Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

The fall of Kabul, the future of regional geopolitics

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Afghanistan issue and its implications for India

Context

The fall of Kabul in the wake of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan will prove to be a defining moment for the region and the future shape of its geopolitics.

Implications of the US withdrawal for India

1) Increase in threat from China

  • The manner in which the United States withdrew from Afghanist created the regional power vacuum in the Eurasian heartland.
  • An axis of regional powers such as China, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and the Taliban, have already started filling this power vacuum.
  • Advantageous for China: The post-American power vacuum in the region will be primarily advantageous to China and its grand strategic plans for the region.
  • BRI expansion: Beijing will further strengthen its efforts to bring every country in the region, except India, on the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative bandwagon, thereby altering the geopolitical and geoeconomic foundations of the region
  • The much-feared Chinese encirclement of India will become ever more pronounced.
  • Even in trade, given the sorry state of the post-COVID-19 Indian economy, India needs trade with China more than the other way round.
  • Unless India can find ways of ensuring a rapprochement with China, it must expect Beijing to challenge India on occasion, and be prepared for it.

2) Terror and extremism

  • The U.S. presence in Afghanistan, international pressure on the Taliban, and Financial Action Task Force worries in Pakistan had a relatively moderating effect on the region’s terror ecosystem.
  • There is little appetite for a regional approach to curbing terrorism from a Taliban-led Afghanistan.
  • This enables the Taliban to engage in a selective treatment towards terror outfits present there or they have relations with.
  • It is unlikely that the Taliban will proactively export terror to other countries unless of course for tactical purposes, for instance, Pakistan against India.
  • The real worry, however, is the inspiration that disgruntled elements in the region will draw from the Taliban’s victory against the world’s sole superpower.

3) Impact on India’s regional interests and outreach to Central Asia

  • The return of the Taliban to Kabul has effectively laid India’s ‘mission Central Asia’ to rest.
  • India’s diplomatic and civilian presence as well as its civilian investments will now be at the mercy of the Taliban, and to some extent Pakistan.
  • Had India cultivated deeper relations with the Taliban, Indian interests would have been more secure in a post-American Afghanistan.

4) Impact on India’s foreign policy choices

  • Shift to Indo-Pacific: Given the little physical access India has to its north-western landmass, its focus is bound to shift more to the Indo-Pacific even though a maritime grand strategy may not necessarily be an answer to its continental challenges.
  • Improving relations with neighbours: India might also seek to cultivate more friendly relations with its neighbours.
  • India has already indicated that it would not challenge the junta on the coup and its widespread human rights violations.
  • The last thing India needs now is an angry neighbour rushing to China.
  • Stability in relations with Pakistan: The developments in Afghanistan could nudge India to seek stability, if not peace, with Pakistan.
  • Both sides might refrain from indulging in competitive risk-taking unless something dramatic happens which is always a possibility between the two rivals.
  • That said, stability between India and Pakistan depends a great deal on how politics in Kashmir plays out, and whether India is able to pacify the aggrieved sections in the Valley.

Consider the question “What would be the fallout of the Taliban’s return in Afghanistan for India? What steps India needs to take to mitigate the impact on its interests?”

Conclusion

The lesson for India in the wake of these developments is clear: It will have to fight its own battles. So it must make enemies wisely, choose friends carefully, rekindle flickering friendships, and make peace while it can.

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