Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

What lies ahead for Afghanistan after US exit?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Turmoil in Afghanistan with US exit

The US troops are departing away after coordinating the 20-year-long war in Afghanistan, effectively ending their military operations in the country.

Why did the US invade Afghanistan?

  • Weeks after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the US declared war on Afghanistan.
  • It was then ruled by the Taliban.

Terror then gets safe heaven

  • Al-Qaeda’s leaders and key operatives fled to safe havens in Pakistan.
  • The US rejected an offer from the Taliban to surrender and vowed to defeat the insurgents in every corner of Afghanistan.
  • In 2003, US announced that major military operations in the country were over.
  • The US focus shifted to the Iraq invasion, while in Afghanistan, western powers helped build a centralized democratic system and institutions.
  • But that neither ended the war nor stabilised the country.

Why is the US pulling back?

  • The US had reached the conclusion long ago that the war was unwinnable.
  • It wanted a face-saving exit.

What are the terms of US exit?

  • Before the Doha talks started, the Taliban had maintained that they would hold direct talks only with the US, and not with the Kabul government, which they did not recognize.
  • The US effectively accepted this demand when they cut the Afghan government off the process and entered direct talks with the insurgents.
  • The deal dealt with four aspects of the conflict — violence, foreign troops, intra-Afghan peace talks and the use of Afghan soil by terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the IS.
  • According to the agreement, the Taliban promised to reduce violence, join intra-Afghan peace talks and cut all ties with foreign terrorist groups, while the US pledged to withdraw all its troops.

Present situation in Afghanistan

  • After the agreement was signed, the US put pressure on the Afghan government to release thousands of Taliban prisoners — a key Taliban precondition for starting intra-Afghan talks.
  • Talks between Taliban representatives and the Afghan government began in Doha in September 2020 but did not reach any breakthrough.
  • At present, the peace process is frozen. And the US is hurrying for the exit.
  • The Taliban reduced hostilities against foreign troops but continued to attack Afghan forces even after the agreement was signed.
  • Kabul maintains that the Pakistan support for the Taliban is allowing the insurgents to overcome military pressure and carry forward with their agenda.

Pakistani role in reviving Taliban

  • Pakistan was one of the three countries that had recognized the Taliban regime in the 1990s.
  • The Taliban captured much of the country with help from Pakistan’s ISI.
  • After the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan’s military dictator Musharraf, under pressure from the Bush administration, cut formal ties with the Taliban and joined America’s war on terror.
  • But Pakistan played a double game. It provided shelter to the Talabani leaders and regrouped their organization which helped them make a staged comeback in Afghanistan.
  • Pakistan successfully expected these groups to launch terror activities against India.

Again in the spotlight

  • A violent military takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban may not serve Pakistan’s core interests.
  • It wants to check India’s influence in Afghanistan and bring the Taliban to Kabul.
  • But a violent takeover, like in the 1990s, would lack international acceptability, leaving Afghanistan unstable for a foreseeable future.
  • In such a scenario, Pakistan could face another influx of refugees from Afghanistan and strengthening of anti-Pakistan terror groups, such as the Tehrik-i-Taliban.
  • From a strategic point of view, Pakistan would prefer the Taliban being accommodated in power through negotiations and a peaceful settlement.
  • But it’s not clear whether Pakistan has the capacity to shape the post-American outcome in Afghanistan.

Why is India reaching out to the Taliban?

  • India had made contacts with the Taliban in Doha. New Delhi has not denied reports of its outreach to the Taliban.
  • India has three critical areas in dealing with the Taliban:
  1. One, protecting its investments, which run into billions of rupees, in Afghanistan;
  2. Two, preventing a future Taliban regime from being a pawn of the ISI;
  3. Three, making sure that the Pakistan-backed anti-India terrorist groups do not get support from the Taliban.

Is the Afghanistan government doomed?

  • The American intelligence community has concluded that Kabul could fall within six months.
  • None of the global leaders are certain about the survival of the Afghan government.

Taliban is pacing its action

  • One thing is certain — the American withdrawal has turned the balance of power in the battleground in favour of the Taliban.
  • They are already making rapid advances, and could launch a major offensive targeting the city centers and provincial capitals once the last American leaves.

Future of Afghanistan

There seems three possibilities:

  1. One, there could be a political settlement in which the Taliban and the government agree to some power-sharing mechanism and jointly shape the future of Afghanistan. As of now, this looks like a remote possibility.
  2. Two, an all-out civil war may be possible, in which the government, economically backed and militarily trained by the West, holds on to its positions in key cities. This is already unfolding.
  3. A third scenario would be of the Taliban taking over the country.

Any nation planning to deal with Afghanistan should be prepared for all three scenarios.

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