The Afghanistan crisis shows no signs of respite even after 18 years of war. What does the future hold for Afghanistan and especially for India? (250 Words)

Mentors Comments:
1. Start with the recent bombing incident.
2. Provide reasons for the extended conflict.
3. Mention all the implications, for Afghanistan and India.
4. Provide suitable solutions.

Answer:
With the passage of time, the conflict has not only become more intense – it has also become more complicated. A recent suicide attack at a crowded wedding hall in Kabul killed at least 63 people and injured more than 180 others. It is a tragic reminder of the security situation in Afghanistan.

The major factors responsible for the intensification of the Afghanistan conflict are as follows-
1. Both sides are trying to break the stalemate in their favor. Each side wants to increase its influence and seize more territory.
2. There are questions about the effectiveness of the US strategy and the lack of policy clarity since 2001. Tens of thousands of Taliban fighters have been killed, injured or captured since 2001, but their insurgency is not showing any signs of weakness.
3. The emergence of the Islamic State’s Khorasan branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan has taken the level of violence and brutality to new heights. The new group has claimed some of the deadliest attacks, mostly on civilian targets in urban centres.
4. As the idea of peace talks has gained momentum, the Taliban want to maximise their leverage and speak from a position of strength at the negotiating table.
5. The increasing tension between the US and regional players – especially Pakistan, Russia and Iran – is also having a negative impact. American and Afghan officials have accused these three countries of supporting the Taliban, which they deny.
6. In addition, the fragmented and polarised nature of Afghan society, which is made up of many different ethnic groups, has led to its multiple internal struggles which have gained support from the different external powers.
7. Due to its geographic position between the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia which has led to presence of external players.

The evolving geopolitical situation in Afghanistan holds significant economic, security and strategic implications for India, which remains popular in Afghanistan for its stabilizing presence and reconstruction efforts there.

1. Wrt Afghanistan
 Given the high frequency and spread of Taliban violence, the Afghan security forces are overstretched and, in some cases, overwhelmed. Afghan forces have been fighting hard to stop the Taliban’s expansion.
 But their casualty rate remains alarmingly high and appears to be increasing. Questions have been raised about the lack of robust and inspiring leadership, the timely supply of logistics, and corruption.
 The bickering between political and government leaders in Kabul is also having a negative impact on the smooth running of the government and the security situation.
 Threat of rising head ISIS.
 IS declared a province (Khorasan) in eastern Afghanistan and has emerged as the third player. Attacks against civilians, especially the Shia minority, is the central part of its brutal military tactics. Afghanistan’s Hazara Shias were the target of the wedding hall bombing.
 IS has demonstrated an ability to survive and strike in Afghanistan despite the U.S.’s heavy air campaign in the east.
 May thwart the ongoing peace process.

2. Wrt India-
 Rise of Taliban:
o India has two main interests in Afghanistan, which are, preventing any extremist group from taking over Afghanistan, and maintaining economic cooperation with the Afghan government and civil society.
o The Taliban has refused to negotiate with the current Afghan regime, deeming it to be illegitimate.
o The fears of Afghanistan returning to its heroin-sustained war-lordism are high probability.
 Increased Pakistan leverage:
o The reason for Taliban’s resilience is the support and succour it receives from Rawalpindi. Pakistan’s leverage in Afghanistan is set to grow.
o India’s Afghanistan policy has a major objective to curtail Islamabad’s influence in Kabul and deny Pakistan’s state and non-state agents leverage to plot against Indian interests.
 Unstable Kashmir:
o The Afghanistan crisis could affect the Kashmir Valley as terrorist outfits may feel empowered.
 Geopolitics in Asian Heartland:
o India’s problems are exacerbated at a time when its views on Afghanistan are at significant variance with other traditional regional partners like Russia and Iran.
o China is already making inroads into Afghanistan with her BRI project. The process will be further easier.
o Turkey is also eying an opportunity to play its role to safeguard the interests of Afghanistan’s Turkmen-Turkic community.

 Commercial Interests:
o India’s Afghanistan policy’s another objective is to gain access to vast energy markets in Central Asia, is also at stake.
o Afghanistan has an estimated 1 trillion USD of untapped resources according to a joint report of The Pentagon and US Geological Survey. If these resources get in the wrong hands, it can be disastrous. That is the reason behind not mining them in an unstable government regime. Afghanistan stability is in the best interest of the stability of India.
o India has presence in Afghanistan after the construction of the Chabahar Port in Iran and the highway that links it to Kabul.
o Indian infrastructure projects of Salma dam, Parliament building, infrastructure projects will be at stake.
o The recently started trade initiative between Afghanistan and India will be wiped out.

Way forward
 India has always supported for Afghanistan’s democracy. Use of her ‘soft power’ – ranging from telecommunications to education, community development programmes can be pushed forward.
 India’s best course with Afghanistan remains its own regional strategy, not becoming a part of any other country’s strategy.
 Playing a larger role in regional security would enhance the status of India as regional powers as well as the stability of South, Central, and West Asia.
 India must seek to build capacities and capabilities of Afghan nationals and its institutions for governance and delivery of public service, develop socio-economic infrastructure, secure lives and promote livelihood.
 Inactive SAARC must now be revived to strengthen the regional co-operation in South Asia.
 Tier-II diplomacy and involving other stakeholders: India, which has been against holding talks with the Taliban for a long time, finally sent two retired diplomats, at the ‘non-official level’, to join them at the Moscow peace talks.
 Continuing the efforts of implementing mega infrastructure projects, providing military equipments and training to Afghan personnel on the sidelines.
 Use of regional groupings like SCO to combat the terrorism emanating from Afghanistan.

Peace in Afghanistan and the wider region can only be achieved through a multilateral mechanism involving the US as well as major regional players, including Pakistan, Russia, Iran, China, India and Saudi Arabia. But in the end, it will be the dialogue among Afghans themselves which will determine the political future of their war-torn Afghanistan.

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