Context:

On July 2, U.S. troops departed from the Bagram Air Base that coordinated the 20-year-long war in Afghanistan, effectively ending their military operations in the country.

Relevance:

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

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Why did the U.S. invade Afghanistan?
  2. Why is the U.S. pulling back?
  3. What does Pakistan want?
  1. India: time to be wary
  2. Why is India reaching out to the Taliban?

Why did the U.S. invade Afghanistan?

  • Weeks after the September 11, 2001 (9/11) terrorist attacks, U.S. President George W. Bush declared war on Afghanistan. Mr. Bush said the Taliban regime had turned down his demand to hand over al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, who plotted the attacks.
  • Inside Afghanistan, the NATO coalition troops led by the U.S. quickly dislodged the Taliban regime and established a transitional government.
  • In 2003, the then U.S. Defense Secretary announced that major military operations in the country were over.
  • The U.S. focus shifted to the Iraq invasion, while in Afghanistan, western powers helped build a centralised democratic system and institutions. But that neither ended the war nor stabilised the country.

Why is the U.S. pulling back?

  • Presidents, starting with Barack Obama, had promised to bring American troops back home from Afghanistan after the U.S. had reached the conclusion long ago that the war was unwinnable.
  • In 2015, the Obama administration had sent a representative to the first-ever meeting between the Taliban and the Afghan government that was hosted by Pakistan
  • Later, President Donald Trump appointed a special envoy for Afghanistan with a mandate to directly negotiate with the Taliban.
  • In the agreement, the Trump administration promised that it would withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by 2021.

What does Pakistan want?

  • Pakistan was one of the three countries that had recognised the Taliban regime in the 1990s. The Taliban captured much of the country with help from Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence.)
  • After the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan’s military dictator Pervez 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 Taliban’s Rahbari Shura, a group composed of their top leaders. In Pakistan, the Taliban regrouped, raised money and recruits, planned military strategy and staged a comeback in Afghanistan.
  • The fractious Kabul government, faced with corruption allegations, incompetence, and the excesses of the invading forces, made matters easier for the Taliban.
  • Now, when the U.S. is leaving and the Taliban are advancing, Pakistan is again in the spotlight. A violent military takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban may not serve Pakistan’s core interests. Pakistan 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 a 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, which would also allow Rawalpindi to stabilise its conflict-ridden western border. But it’s not clear whether Pakistan has the capacity to shape the post-American outcome in Afghanistan.

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.

Why is India reaching out to the Taliban?

  • A Qatari official said that India made contacts with the Taliban in Doha. New Delhi has not denied reports of its outreach to the Taliban. This signals a late but realist acknowledgement from the Indian side that the Taliban would play a critical role in Afghanistan in the coming years. 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 Rawalpindi; three, making sure that the Pakistan-backed anti-India terrorist groups do not get support from the Taliban.
  • In the past, India chose not to engage the Taliban and the costs were dear when the Taliban was in power. This time, New Delhi seems to be testing another policy.

-Source: The Hindu

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