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:
- One, protecting its investments, which run into billions of rupees, in Afghanistan;
- Two, preventing a future Taliban regime from being a pawn of the ISI;
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.