US withdrawal from Afghanistan: Impact on India, Pakistan, and China
by Sitendu De
Image Source: Reuters
Taliban had always maintained that they will talk with the US and not with the Kabul government, which they did not recognise. The U.S. effectively accepted this demand and entered into direct talks with the insurgents. The February 2021 deal dealt with four aspects of the conflict — violence, foreign troops, intra-Afghan peace talks, and the use of Afghan soil by terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, which largely operate from Nangarhar in eastern Afghanistan. As per the agreement, the Taliban promised to reduce violence, join intra-Afghan peace talks, and cut all ties with foreign terrorist groups, while the U.S. pledged to withdraw all its troops.
As the US troops left the Bagram Airfield in the wee hours of 2nd July 2021, ending “Operation Enduring Freedom” which was mainly targeted against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The local Talibans started looting whatever arms and ammunition the Americans left behind.
After a 20-year-long unwinnable war in Afghanistan, the Americans made a face-saving exit which the present Afghan government took as a disgraceful act of the US. Ever since the U.S. troops began pulling out, the Taliban have made rapid territorial advances. The Taliban took control of 157 districts out of a total of 407. As the Taliban swept through northern Afghanistan, seizing dozens of districts and surrounding major cities. Afghan security forces meekly surrendered without a fight, leaving American-supplied equipment to the insurgents.
Since 2001 India had relied on the security guarantee of the US and also from the local allies to expand its strategic footprint over the region the present Afghan government is struggling to mount a counter-resistance to the Pakistani-backed Taliban which is slowly taking over all strategic locations. Kabul maintains that Pakistan's support for the Taliban is allowing the insurgents to overcome military pressure and carry forward with their agenda.
India’s dream project of building up the Chabahar port in Iran through which it can connect to the Central Asian countries bypassing the terrorist-infected state of Pakistan is now in jeopardy. India has made substantial investments in Afghanistan amounting to more than $ 3 Billion. This includes the construction of the Shahtoot Dam, 100 community development projects which include a sizeable number of hospitals, schools, technical institutes. India has also undertaken the strategic 218 kilometers Delaram- Zaranj highway, the Indo-Afghan friendship dam, and the Afghan Parliament building. While during these two decades India had contributed a lot to building up a new Afghanistan which had collapsed due to civil war. Except for breeding Talibans in different madrassas in Pakistan, it cannot boast of any significant contribution in rebuilding Afghanistan. Pakistan only acted as a “broker” for the US in ousting the Soviets from Afghanistan.
Pakistan was one of the main countries which had recognized the Taliban regime in 1990 when the Taliban captured much of the country with help from Pakistan’s ISI. Pervez Musharraf, under pressure from the US, had severed all “ties” with the Taliban and joined America’s war on terror but Pakistan started playing 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 scrappy Kabul government, faced with corruption, incompetence, and excesses of the invading forces, made matters easier for the Taliban to bounce back.
Now, when the U.S. has left Afghanistan soil the Taliban are once again back in the spotlight. A violent military takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban may not serve Pakistan’s interests. Pakistan now wants to check India’s influence in Afghanistan by bringing back the Taliban which they had nurtured over the years. A violent takeover, like the previous regime in the 1990s, would lack international acceptance and which would leave Afghanistan unstable for a foreseeable future. In such a scenario, Pakistan could face another influx of refugees from Afghanistan and strengthening of anti-Pakistan terror groups, such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban. Pakistan would rather prefer the Taliban being accommodated in power through peaceful talks which would also allow Rawalpindi to breathe a little bit easier on the western front.
To complicate India’s position further, China has jumped into the fray with projects like the Kabul-Peshawar highway so as to link Afghanistan to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). With a friend like Pakistan in tow, it makes an unprecedented geopolitical moment for India. China is a very politically adaptable country. Like we have seen in Myanmar where Beijing quickly adjusted to the post-February coup realities, throwing away a much-cultivated ally. In Afghanistan also, China would accept the rise of the Taliban and the propensity to delegate its Afghan policy to Islamabad. Added to this volatile situation will be the role of Iran seeing that their relationship with the US has nosedived. It is also opposed to a Pakistan controlled Sunni-dominated Taliban government in Kabul.
India has now a real challenge in its hand as the ground reality is changing fast. India has now four strategic objectives:
Prevent Pakistan from using Afghan soil against India which will be mainly directed in creating war proxies in Kashmir.
Substantial investment made in Afghanistan.
Preventing a future Taliban regime that will be remote-controlled from Rawalpindi.
Making sure that Pakistan-backed anti-India terrorist groups do not get support from the Taliban.
In the past, India chose not to engage the Taliban though it had backed the Northern Alliance and the costs were dear when the Taliban was in power. This time, talking to the Talibans would make sense as American withdrawal has turned the balance of power in the battleground in favour of the Taliban.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ytharth.
About the Author
Sitendu De got his education from St.George's Grammar School, Hyderabad and Post graduated from Osmania University, Hyderabad. He joined Cabinet Secretariat, New Delhi as an officer and was posted at different places in India. After serving for 20 years he joined the corporate world as a business strategist and recruiting new talents. He did Strategic Management Course from IIM (Calcutta). He is a prolific writer, specializes in geopolitical and human interactions. He lives in Kolkata with his wife and a son.