threat of dire consequences to Pakistan if it tried to intervene, could yield productive results."

In his article, Starr questioned the wisdom of the U.S. becoming involved in this way: "By making itself the junior partner in a Russian-Indian crusade against Muslim Afghanistan and Pakistan, the United States will eliminate itself as a future mediator in one of the world's major trouble spots.

"This comes at a time when Central Asians are as concerned over recent Russian activities as they are over the Taliban - specifically over Russian efforts to use the specter of terrorism and Islamic radicalism to regain control of the region," he said.

"Thus, while claiming to oppose a military solution to the Afghan problem, the United States is now talking about the overthrow of a regime that controls nearly the entire country, in the hope it can be replaced with a hypothetical government that does not exist even on paper," he said.

But Pickering argued that U.S. policy had to do with terror against Americans, and not what the Russians wanted: "The United States has taken the lead in calling attention to Taliban support for terrorist organizations such as that of Osama bin Laden because he and his followers have targeted American citizens and train in Afghan camps - not because the Russians have told us to do so.

"It is hard to see that a different policy would serve U.S. interests," he added.

Pickering pointed out that Central Asian governments were also directly threatened by the terrorist groups and had supported the U.N. measures against the Taliban.

In a message marking the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, said the U.S. and Russia planned to isolate Muslims worldwide, beginning with Afghanistan.

"The United States and Russia want to destroy good Muslim people all over the world," Omar said. "Stay united against these cruel intentions."

He said the Taliban's "clean system" was "like a thorn in the eyes of infidel countries, which are trying to eliminate Muslims.