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Taliban Poses Serious Threat to International Security
|by Dr. Jaipal Singh|
Ever since the United States made their intention clear about withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan by certain date after handing over command and control to Afghanis, the politicians, strategists and even common men have been watching developments in the country with concern across the world. While conflicting versions were coming from the war-torn country with claims and counter-claims of Taliban success for the last few weeks largely through media, probably no one anticipated or apprehended that they will capture power in Kabul so fast even before the withdrawal of the last American contingent from the Afghanistan soil due during the next three weeks. All such people are shocked across the world and the more likely affected countries like India are watching developments in the war-torn country with concern while many Indian officials including embassy staff, workers, and worried Hindu and Sikh nationals in Afghanistan are stuck up in the melee there.
In a way, it was a like a bloodless coup in Kabul wherein the top Afghan leaders including the president himself fled the country to escape execution and the army apparently did not pose any resistance to the advancing Taliban fighters who entered the national capital virtually unopposed. According to the Russian embassy sources in Kabul, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country with four cars and a helicopter full of cash and even had to leave some money behind as all of it would not fit in the aircraft. After about 72 hours of mystery and wild conjectures about his whereabouts, United Arab Emirate (UAE) has finally confirmed that they have given him asylum on humanitarian grounds. In this piece, the author would briefly examine the advent of Taliban, consequent turmoil in the sub-continent during a little over past two decades and likely implications of the Taliban.2 regime in the Afghanistan and other countries in the region.
Taliban During Last 25 Years in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has had a long history of factional wars, insurgency and foreign intervention for the last 6-7 decades characterized with the successive weak or puppet governments and all kinds of war crimes at large-scale such as murders, massacres, rape and other atrocities against women, arson, looting, torture, and so on. From the late 1970s to 1980s, it remained under Soviet occupation followed by their withdrawal after installing a friendly Najibullah government. Mullah Mohammad Omar founded the group Taliban (means Student) in September 1994 with Headquarter at Kandhar along with 50 members mostly comprising of Pashtuns from the eastern and southern Afghanistan. These were radical Islamists of Wahaabi brand of Islam, endorsed by the successive US leadership around that time, and encouraged and funded in partnership with Pakistani ISI and Military for training and arming them to fight against Soviets in Central Asia including Afghanistan. These facts have subsequently been publicly admitted by the senior American leaders like the democrat senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
During 1990s, many ethnic-centric mujahideen groups were identified and a large number of US-Saudi-Pakistan-supported mujahideen (estimated 90,000 men, terrorists in common jargon) were trained and armed that played key role to Taliban’s rapid growth and success against Soviet friendly regime in Afghanistan. In the Afghan civil war, the Taliban captured power in 1996 and controlled over seventy-five percent of Afghanistan enforcing a strict Sharia based rule till 2001. As the famous adage goes “as you sow, so you reap,” the Taliban soon recognized the cultural and religious differences between Islam and Christianity as civilizational clash, followed acting in tandem with other Islamic terrorist groups and started jehad against the interests of Western nations inclusive of US denouncing them as being oppressive against Islam. Among many atrocious and abhorrible acts of Taliban during their reign in 1990s, one is the hijacking of the Indian Airlines Flight 814 on 24 December 1999 by Islamic terrorists to seek the release of three terrorists – including the current Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar with the active support of Taliban.
From 1996 to 2001, The Taliban did everything to strictly enforce the Sharia based Islamic government in Afghanistan in accordance with the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence and the religious edicts of the Taliban Chief Mullah Omar. Their oppressive and abhorrible acts included massacres of ethnic minorities and opponents, constant human trafficking and oppression of women, discrimination against Hindus and Sikhs, active support to international Islamic terrorism and cultural genocide, to name a few. For instance, the Taliban attacked Mazar-i-Sharif, the fourth-largest city of Afghanistan, in August 1998 and after killing the majority of 1500 defenders, they started shooting civilians (Hajaras), raping women, and thousands of people were locked in containers to die with suffocation. This genocide left at least six thousand people dead including some Iranian diplomats. The crops and orchards were burnt, irrigation systems destroyed and buildings were damaged rendering more than a lakh people without homes.
In yet another case, the United Nations accused the Taliban in 1998 of denying UN emergency food relief to about 160,000 hungry and starving people in sheer political and military vendetta. Many Taliban and al- Qaeda operatives were engaged in human trafficking, abducting ethnic minority women and selling them into sex slavery in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The main targets of human trafficking were women from the Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara and other non-Pashtun ethnic groups and many of them had committed suicide to save their honour. The Taliban had issued edicts for women to strictly wear burqa and hijab, and stay away from receiving any formal education with many schools closed; the edicts were enforced even by resorting to violence on girls to leave schools and colleges. Apart from frequent killings and denial of religious rites, Hindus and Sikhs were asked to identify their houses by placing a yellow cloth on their rooftops, non-Muslims could not live in the same house with Muslims and women were required to put on a yellow dress with specific mark so as to enable Muslims to keep distance from them. Cultural genocide in the form of destruction of cultural and historical texts, sculptures and artefacts was so abundant done all along. Some illustrations are: damage and loot of the artefacts in the National Museum of Afghanistan in 1992; destruction of the Puli Khumri Public Library with over 55 thousand books/manuscripts; and destruction of Bamiyan Buddha in 2001.
Al-Qaeda Chief Osama bin Laden too moved to Afghanistan around 1996 from Sudan to join Mullah Omar. He probably financed the latter and started influencing fatwas and declaration of wars against the countries world over. On 11 September 2001, al-Qaeda coordinated Wahaabi terrorist attacks against the US in New York and some other places targeting World Trade Centre, Pentagon, etc. leaving a trail of nearly three thousand dead and several thousand injured. The US declared this as a war against them and the then President George W. Bush formally held al-Qaeda responsible for the attack. Accordingly, condemning the Taliban regime he demanded them on 20 September to unconditionally hand over all the leaders of al-Qaeda to US, release all foreign nationals unjustly imprisoned in Afghanistan, immediately close all terrorist training camps and hand over all other terrorists to the concerned authorities. Under mounting pressure, the Taliban offered to turn bin Laden to Pakistan for trial under Islamic Sharia law subject to the US producing evidence against him. In response to this Taliban lackadaisical approach, the US and NATO allies attacked Afghanistan to destroy and flush out Mullah Omer, Osama bin Laden and their terrorist regime.
However, before the dreaded terrorist leaders could be apprehended or killed by the NATO forces, reportedly the Pakistan Army cargo aircraft airlifted the top terrorist commanders including Omer and bin Laden, Pakistan ISI agents and military personnel, and many Taliban terrorists out of Afghanistan to safe air bases at Chitral and Gilgit in Pakistan's Northern Areas. In a decade-long international manhunt and under Pakistan’s constant denial, bin Laden was finally tracked in a well-protected private residential compound in Abbottabad cantonment right under the nose of Pakistan Army and killed by the US Navy SEALs on 2 May 2011 in a top-secret operation about which even Pakistan leadership was kept in dark. Mullah Omer reportedly lived in Karachi, Pakistan until his death on 23 Aril 2013 of tuberculosis although some people have opined that he continued to secretly live in Afghanistan in Zabul.
Role of US and India in Afghanistan Reconstruction
After the fall of Mullah Omar led Taliban regime in 2001, the United States and NATO had taken the leading role in overall reconstruction of Afghanistan by providing billions of dollars aid to Hamid Karzai government for the upgradation of the Afghan National Security Forces, building national roads, government and educational institutions, and so on. A strategic partnership agreement was signed between the two countries in 2005, committing a long-term relationship. Under the long-term cooperation efforts, the US had upgraded its embassy and opened more Consulate offices in Afghanistan over the years. Another strategic partnership agreement was signed in 2011 whereunder the US designated Afghanistan as a major non-NATO ally thereby suo moto passing on several long-term benefits to the war-torn country. While spending billions on the training, upgrading and equipping of the Afghan armed forces over the years, the US had been increasing or reducing the need-based presence of its Armed Forces in Afghanistan during the last twenty years. For instance, the number of US troops had reportedly reached to nearly one lakh in 2010 while it had gradually come down to about thirteen thousand in 2018.
US had also persuaded its NATO countries to make investment in the reconstruction and development efforts of Afghanistan. While India has constantly refused its military presence in Afghanistan, it has acted as the largest regional provider of the reconstruction and humanitarian aid to this country. Be it the earlier period of the Russian influence over the Afghanistan or the recent two decades of the US dominance, the two regional countries have always enjoyed a traditional good relationship barring the spell of the Taliban take over (1996-2001). For the last many years, India has worked on dozens of rebuilding projects in Afghanistan that include many roads, buildings, over 200 public and private schools, thousands of scholarships for higher education of Afghan students, and so on. During the last few years, India has emerged as one of the biggest donors to Afghanistan providing assistance. In December 2015, India had donated three Mi-25 attack helicopters to Afghanistan as part of their bilateral strategic partnership. Besides, India has made tens of billion dollars investment in Afghanistan to improve its transport connectivity, setting up Iron ore mines, a steel plant, an 800 MW power plant, Hydro-electric power projects, transmission lines, roads, and so on. As a goodwill gesture, India had also constructed a new Parliament complex for the Afghan government at estimated cost of $115 million in 2015.
While it will take years by the analysts in the countries like US and India to evaluate failures and losses vis-à-vis intended objectives of the rebuilding of Afghanistan, of the approximately $145 billion the US spent on reconstruction of Afghanistan, about $83 billion was spent on furbishing and sustaining its army and police forces, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a congressionally created watchdog tracking the war-torn country since 2008. This is in addition to another US $837 billion spent on fighting the war since 2001. Built and trained at the aforesaid enormous cost, the Afghan armed forces collapsed so quickly and melted completely, in many cases even without firing a bullet, the classic case is the takeover of the national capital Kabul itself. Thus, the ultimate beneficiary of the entire American, NATO and Indian investment is turned out to be the Taliban. With lackluster run away of Afghan leadership and army so assiduously raised, the Taliban have been successful in not only grabbing the political power but also the entire US supplied sophisticated military arsenal, including a vast stock of lethal guns, ammunition, armed vehicles, attack helicopters and aircrafts, and so on. Reportedly, the Afghan defence-building efforts were so dependent on US largesse that even the Afghan troops’ salaries were paid by the latter and apparently a lot of such money was siphoned off by the corrupt Afghan administration against the ghost soldiers.
US Withdrawal and Taliban Capturing Power in Kabul
After the years of continued presence and active role in Afghanistan, this was the then US President Donald Trump and NATO allies who decided in February 2020 to formulate a deal with the Afghan Taliban for enabling the formal withdrawal of US combat forces from Afghanistan in a time bound manner. Under the negotiated terms of the agreement, the Taliban promised not to allow al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control. On their part, the US had also secured release of Taliban leader Mullah Baradar and about five thousand Taliban operatives from the jails in Pakistan and Afghanistan, respectively. As per the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan", US and NATO forces were to ensure complete withdrawal of US forces by May 1, 2021. Accordingly, an agreement was signed on 29 February 2020 providing for the US withdrawal in 14 months subject to the Taliban upholding the terms of the agreement. In fact, the US was contemplating for this withdrawal for the last 10 years as President Barack Obama had announced as back as in 2011 that the US would withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, after Operation Enduring Freedom.
Following the aforesaid development, the peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government on a political solution, however, did not make any significant progress that could lead to a peace deal, backed by the United States and its allies, have failed to make significant progress. Nonetheless, President Joe Biden unilaterally announced on 14 April 2021 that the US troops shall commence withdrawal from Afghanistan with effect from 1st May 1 to accomplish it by 11th September 2021. Significant developments following this announcement are briefly summarized as follows:
Global Implications of Taliban Rising to Power in Afghanistan
For the consumption of the international community, the Taliban made the following assurances in their first ever press conference in an endeavour to project their image as a moderate and well-meaning group:
Contrary to what Taliban projected in their much publicised first even press conference, the current huge rush among the Afghan males to escape from the country without their women and children, constant shooting incidents at airport and elsewhere, harassment of journalists, door to door search of houses, misconduct with women and kidnapping of young girls for the alleged procurement of brides for the Taliban fighters show the real face of Taliban and two sets of teeth, one for the display and the other use.
Following an emergency meeting of UN Security Council on Afghanistan after the Taliban’s capture of Kabul, the UN Secretary-General gave a call to the Taliban and others for the protection of civilians and stated that the world body will not abandon the people of the war-torn country and continue to deliver critical services. On the Organization’s behalf, he gave a call to all countries to receive Afghan refugees and refrain from deportation. Notwithstanding these announcements, the fact is the UN body has gradually lost its relevance during the last two decades, particularly after the rise of the Peoples Republic of China, in important political and human rights matters due to varying perceptions, selfish interests and divergent stand of the member countries, particularly the five permanent members of the UN Security council.
The rise of Taliban in Afghanistan is undoubtedly bad for the secular and democratic world in general and for the freedom and education of the women, and human rights in Afghanistan in particular. It is clearly the biggest loss of the US not only in terms of the strategic policy failure but also enormous waste of their critical national resources. The US have already spent over $2.3 trillion till date on the undeclared war in Afghanistan and lost at least 2,448 American soldiers with many more injured. To remind those who have rather short memories, all this had started in 2001 to avenge the death of nearly same number of US citizens in the al-Qaeda sponsored terror attacks of 11 September in New York and other places. During the period of two decades, the estimated number of the casualties of Afghans, including pro-government forces, Taliban fighters and terrorists and civilians, too is not less than one lakh. The majority NATO allies (Western countries) toe US line and, more or less, share the same fate with some concern or even indifference.
It is true that the US exit from Afghanistan was on cards for some time and the trail was already formed by the predecessor US President in February 2020. But it is also true that the ultimate withdrawal of the US troops was subject to certain conditions. Now both the Americans and Taliban are blaming each other of breach of the agreement. This certainly raises a question when within a fortnight of Biden’s announcement about the intended withdrawal, the Taliban had started armed conflict with the legitimate Afghan government instead of seeking a negotiated settlement, should the US have gone ahead with their withdrawal plan without making a proper assessment of what could likely happen. The US leadership had at least two learning instances of their strategic failures in Vietnam and Iraq in previous decades but as the saying goes “Money can't buy will. You cannot purchase leadership”. The history is certainly going to remember this as the biggest US failure more so because the victory of Taliban may by all probability now push Afghanistan to medieval era mindset and retrograde practices with vast implications on the Indian sub-continent. Jeffrey Lord, an American author and political strategist from Pennsylvania, has concluded in an analytical piece that Joe Biden’s response to Afghanistan is not new and it’s only a repeat of Vietnam tragedy.
The current development in Afghanistan is certainly not in favour of India, rather it would be setback for the India’s stability and geo-political interests in the region. Hundreds of terrorists and criminals of Haqqani network and others have been set free from Afghanistan jails and many of them are reportedly are in touch with various terrorist organizations and pursuing destination in Pakistan. Barring the earlier Taliban rule in 1990s, the two countries have traditionally maintained good relations with mutual cooperation camaraderie in several areas for the decades. Both countries have been amongst the worst victims of the Islamic terrorism sponsored, fuelled and executed by the masterminds in Pakistani ISI and Army. India has already spent billions on the reconstruction programme of the war-torn country in areas like education and infrastructure; also, there are many more ongoing and new projects. The previous experience shows that the Taliban have a hostile approach towards education, culture and even infrastructural developments. What probably indoctrinated Taliban essentially need is a holy book and hadith to run the administration of the country to their view. Strangely enough, a large number of Indian Muslim leaders and traditional liberals have already endorsed the Taliban in Afghanistan suggesting India is worse under the present (nationalist) government. While keenly watching the political developments, the focus of the Indian Government is an early and safe evacuation of Indian nationals from Afghanistan.
If any country is really rejoicing the Taliban victory in Afghanistan, it is none other than the rogue nation Pakistan which is actually behind all trouble. An indoctrinated Pashtun-dominated Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan suits best to the interests of Pakistani rulers, ISI and Army. Pakistan has always been envious of the traditional good relations between India and Afghanistan and, in fact, it has openly opposed any role of India in reconstruction and political settlement of this war-torn country. It is no more a secret and, in fact, a long sordid story how Taliban itself was created, augmented, trained and equipped by Pakistan in 1990s. Besides, Pakistan have been actively sponsoring and abetting various terrorist outfits and activities in India and Afghanistan. This was an important aspect of the erstwhile strategic depth policy of Pakistan since the time of General Zia-ul-Haq, and it constantly endeavoured to achieve a Pakistan friendly government in Afghanistan which was totally indoctrinated, Pashtun-dominated, and favoured the Wahaabi and Arabian cultural instead of Indian culture. Hence Pakistan has every reason to be cheerful and rejoice the arrival of Taliban in Afghanistan.
Besides Pakistan, Russia and China are two other powerful countries in the region which do not appear concerned, rather satisfied with the current development in Afghanistan. Way back in 1980s and 1990s, the US had done everything to oust Russia from Afghanistan and pull-down Soviet-friendly regime there. Now the situation is reversed in Afghanistan with US exit and control passed on to Taliban which is hostile to the US and West, a reason enough for the Russians to be contended with. They are closely watching the developments and might turn out to be among the early nations giving recognition to the Taliban regime. Currently, China is Afghanistan's largest trading partner and it’s role in Afghanistan has been constantly growing since 2010 with increased economic aid and investment in Afghanistan. Among important ventures are the Chines Metallurgical Corporation pledging $3.5 billion to develop Aynak Copper mines and oil extraction in the Amu Darya basin since 2018. Chinese interest to fit Afghanistan into the BRI, which would open the shortest route between China and the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Arabian sea, is well known. Among the existing pandemonium, the Chinese embassy is still functional and it may be among the first few countries recognizing the Taliban regime.
As for the Organization of the Islamic Countries, none of them have condemned or expressed any serious concerns over the developments in Afghanistan desite continuous human rights violations by the Taliban. Influential Islamic countries like Iran and Turkey are traditionally opposed to Taliban but even they have maintained stoic silence so far. On the other hand, many Arab countries including Saudi Arabia and Qatar appear to be favourable to the extremely indoctrinated Taliban. It is well known globally that Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghani militant and deputy of Mullah Omar languishing in a Pakistan jail since February 2010 was released in September 2018 on the US request and played important role in striking out February 2020 agreement with the latter. After the Taliban seizure of Afghanistan, Qatar has sent him there in a special military aircraft, where he is likely to assume Taliban leadership in government formation. It is pretty clear that the majority of Islamic countries including the influential Arab nations have no issues with the radical Islamic group in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world. Only a day before, the members of the Taliban ransacked the already closed Indian consulates in Kandahar and Herat, and took away the parked vehicles and other stuff in a day robbery like incident but, clearly, any Islamic country is not perturbed with such Taliban acts.
What Should Be Done To Chastise Taliban
Taliban co-founder Mullah Baradar has returned to Afghanistan from Qatar three days back but a formal announcement of the formation of the government in Kabul is yet to be made. The actual programmes and policies of the Taliban will be known only after the formal announcement of the government. In the meantime, several dissident groups and fighters opposed to the Taliban are also regrouping under Amrullah Saleh, the runaway vice-President who has now declared himself as Afghan's care taker President, at Panjshir Valley located in the north-eastern region of the country. Reportedly, the Taliban were unable to take over the Panjshir Valley in their earlier stint too. These developments only suggest that the war-torn country is most probably heading for a long civil war.
Conceptually, there are many ways for the UN and international community to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan and force or subdue them to comply in a certain way. One more direct way of UN Security Council intervention could be to approve military and/or non-military action, as considered viable and necessary, by the combined UN forces to restore the civilian Afghan government. The UN Charter, Chapter VII already caters for such contingencies with necessary provision and stipulation. But unfortunately, UN has constantly failed to take such action in Afghanistan or any other disturbed areas during the last two decades despite grave human rights violations in many cases. The chief reason for this failure is vested political and other interests of the member countries themselves; consequently, the five permanent members never agree to a common solution and one or more of them sabotage it using their veto power.
Yet another way of dealing with the unlawful Taliban regime could be that none of the countries recognize the government formed by them to legitimize it. Here again, a peculiar pattern is emerging: While most other countries are frantically endeavouring to evacuate their embassy staff and citizens out of Afghanistan, three notable exceptions are China, Russia and Pakistan. In fact, China has already shown enthusiasm to work with the Taliban and the routine business in the embassies of these countries is continuing as usual. The majority of Islamic countries have maintained stoic silence over the Taliban take over of Afghanistan and many political experts and strategist treat it a favourable signal for them. Thus, in all likelihood, even this option to deal with Taliban may not work.
The UN and international community have often resorted to economic sanctions and blacklisting of rogue regimes in the past. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) could pressurise Taliban by restricting developmental loans. Similarly, individual countries too could resort to economic sanctions and such other restrictions to pressurise the Taliban for reforms abandoning radical ways such as enforcement of Sharia laws in Afghanistan. The success of such sanctions would largely depend upon the attitude and approach of China which might then offer assistance to Taliban through the Chinese controlled financial institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and New Development Bank (NDB).
According to reports, the US has already frozen nearly $9.5 billion of Afghan reserves in American banks to block Taliban access to funds. Similarly, Germany too has suspended its development aid for now to Afghanistan after the Taliban’s takeover of the country. More such restrictions on Afghanistan are likely to follow soon from the UN financial institutions and NATO countries in the next few days. However, such restrictions often serve as the double-edged weapon as the same could more often hurt the war-torn country's poor too.
There could be many drastic measures to chastise or discipline the Taliban and the rogue nation Pakistan working in tandem with them. But any such drastic measure against the Taliban by the UN or any individual countries is not likely to materiaze due to polarized nations in the prevailing international political situation and, consequently, with the divided UN security Council. In the meantime, many disturbing news and stories of the Taliban excesses are emerging from various media sources. Their constant human rights violations, misconduct and suppression of women and reports of involvement in narcotics trade with Pakistani complicity are serious criminal offenses that the UN and international community need to take cognizance urgently and unitedly else Afghanistan would soon become yet another Syria with serious far-reaching implications for the regional and international peace and stability.
While giving bizarre recommendations, people seldom bother to analyse where the real problem lies and what are solutions that could practically be implemented. In Afghan crisis, our main worry and concern should be about the plight of women in the country with already very disturbing reports about them pouring in, and the security and welfare of about 10% minority Shia population and residual minorities of other communities like Hindu, Christian and Sikhs in the country. Current trend at the Kabul airport shows that a large number of male Afghans are frantically trying to escape the country to take refuge elsewhere. There are 57 Islamic countries in the world and it is high time that they should volunteer to give shelter to such refugees in their country on humanitarian ground rather than passing the burden on US, India and other Western countries. Many oil rich Arab countries have necessary physical and financial resources for this.
Well, the US, India and many other democratic countries owe a lot to humanity in restoring the rule of law and human rights as also to chastise the rogue nations. For that matter, a lot has been done by these countries during the last two decades for the peace and stability of Afghanistan. Nonetheless, we must realize that the nation building doesn’t come from outside; the countrymen have to rise and do this own at whatever cost and with whatever support received from outside. Afghan leadership fled and military with an estimated strength of almost four times combined with Air Force could not hold the Taliban fighters much less in numbers even for few days and simply surrendered and melted in thin air without offering any resistance in Kabul and many other places. You can support people with money and material but cannot inculcate a will to work and sacrifice for own cause.
According to a PEW Research Centre report of 2013, Muslims in South Asia and Southeast Asia are the most fervent supporters of strict Sharia based Islamic rule: Afghanistan (99%), Pakistan (84%), Bangladesh (82%) and Indian Muslims (74%). So, one does not need to stress mind too much to find reasons why Afghan army and government gave up so easily. Then, the point also to consider is Taliban are fighting with whom in such case? According to the vision and philosophy of this “Religion of Peace” stated by many Islamic clergy and scholars, Afghanistan already appears to be Dar-us Salam with about 99.7% population of Muslims achieved over the years of ethnic cleansing. Therefore, rather than fighting among themselves, appropriately they should now try to live in peace.
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