The US and NATO forces have decided to leave Afghanistan. The US has set a deadline of 11th September 2021- two decades to the day since the felling of the World Trade Centre. Taliban swept across Afghanistan in just 10 days, taking their first provincial capital on 6 August. As of 16th August 2021, every inch of Afghan territory, including the national capital Kabul is under the control of the Taliban; a terrorist organization that is responsible for countless terrorist incidents across the globe.  

Their lightning advance prompted tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, many arriving in the Afghan capital, others heading for neighboring countries. President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on 15th August. The Taliban’s return to rule brings an end to almost 20 years of a US-led coalition’s presence in the country. 

Who are the Taliban and what is their Ideology? 

The Taliban, or “students” in the Pashto language, emerged in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. It originally drew members from so-called “mujahideen” fighters who, with support from the United States, repelled Soviet forces.  

The promise made by the Taliban – in Pashtun areas straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan – was to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power. 

Background: 

Taliban captured power in Afghanistan in 1996. They captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, overthrowing the regime of President Burhanuddin Rabbani. By 1998, the Taliban were in control of almost 90% of Afghanistan. During its five years in power, the Taliban enforced a strict version of sharia law. Women were predominantly barred from working or studying and were confined to their homes unless accompanied by a male guardian. 

  • Public executions and floggings were common, Western films and books were banned, and cultural artifacts seen as blasphemous under Islam were destroyed. Opponents and Western countries accuse the Taliban of wanting to return to this style of governance in the areas it already controls – a claim the group denies. 
  • The Taliban also banned television, music, and cinema, and disapproved of girls aged 10 and over going to school. They were accused of various human rights and cultural abuses. 
  • One notorious example was in 2001, when the Taliban went ahead with the destruction of the famous Bamiyan Buddha statues in central Afghanistan, despite international outrage. 
  • The attention of the world was drawn to the Taliban in Afghanistan in the wake of the 11 September 2001 World Trade Center attacks in New York. The Taliban were accused of providing a sanctuary for the prime suspects – Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda movement. 
  • On October 7, 2001, a US-led military coalition launched attacks in Afghanistan and led to the collapse of the Taliban regime. The Taliban spent 20 years waging an insurgency against U.S.-backed governments in Kabul. More than 100,000 civilians have been killed or injured in the fighting since 2009 
  • The Taliban have been accused, along with other groups, of planting improvised explosive devices in public places, often injuring civilians, and of waging an assassination campaign targeting prominent figures seen as Western or liberal. 
  • Despite ever higher numbers of foreign troops, the Taliban gradually regained and then extended their influence in Afghanistan, rendering vast tracts of the country insecure, and violence in the country returned to levels not seen since 2001. 
  • One of the most high-profile and internationally condemned all Pakistani Taliban attacks took place in October 2012, when schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai was shot on her way home in the town of Mingora. Taliban continued to target Afghan security forces and civilians, advancing rapidly across the country. 

US-Taliban peace-talks: 

The group entered direct talks with the US back in 2018. On 29 February 2020, the first peace treaty was signed between the US and the Taliban. It committed the US to withdrawal and the Taliban to prevent attacks on US forces. Later on, the Afghan government also signed a peace treaty. It only empowered the Taliban by calling for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan without providing a stable, strong, and more importantly determined government that could have handled the Taliban offensive. 

In the year following the US-Taliban peace deal of February 2020 – which was the culmination of a long spell of direct talks – the Taliban appeared to shift their tactics from complex attacks in cities and on military outposts to a wave of targeted assassinations that terrorized Afghan civilians. The targets were journalists, judges, peace activists, women in positions of power – suggested that the Taliban had not changed their extremist ideology, only their strategy. 

Despite grave concerns from Afghan officials over the government’s vulnerability to the Taliban without international support, the new US president, Joe Biden, announced in April 2021 that all American forces would leave the country by 11 September. 

Why did the US leave Afghanistan? 

The US leaves Afghanistan abruptly without completing its objective of eliminating terrorism in the country. It can be seen as a dismal failure of US policy. The move has put many countries in shambles as it was unexpected from a big power like the United States which has a well-equipped and Trained Army with modern weapons to fight the Taliban.  

The following can be the possible reasons: 

  • Overseas wars can be costly and the U.S. must turn to its own economic recovery. 
  • The US/ISAF commanders would have looked at the strategic outlook and saw they would be fighting there for a very long time and their continued presence was not justifiable. 
  • Thus, withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan proved to be a geopolitical mistake? Did it leave a power vacuum that religious radicals will fill? All these are a matter of debate that doesn’t really have an answer at least, not a clear and concise one.  
  • But what the USA should have avoided was leaving behind modernized weapons. Taliban now have M16, advanced military choppers among many other types of equipment. This can destabilize every country around Afghanistan and pose a severe security threat to the region and subsequently to the entire world. 

Impact of the move on Afghanistan: 

  • Afghanistan’s economic activities are tied to U.S. military presence or international aid. The country’s biggest export is opium. Its biggest import is weapons. 
  • Nearly three-quarters of the population can’t read or write (including seven out of eight women). Afghan society is characterized by extreme poverty and widespread criminality. The Afghan government back by the US and its allies is weak and corrupt. There are chronic shortages of housing, jobs, electricity, and medical care. 
  • Twenty years of continuous warfare had devastated Afghanistan’s infrastructure and economy. 
  • The complete takeover of the country in a quick offensive that saw provinces and warlords give up without a fight. This has put the fate of millions of Afghanistan residents and the security of the country at stake. 

Impact on India:  

Though India does not have a direct boundary with Afghanistan, this turmoil is definitely going to have an impact. With the US exiting Afghanistan, the Taliban becomes stronger but for India the future is unknown. 

Giving recognition to Taliban-the biggest Dilemma: 

The first and foremost dilemma before the Government will be recognition of the Taliban as Afghanistan’s government. Countries like China, Pakistan, Russia, and many Islamic countries have already shown signs that they would recognize the Taliban. India used to support Northern Alliance which fought the Taliban when this terrorist organization was in power the last time. If India opposes the Taliban openly then it might invite the Taliban to directly spread terrorism in Kashmir. If India recognizes the Taliban government, then they would contradict their own stand which has always been supportive of civilian government in Afghanistan. Thus, giving recognition to the Taliban’s non-democratic government is the biggest dilemma India is facing currently and has put India in a very uncomfortable position. 

Terrorism can loom:  

ISI and Pak army supports Taliban and they may use it against India. There might be a rise in terrorist activities. Pakistan will leverage the help it provided to the Taliban to seek the Taliban’s help in spreading terrorism in India, especially Kashmir. There have been reports that talk about Pakistan has sent fighters for supporting the Taliban. Taliban has shielded many Pakistani militants in the past.  

Taliban has recently clarified its stand with respect to Kashmir Issue and will not seek to interfere in the matters of other nations. But the terrorism card will loom because of Pakistan’s presence. 

Also, believing a terrorist organization’s assurance of not meddling in Kashmir, an organization that openly says that the entire world will be under Islamic rule one day, will be naive. Radical ideologies of the Taliban will be a security threat not only for India but for the whole region of South Asia. 

India’s investments: 

India has many valuable investments in Afghanistan, a strategic friend of India. Some of them were important for India’s strategic interest like the $150 million Zaranj-Delaram highway which provides access to Iran’s Chabahar port, which is key to India’s interest in the region. Apart from this, India under the Modi government built the Afghan parliament building costing $90million. 

The 40 MW Salma dam is another important investment. Apart from this, India has funded a total of approximately 400 infrastructure projects in different provinces of Afghanistan. So, this takeover by the Taliban is a major setback for India which has been strategically helping Afghanistan, and all of a sudden, all the projects and investments go into the hands of terrorists.  

Impact on Energy security and trade: 

India has been one of the largest trade partners of Afghanistan in recent times. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, which carries major political and strategic repercussions for India, will also hit a specific sector of the Indian market — dry fruit trade and trade in spices. Bilateral trade between India and Afghanistan will be impacted significantly.  

India’s energy security will also be compromised. India imports petroleum products, Co, Fe, Li, etc. from Afghanistan which can be impacted by the crisis. 

Evacuation of Indians:  

The safe evacuation of Indian nationals is a major issue for India right now. A large number of Indians are already evacuated but many are still stranded there. 

An Air India flight was able to fly out carrying 129 passengers from Kabul to Delhi, but since then, the chaos at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport has meant commercial flights are unable to ply, and for the moment Kabul airspace has been closed. With thousands of desperate Afghans seeking to leave the country, the tarmac has been overrun by people blocking the airplanes from taking off or landing. 

Refugee crisis: 

There could be a refugee crisis in India and this needs to be closely monitored. The world powers, especially the USA will pressurize India to take more and more refugees. Also, there will be different heart-wrenching pictures that will be used to emotionally create an environment for taking in refugees. I hope that India does not bulge under pressure and only grant visas to Indian supporters and deep assets of India. Remember, India is already facing the Rohingya problem, and the Indian government has still not deported them. Another large influx of refugees will be catastrophic for India. 

Increase in Influence of China in the region: 

Many countries that have close ties with the USA, like the UK and India, have closed their embassies in Afghanistan, but China has not closed her embassy and has only advised her citizens to stay indoors. Chinese are particularly concerned with their project’s safety. Many projects going on are of strategic importance to China. China shares a border of 210 km, called the Wakhan border. This Wakhan corridor marks the entry point of CPEC into China. 

Moreover, China would engage with the Taliban to benefit from Afghanistan’s rich mineral deposits and incorporate Afghanistan into its Belt and Road Initiative. 

It can also be seen as an advantage to China. America’s withdrawal might be its efforts to advance a narrative of American decline and the rise of China’s influence in the region. 

An advantage to Pakistan:  

Pakistan has long been a difficult and disruptive neighbour to Afghanistan, hoping to limit India’s influence there. A strong democratic Afghan government aligned with India can potentially encircle Pakistan.  

It has augmented Afghanistan’s instability by providing intelligence, weapons, and protection to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. 

Pakistan has repeatedly denied that it was the architect of the Taliban enterprise, but there is little doubt that many Afghans who initially joined the movement were educated in madrassas (religious schools) in Pakistan. Many senior Taliban leaders reportedly took refuge in the Pakistani city of Quetta, from where they guided the Taliban. 

Pakistan was also one of only three countries, along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which recognized the Taliban when they were in power in Afghanistan. It was also the last country to break diplomatic ties with the group. 

Pakistan will use this to its fullest advantage to counter India and increase its terrorist activities. 

Way forward: 

The first and forefront task with the Indian government is to rescue every Indian and India’s assets from Afghanistan. India should not open her stance at least till every Indian and India’s assets are rescued.  

India’s influence with the new government is likely to be considerably curtailed, as Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban remains strong. Regardless of whether or not India recognizes the Taliban as the legitimate ruler in Afghanistan, the government will have to open channels of communication to engage the Taliban. 

Those links will have to be broadened in order to ensure the safety of Indians and the Embassy in Kabul to start with, but also logistical requirements, like using Afghan airspace, transit trade, humanitarian assistance, etc in the future.  

India can stick to “wait and watch” as of now and watch on the developments closely and decide accordingly. After taking over the presidency of the United Nations Security Council in August, India has a huge role to play in this issue and in ensuring peace and prosperity for the people of Afghanistan and the world as a whole. 

  

  

  

  

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