Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

The great Afghan microcosm


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Importance of Afghanistan in regional strategic matrix

The article highlights how players at 3 levels: global, regional and local level influence Afghan dynamics.

Role of global powers in Afghanistan

1) What the US exit from Afghanistan mean

  • The exit of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan underlines the end of the unipolar moment in international affairs.
  • Ending US military involvement, however, does not necessarily make Washington marginal to the future evolution of Afghanistan.
  • The US remains the most significant global power even after the end of the unipolar moment.
  • Its ability to weigh in on multiple issues is considerable.
  • President Joe Biden is under some pressure at home not to be seen as abandoning Afghanistan.
  • Nor can the US President ignore the dangers of Afghanistan re-emerging as a breeding ground for international terrorism.
  • The US will figure prominently in any Taliban strategy to win international diplomatic recognition and political legitimacy.
  • It will also need Western economic assistance for stabilising the war-torn country.

2) Russia’s role in Afghanistan

  • Russia is determined to play an important role in the future of Afghanistan.
  • As a member of the UNSC, the joint leader of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation with China, and a major source of weapons, Russian clout is real.
  • Above all, Putin brings plenty of political will to compensate for Moscow’s loss of superpower status as we have seen across the world, from Venezuela to Myanmar and Mozambique to Syria.

3) How China will benefit from the US withdrawal

  • If the US is a distant power, China is Afghanistan’s neighbour.
  • Unlike Russia, China can deliver massive economic resources to Afghanistan under the umbrella of the Belt and Road Initiative.
  • China’s expanding relations with the different nations of the Gulf and Central Asia and a deep partnership with Pakistan lends much potential depth to Beijing’s role in Afghanistan.
  • Both Kabul and the Taliban have seen China as a valuable partner in the pursuit of their divergent interests.
  • Beijing has often talked of extending the China Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan.
  • However, China is vulnerable to the extremist politics of the region that fan the flames of religious and ethnic separatism in its Xinjiang province.

Regional powers influencing Afghan dynamics

  • One of the biggest concern about the Afghan future is the kind of influence Islamic radicals might regain in the country under Taliban rule and its consequences for the subcontinent, Central Asia, and the Middle East.
  • Pakistan and Iran, which share long physical borders, have had the greatest natural influence on land-locked Afghanistan.
  • When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were the only countries other than Pakistan to recognise the government-run by its leader, Mullah Omar.
  • They have taken a back seat in the current round of Afghan diplomacy, but would certainly return to the centre stage sooner than later.
  • Meanwhile, bold Qatar and ambitious Turkey have injected themselves into the Afghan jousting.

Influence of local actors

  • The local actors in Afghanistan have agency of their own.
  • All of them know how to manipulate external powers for their own ends in Afghanistan.
  • The image of the Taliban as a creature of the Pakistan army is misleading, the Taliban is quite capable of making independent deals with the rest of the world.
  • The Taliban’s opponents, too, are likely to fight for their interests and will seek out external partners.

Consider the question “Discarding old hesitations and building new geopolitical coalitions will be critical for a successful Indian engagement with the Afghan microcosm. Comment.” 


Several contentions unfolding in and around Afghanistan promise to reorder the region again. Delhi needs much strategic activism to secure its interests and promote regional stability in this flux.

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