The rapidity with which Afghanistan has unravelled has shocked and surprised everyone.
The fall of Kabul, and the ignominious end of any resistance to the Taliban within six weeks of the U.S. forces vacating the Bagram airbase (near Kabul) on July 2, reveals how brittle the vaunted Afghan Security Forces were.
The departure of Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and almost the entire top political leadership of Afghanistan to safer havens, removes the last vestige of hope that the Taliban can be checked.
Old threats may resurface:
- Some political commentators seem to believe that after the initial success of the Taliban and the collapse of the Afghan state, the natural political dynamics of the region would assert itself.
- After two decades of active involvement in the affairs of Afghanistan, and spending over a trillion dollars in the process to defeat terrorism and the al Qaeda, the U.S. has left Afghanistan in a worse situation than when it entered.
- It is not possible to discern any reduction in terrorism or the demise of any of the better known terror groups, such as the al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS), or for that matter, of lesser known terror outfits.
- As a matter of fact, there has been a resurgence in al Qaeda activities The IS, after some earlier setbacks, is again regrouping and currently poses a real threat to areas abutting, and including, Afghanistan.
- Radicalised Islamist terror and the forces of ‘doctrinaire theocracy’ have, if anything, thus become stronger. The collapse of the Afghan state will ignite many old threats.
- Compared to the situation when the U.S. left Vietnam in 1975, which was also seen by many as a kind of ‘retreat’, the Afghan ‘misadventure’ has been a disaster.
- Under the leadership of the Communist Party, Vietnam was able to emerge as a vibrant nation with a thriving economy.
- Under the Taliban regime, Afghanistan cannot hope for any such outcome. It would remain the ‘sick man of Asia’ for generations to come, a standing folly to perils of outside intervention in the affairs of another nation.
India ‘very carefully’ following developments in Afghanistan:
- With the Taliban now in control in Kabul, External Affairs Minister said that New Delhi is “very carefully” following the developments in Afghanistan and India’s focus is on ensuring the security and safe return of Indian nationals still in the war-torn country.
- External Affairs Ministry, while addressing reporters at the UN Security Council stakeout after chairing an open-debate on peacekeeping under India’s current UNSC Presidency, said, “that (situation in Afghanistan) is really what has been very much the focus of own engagements here.
- At the moment we are, like everybody else, very carefully following developments in Afghanistan.
- India’s focus is on ensuring the security in Afghanistan and the safe return of Indian nationals who are there.
What the Taliban Takeover means for India?
- The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has significant ramifications for South Asia, beginning with the rush of refugees Pakistan may soon see at its western borders.
- But few countries in the region have as much at stake in Afghanistan’s future as India, its fifth-largest aid donor and one of the most effective.
- India now finds many of its critical investments in human and physical infrastructure in Afghanistan in jeopardy as the Taliban take control.
- Worse still, the crisis following the U.S. withdrawal leaves India’s foreign-policy and security interests at considerable risk on two fronts.
- A new Taliban government will likely foster safe havens for anti-Indian terrorist organizations and other groups that could sow chaos in Indian-administered Kashmir.
- Meanwhile, China’s willingness to work with the Taliban could expand its footprint in the region.
- In the last two decades, India had become one of Afghanistan’s most significant donors, providing scholarships to Afghan students, offering food assistance, and helping restore the country’s war-ravaged power grid.
- But based on its past experience with a Taliban government, India’s security establishment now faces serious fears about its interests in the country.
- Despite the Taliban’s public assurances, Afghanistan could once again emerge as a regional terrorist haven.
- When they previously held power, the Taliban gave free rein to a host of anti-Indian terrorist organizations within Afghanistan, most notably Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba.
- Safe havens allowed these organizations to regroup, train, and then wreak havoc in Indian-administered Kashmir, the site of a long-running insurgency.
India’s regional connectivity interests:
- Afghanistan will continue to be important for regional connectivity. But now the focus may change towards China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Gwadar port in Pakistan.
- Even under the Ghani government, Afghanistan has been keen on connecting itself to the BRI either directly or through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). As Central Asians are already part of the BRI, they may find these developments useful.
- One of the declared core Indian interests in Afghanistan has been its importance for regional connectivity.
- The whole idea of the US New Silk Road Strategy was to link Central Asia and South Asia (especially India) via Afghanistan through trade, transit and energy routes.
- From the Indian side, investments at the Chabahar port in Iran and the Zaranj-Delaram Road in Afghanistan were part of this strategy.
- The USA administration had recently agreed to set up a new quadrilateral diplomatic platform focused on enhancing regional connectivity involving the US, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
- In changed circumstances, the Chinese may replace the US as leaders in regional connectivity platforms involving Afghanistan.
- To counter China’s rise, India may aspire to work with the US in the Indo-Pacific, but it will have a tough time finding convergences with the China-Pakistan-Taliban nexus in South-Central Asia.
- The Taliban government, even under Pakistani influence, will need broader recognition and economic opportunities arising from Indian linkages.
Like a ‘house of cards’, Afghanistan has fallen apart the moment foreign forces vacated the country.
If the 21st century was expected to become the century of progress, the situation in Afghanistan represents a severe setback to all such hopes and expectations.
The aftershock of the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban can be expected to continue for long.
Since India has not been in a position to influence the outcome in Afghanistan, it is time for India to carefully monitor the evolving situation and wait for the opportunity for new engagements.
For India, the virtual retreat of the U.S. from this part of Asia; the growing China-Russia-Pakistan nexus across the region; and an Iran under a hardliner like Ebrahim Raisi, all work to its disadvantage.
A great deal of hard thinking is needed as to how to retrieve a situation that for the present seems heavily tilted against India.