Context:

The U.S. President Biden has announced withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 (20th anniversary of the 9/11).

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (India’s Neighbours, Foreign Policies affecting India’s Interests)

Mains Questions:

What are the implications of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan for the Afghan govt, the Taliban, and neighbours India, Pakistan and China? (10 Marks)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. A victory for the Taliban?
  2. Concerns: ‘No excuse for war’
  3. Pakistan: gains, concerns
  4. India: time to be wary
  5. What is expected by Russia, China & Iran?
  6. Way Forward for India: Making a leap

A victory for the Taliban?

  • Violent attacks in Afghanistan have spiked since the signing of the US-Taliban agreement in Doha in 2020 to end the protracted war. The Taliban deny involvement in these attacks, but their refusal to agree to a nationwide ceasefire has raised doubts about their intentions.
  • The result of the upcoming Afghan conference in Turkey in April 2021, will determine how the withdrawal of US troops will impact the future of the country – If the conference succeeds in forming a government that includes Taliban and other Afghans, then the damage of such a hurried exit from Afghanistan will be manageable. However, Afghanistan could face an all-out civil war if the conference fails, and the Taliban continue to reject peace.
  • The US decision to pull out all troops from Afghanistan would also leave President Ashraf Ghani’s elected government at the mercy of militants.
  • The Taliban have always rejected elections as un-Islamic, and the government of Afghanistan as a “puppet” of the US.
  • It is also important to note that the Taliban are not the only threat to Afghan forces; other militant groups, such as “Islamic State” (IS), have also gained a foothold in the war-ravaged country.

Concerns: ‘No excuse for war’

  • Concerns is great that gains made over the past two decades, especially in the area of women’s rights, could be lost as the Taliban unleash further violence.
  • It is unclear whether the Taliban would agree to protecting human rights and freedom of speech in Afghanistan.
  • There is also the view that the withdrawal announcement could also put the Taliban into a difficult position as the international community expects the Taliban to join the political process and there is no excuse to continue the war.

Pakistan: gains, concerns

  • The Taliban are a creation of the Pakistani security establishment and after the US invasion of Afghanistan, they removed themselves to safe havens in Pakistan territory, and the Taliban High Council operated from Quetta in Balochistan.
  • It was Pakistan that persuaded the Taliban to do a deal with the Trump Administration.
  • For the Pakistani Army, which has always seen Afghanistan in terms of “strategic depth” in its forever hostility with India, a Taliban capture of Afghanistan would finally bring a friendly force in power in Kabul after 20 years.
  • India, which has had excellent relations with the Karzai and Ghani governments, would have its significance and importance reduced.
  • Pakistan wants a strong role for the Taliban in future Afghan governance. Pakistan’s regional interests are better served with a powerful Taliban presence in its western neighborhood.
  • But a US withdrawal also means Pakistan will need to shoulder the entire burden of the chaos that experts predict.
  • Civil war is not ruled out and with it, the flow of refugees into Pakistan once again, even as the country struggles with refugees from the first Afghan war.
  • All this at a time when the economy is flailing, and Pakistan stays afloat on an IMF loan with strict conditionalities.
  • Plus, the Taliban are not a monolith, and have recently shown streaks of independence from Pakistan. It has to guard against instability in Afghanistan from spilling over the border.

India: time to be wary

  • New Delhi, which was hoping to be part of the U.S. initiative, would be nervous about the US withdrawal.
  • India was on the outer edges of the Trump’s actions towards the Afghan deal and was a reluctant supporter of the “intra-Afghan talks” between the Taliban and Afghan government.
  • The new U.S. proposal gave India a role, by recognising it as a regional stakeholder, but this proposal seems to have no future. – Haqqani group, fostered by the ISI, would have a large role in any Taliban regime – and this is one of India’s worries.
  • Another concern would be India-focused militants such as Laskhar- e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohamed, which the Indian security establishment already believes to have relocated in large numbers to Afghanistan.

What dents India’s goodwill?

  • The building blocks of that goodwill are India’s assistance in infrastructure projects, health care, education, trade and food security, and also in the liberal access to Afghans to study, train and work in India.
  • India’s example as a pluralistic, inclusive democracy also inspires many.
  • Afghanistan’s majority-Muslim citizens, many of whom have treated India as a second home, have felt cut out of the move to offer fast track citizenship to only Afghan minorities, as much as they have by reports of anti-Muslim rhetoric and incidents of violence in India.
  • India’s assistance of more than $3 billion in projects, trade of about $1 billion, a $20 billion projected development expenditure of an alternate route through Chabahar, as well as its support to the Afghan National Army, bureaucrats, doctors and other professionals for training in India should assure it a leading position in Afghanistan’s regional formulation.
  • It would be a mistake, at this point, to tie all India’s support in only to Kabul or the Ghani government; the government must strive to endure that its aid and assistance is broad-based, particularly during the novel coronavirus pandemic to centres outside the capital, even if some lie in areas held by the Taliban.

What is expected by Russia, China & Iran?

China

  • China would have much to lose from instability in Afghanistan as this could have an impact on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. A Taliban regime in Afghanistan might end up stirring unrest in the Xinjiang Autonomous region, home to the Uighur minority. Conversely, as an ally of Pakistan, it could see a bigger role for itself in Afghanistan.

Russia

  • In recent years, Russia has taken on the role of peacemaker in Afghanistan, but both the Taliban and the Afghan government have been wary of its efforts.
  • After a conference in March 2021 of Russia, US, China and Pakistan, along with Taliban and Afghan delegates, a joint statement by the four principals said they did not support the establishment of an Islamic Emirate, leaving the Taliban angry.
  • Russia’s growing links with Pakistan could translate into a post-US role for Moscow in Afghanistan.

Iran

  • As a country that shares borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan, Iran perceives active security threats from both. And a Taliban regime in Kabul would only increase this threat perception.
  • Despite the mutual hostility and the theological divide between the two, Iran opened channels to the Taliban a few years ago, and recently, even hosted a Taliban delegation at Tehran.

Way Forward for India: Making a leap

  • India must also pursue opportunities to fulfil its role in the peace efforts in Afghanistan, starting with efforts to bridge the Ghani-Abdullah divide, and bringing together other major leaders with whom India has built ties for decades.
  • An understanding between Iran and the U.S. on Afghanistan is necessary for lasting peace as well, and India could play a mediatory part, as it did in order for the Chabahar project.
  • New Delhi should use the United Nations’s call for a pause in conflicts during the novel coronavirus pandemic, to ensure a hold on hostilities with Pakistan.
  • If there is one lesson that the the U.S.-Taliban talks have imparted, it is that both have found it necessary to come to the table for talks on Afghanistan’s future.
  • For India, given its abiding interest in Afghanistan’s success and traditional warmth for its people, making that leap should be a bit easier.
  • Above all, the government must consider the appointment of a special envoy, as it has been done in the past, to deal with its efforts in Afghanistan, which need both diplomatic agility and a firmness of purpose at a watershed moment in that country’s history.

Conclusion

An inclusive peace process, involving the meaningful participation of women, youth and victims, upholding the human rights of every Afghan is the only path to peace. While each country seeks to align its engagement policy to its respective strategic objectives, the overarching goal for all is peace in Afghanistan. A consensus among major international stakeholders about how to deal with the Taliban is of utmost importance.

-Source: Indian Express

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