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The Context: USA President Biden has announced the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The development has deep implications on the South Asia region and will impact regional stability at a large scale. In this article, we will analyze the opportunities and challenges for India after the USA withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The USA Withdrawal from Afghanistan: All You Need to Know
|The Present Development
|• In April 2021, US President Joe Biden announced that all American troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 11 of 2021, thus bringing to end the country's longest war, spanning across two decades.
• Following suit, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will also pull out its troops from the war-torn country.
|Background of the Withdrawal
|• The longest-running conflict in US history, the war in Afghanistan has led to the deaths of nearly 2,400 American troops, and cost the country around $2 trillion.
• After contemplating for months since winning the election, Biden has decided that US troops should not remain in Afghanistan
• In 2009, as Vice-President under Barack Obama, Biden had strongly opposed expanding the US military presence in the country and maintained that its goal should be restricted to counterterrorism missions.
• But despite his arguments, Washington went on to increase its number of troops from 36,000 in 2009 to almost 1 lakh in 2010. It was only after the killing of Osama bin Laden by a SEAL team in Pakistan’s Abbottabad in 2011 that the US began winding down its presence in Afghanistan.
|Why did the U.S. Invade Afghanistan?
|• After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the USA declared war on Afghanistanby saying that the Taliban had turned down USA 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.
• The U.S. rejected an offer from the Taliban to surrender and vowed to defeat the insurgents in every corner of Afghanistan.
|Why is the U.S. Pulling Back?
|• The U.S. had concluded long ago that the war was unwinnable. Presidents, starting with Barack Obama, had promised to bring American troops back home from Afghanistan. But the U.S. wanted a face-saving exit.
• In July 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.
• The talks did not progress as the Afghan government disclosed after the first round that Taliban leader Mullah Omar had died two years earlier.
• Later, President Donald Trump appointed a special envoy to directly negotiate with the Taliban. That envoy and his team held talks with Taliban representatives in Doha that led to the February 2020 agreement between the U.S. and the insurgents.
• In the agreement, the USA promised that it would withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. After that, President Joe Biden endorsed the deal but pushed the deadline for withdrawal to September 11.
What does the USA Withdrawal from Afghanistan Signify for different Stakeholders?
|• The departure of troops will leave a security void that will create even greater instability in Afghanistan.
• The US has handed Afghanistan back to the Taliban. The Taliban are stronger than they have ever been since 2001 and are in complete control of over 30 percent of Afghanistan’s area.
• Once US troops completely withdraw, the Afghan security forces devoid of their intelligence and firepower will be simply unable to withstand the Taliban and they could just storm into Kabul as they did in 1996 and re-establish the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan.
• Afghanistan could slip back to medieval anarchy of hardline Islamism, with women banned from jobs or education not even permitted to move freely and minorities under constant threat.
|There were two prime objectives for the USA to invade Afghanistan
• The USA was succeeding to achieve its primary object i.e.: to defeat the terrorism of Al-Qaida and Take revenge for the 9/11 attack by killing Osama it was failed on the ideological front and did not establish a peaceful democracy. This is a major defeat for the USA.
|• This is a moment of both vindication and concern in Islamabad. The Taliban are a creation of the Pakistani security establishment.
• 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.
• For Pakistan, it is a moment of vindication. The US withdrawal will create turbulence in Afghanistan which they could use to enable the Taliban to come into power.
• This would give them a pliant leadership in Kabul which will provide it much-vaunted ‘strategic depth’. They could also use it to fan the flames in Kashmir as was done in the early 90s.
• All this at a time when the economy is flailing, and Pakistan stays afloat on an IMF loan with strict conditionality, and the Taliban are not a monolith.
• It has to guard against instability in Afghanistan from spilling over the border. Pakistan’s eastern front with India is quiet at the moment, so that is one headache less, but it would remain a concern for the Pakistan Army.
|Russia along with Central Asian Countries
|• 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.
• The U.S. exit from Afghanistan is a security headache for Moscow which fears spiraling fighting may push refugees into its Central Asian backyard and destabilize its southern defensive flank.
• Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors - Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan - with whom Afghanistan shares its longest border have bolstered border security in the backdrop of a Taliban takeover of the border crossings.
• Russia held many talks to establish peace in Afghanistan after the USA withdrawal. In November 2018 Russia invited the Taliban for a talk. After that, it held another peace talk in March 2021 and the next peace talk is going to be held in mid-August 2021.
• After a conference in March of Russia, the 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.
|• In conjunction with Pakistan, China will also seek to reestablish its influence and perhaps use its economic clout to extend CPEC there. Afghanistan's location fits in well with China's long-term strategic plans.
• 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.
• China is willing to work with the Taliban in Afghanistan. In August 2021 China's foreign ministry welcomed Taliban Official in Beijing which shows that China is ready to work with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
- The US withdrawal will have grave implications for India. Their presence provided a security umbrella for the government and even our interests there.
- India had very good ties with the democratically elected government in Kabul and had earned a tremendous reservoir of goodwill there.
- India has invested heavily in infrastructure projects like the making of the Parliament Building, the development of Kabul’s electricity grid, the Zaranj – Delaram road, and many other projects.
- On the other hand, we have never had good ties with the Taliban and their role in the hijacking of IC 814 to Kandahar still rankles.
- Our influence in Afghanistan and our very presence will be at risk should the Taliban come to power in the aftermath of the US withdrawal.
- India has repeatedly expressed its concern and is in favor of a two-pronged approach for Afghanistan: Encourage the warring sides to agree to total ceasefire and bring them to the negotiating table for them to draw up a political agreement on their own.
- Moreover, the first action by India after taking over the presidency of the United Nations Security Council is to convene a meeting to discuss the worsening situation in Afghanistan.
Opportunities for India
|To Deal with Elected Government
|• This is an opportunity for India to deal with the elected government for the establishment of democracy in a strong manner. It will help India to keep out the Taliban.
|Training and Equipment to Defence Forces
|• Although, the USA will withdrawal its troop from Afghanistan it will continue the training and other aid to Afgan forces. India should use this development as an opportunity and try to play an active role in the post-USA scenario.
|Regional Stability and Peace
|• India may seek to use its role in regional efforts to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, like the recent UN effort, to press its goal of ensuring Afghan territory cannot be used by anti-India militants.
|• India should increase its economic cooperation with Afghanistan and help them to overcome the Covid-19 impact.
|Use its Goodwill Image
|• Without interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, India can still build partnerships between various stakeholders and raise the capacity and capability of its friends to resist the Taliban onslaught.
• Essentially, India will need to step beyond conventional and conservative diplomacy to play a more proactive role in supporting the Afghans.
Challenges for India
|• Ever since reconstruction work began in Afghanistan, India has invested over $3 billion in building roads, hospitals, schools, providing training, arms, and fighter aircraft to the Afghan armed forces. After the US withdrawal, India's investment will be at stake.
|• Taliban’s arrival on the centre stage will not only put India's economic interests at stake in Afghanistan, but it will also pose a huge security threat to India because Pakistan's prominence in Afghanistan will increase and Islamabad could use the Taliban against Indian’s interests there.
|Nexus Against India
|• Since Russia has also moved to improve ties with Pakistan and is more than keen to play an important role in Afghanistan's internal affairs, as evident from Moscow's peace talks with the Taliban last year, the possible emergence of a strategic China-Russia-Pakistan axis along with the Taliban, could jeopardize India’s position.
|• China is the most important regional player. With the help of Pakistan and Russia, it can influence Afgan policy which is not good for India.
• India has the ambition to bypass Pakistan to grow its relationship with middle Asia but china's influence can affect its policy.
• China recently signed a 400-Billion-dollar deal with Iran, which is another concern for India.
|Jammu and Kashmir
|• Many Taliban soldiers could move to India, especially to the Kashmir valley, to pursuit their Jihad. The insurgency in Kashmir has peaked in 1996 when the Taliban had captured power in Afghanistan.
Should India have Dialogue with the Taliban?
India should have a dialogue with the Taliban:
- The Taliban, no longer an untouchable force, control much of the country’s rural territories.
- The U.S. has already signed a deal with the Taliban, China welcomed the Taliban delegation, Russia hosted talks many times and European powers have also shown interest in sponsoring talks. So, India has to be more flexible and adapt to the new strategic reality.
- Russia called another meeting, namely troika plus, for bringing political reconciliation in Afghanistan. Although, Russia has invited the United States, Pakistan and China to the meeting and kept away India.
What kind of dialogue does India have with the Taliban?
- Since the fall of the Taliban, India has cultivated deep ties with the Afghan people and the government, with investments in multiple projects dealing with education, power generation, irrigation, and other infrastructure development.
- India should have a dialogue with the Taliban but continue the support to the elected government in terms of trani9ng the security and police forces, and rallying other countries to finance the Afghanistan government, in its efforts to ensure peace.
- India joining the peace process could strengthen the hands of the Afghan government, which is negotiating from a position of weakness.
- If the Taliban agrees to share power elected government, it is good but if it does not agree then the Indian government should try to support the elected government. If the Taliban takes power forcefully, it would not be acceptable for India.
- The question India faces, like the other stakeholders, is how to help Afghanistan end the violence without a total capitulation to the Taliban. New Delhi should, using its regional clout as well as its deep ties with both the U.S. and Russia for peace in Afghanistan.
What Should be the Way Forward for India?
|Broader Diplomatic Engagement
|• India should consider appointing a special envoy dedicated to Afghan reconciliation.
• The envoy can ensure that Indian views are expressed at every meeting, broaden engagement with the Afghan government and other political actors, and reach out to certain Taliban representatives.
|Continued Training and Investments
|• India should provide more military training to Afghan security forces and invest in longer-term capacity-building programs.
• It should actively support and invest in the National Directorate of Security (for example, by providing training and sharing intelligence).
• Finally, given the continued levels of violence and the impact of the coronavirus on the Afghan economy, India should expand its development assistance.
|Working With and Through Others
|• India should look to broaden its engagements with Iran and Russia, explore opportunities for cooperation (as limited as they might be) with China, and find common ground with the United States on Afghanistan’s future.
• This does not mean forcing competing interests to align; it means investing in a wider diplomatic initiative with the view to carving out areas of convergence.
Conclusion: Although, USA withdrawal brings adverse impacts in India’s Afghanistan policy. While the development brings many challenges for India but it also opens many opportunities to play an active role in Afghanistan. India needs to be careful to play its card in its Afghanistan policy.
Questions to Ponder
- ‘USA withdrawal from Afghanistan is both a challenge and an opportunity for India’. Comment on the statement.
- Discuss how the USA withdrawal from Afghanistan would impact India’s interests in Afghanistan?
- India needs to decide its role in Afghanistan, it is sure that India can’t be merely a spectator in the context of Afghanistan. Discuss the statement in light of recent developments.
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