Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

34 years of Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: India's role in ensuring normalcy in Afghanistan


Central idea: The article discusses the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan 34 years ago, which marked the end of a nearly decade-long occupation.

Fun fact:

“Charlie Wilson’s War” is a 2007 American biographical comedy-drama based on the true story of Charlie Wilson, a former United States Congressman who played a key role in supporting the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet-Afghan War of the 1980s.

The film is notable for its depiction of the complex and often murky world of international politics and covert operations. It also highlights the unintended consequences of the US’s support for the Afghan mujahideen, which included the rise of the Taliban and the emergence of al-Qaeda.


Why did the Soviet Union invade Afghanistan?

  • Establish influence: The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 in an attempt to support a friendly communist government (Saur Revolution) that had seized power in Kabul earlier that year.
  • Prevent radicalization of its southern states: The Soviet Union saw the situation in Afghanistan as an opportunity to extend its influence in the region and to protect its southern borders from Islamic fundamentalism.
  • Countering US influence in Pakistan: The Soviet Union was concerned about the possibility of the United States gaining a foothold in Afghanistan and potentially using it as a base for attacks against the Soviet Union.

What led to its withdrawal?

  • US-powered rebel groups: The Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan faced fierce opposition from Afghan rebel groups, who were supported by the US and trained by Pakistan hoping that the jihadis would wage war on India and liberate Kashmir.
  • Huge casualties: The conflict turned into a protracted and costly war that lasted almost a decade, with the Soviet Union suffering significant casualties and eventually withdrawing its troops in 1989.
  • Fall of USSR: After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the Afghan government, which had been propped up by the Soviet Union, soon collapsed, and the country plunged into a civil war.

Aftermath: Radicalization of Afghanistan

  • Rise of Taliban: Various factions vied for power, and the Taliban emerged as a dominant force. The Taliban, a hardline Islamist group, took control of the country in 1996 and imposed a strict interpretation of Islamic law. This rule was marked by brutality and oppression, including the widespread use of public executions, amputations, and other forms of punishment.
  • Safe havens for terror: The group provided a safe haven for Al Qaeda, which was responsible for the 9/11 attacks in the US.

How US came to Afghanistan?

  • In response to the 9/11 attacks, the United States led a coalition of forces in an invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
  • The Taliban was quickly ousted from power, and a new ‘democratic’ government was established.
  • However, the conflict continued, and the Taliban gradually regained strength, launching attacks on government forces and civilian targets.

Why did the US left Afghanistan?

In August 2021, the US completed its withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, marking the end of a 20-year-long military presence in the country.  It decided to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan for several reasons-

  • Massive cost: The conflict had lasted for two decades, and the United States had spent over $2 trillion on the war effort.
  • Huge casualties: The number of lives lost by the United States in the war in Afghanistan is a matter of debate, but it is estimated that more than 2,400 US military personnel were killed in the conflict.
  • Mission accomplished: The US had achieved many of its initial objectives in Afghanistan, such as dismantling Al Qaeda’s infrastructure and removing the Taliban from power.
  • Foreign policy shift: The withdrawal of US forces was part of a broader shift in US foreign policy towards a focus on great power competition, particularly with China and Russia.
  • America first policy: The US had also sought to end what it saw as “endless wars” in the Middle East and refocus its attention on domestic priorities.

Assessing Taliban rule now

Since taking control of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban has taken a number of steps to consolidate its power and impose its ideology on the Afghan people. Some of the ways in which the Taliban has been accused of ruining Afghanistan are:

  • Imposing Sharia: The Taliban is an Islamist extremist group that seeks to impose its strict interpretation of Islamic law on the country.
  • Human rights abuses: The Taliban has been accused of committing widespread human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, summary executions, and forced disappearances.
  • Oppression of women: The group has also targeted women and girls, imposing strict dress codes and limiting their access to education and employment.
  • Restrictions on free speech and the press: The Taliban has cracked down on freedom of expression and the press, shutting down independent media outlets and arresting journalists and activists who oppose their rule.
  • Economic and humanitarian crisis: The Taliban’s takeover has caused an economic and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, with many people struggling to access basic necessities like food and medical care.
  • International isolation: Many countries have suspended aid and diplomatic relations with Afghanistan, and the UN has expressed concern about the group’s human rights record.

How is India helping the Afghan people cause?

India has been actively involved in providing humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan, especially in the wake of the Taliban’s return to power. Some of the ways in which India is helping the Afghan people are:

  • Providing food and medical aid: India has sent several consignments of food and medical aid to Afghanistan, including wheat, medicines, and other essential supplies. The aid is being delivered through various channels, including the Afghan Red Crescent Society and the UN.
  • Supporting refugees: India has a long history of providing support to Afghan refugees, and the government has pledged to continue this tradition in the wake of the Taliban’s return to power. India has said it will grant visas to Afghan nationals who are seeking refuge, and the government has also set up a new portal to streamline the visa application process.
  • Diplomatic efforts: India has been working to build international support for the Afghan people, and the government has been in touch with various countries and international organizations to coordinate relief efforts. India has also called for an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan that respects the rights of all Afghan citizens, including women and minorities.


  • The situation in Afghanistan is complex and challenging, and there are no easy solutions.


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