In stark contrast with Pakistan, which relied on hard power tools to pursue its foreign policy goals in Afghanistan, India opted for the soft power strategy --winning hearts and minds of Afghans by investing in common people through culture, building state capacities, and training and educating a new young professional Afghan class, writes Shraddha Nand Bhatnagar for South Asia Monitor
The instability in Afghanistan in the wake of the foreign troop withdrawal and a resurgent Taliban will pose a threat to the entire region and there will be a “spillover effect” of radical Islam, warned Amar Sinha, former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan, adding that Pakistan will be the first country to bear the brunt.
Calling the recent developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan “worrying and unexpected”, Sinha said, “There will be spillover effects of radical Islam. For Pakistan, the blowback has already started,” referring to the recent “dramatic rise” in attacks in Pakistan’s restive FATF and Baluchistan region.
"Other countries like China, Iran, and Russia--which wanted to see American troops out of Afghanistan--are now worried over what is coming next.," he added ominously.
The remarks came during a recent webinar, titled ‘US Exit from Afghanistan: Repercussions for Afghanistan, India, region and USA’, organized by the Indian American Friendship Association (IAFA) and moderated by Surendra Kumar, a retired Indian diplomat, last week.
In the last two months, the Taliban captured over 150 districts of Afghanistan’s over 400 districts, including in the areas not considered as the insurgent group’s traditional stronghold. Fighting has reached to borders of all countries which share boundaries with Afghanistan.
Spillover across borders
Speaking at the webinar, Farid Mamundzay, the Afghan envoy to India said, “History shows that conflict in Afghanistan doesn’t stay neatly within its border,” adding India would face challenges in the future.
Unlike the 90s, China today is the most powerful regional player and is set to play an important role in a future Talibanized Afghanistan, both politically and economically -- posing a direct challenge to Indian influence, Mamundzay suggested.
There is clear evidence that Pakistani fighters, associated with anti-Indian groups like Lashkar-e-Taeba and Hizbul Mujahidin, are fighting alongside the Afghan Taliban inside Afghanistan, posing direct threats to Indian interests.
Last week, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, citing intelligence assessment, said over 10,000 Pakistan insurgents crossed over into Afghanistan in the last two months alone. Reports also emerged showing the burial of Pakistan nationals in Quetta with the Taliban flag on their graves.
New Delhi may also face challenges within its own borders, given the domino effect of the Taliban’s ascendence for Jihadi movements of the region.
“A Taliban regime in Kabul will have serious implications for India,” Ram Madhav, a member of the Board of Governors of the India Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank, and a former national general secretary of India's ruling BJP, said during the discussion.
“Any such victory which is seen as the victory of radical Islamists forces will have a huge psychological impact on the forces in the region like Kashmir.”
He further argued the Afghan Taliban would likely remain preoccupied with internal dynamics of the conflict for a foreseeable time and the Pakistan element within the group (read Haqqani Network) would play a role “detrimental” to India. And, this is already evident by the Indian government’s recent move of evacuating its diplomats from its consulate in Kandahar city where the presence of the large Pakistan fighters was reported.
The aforementioned scenario isn’t new. In the late 90s, Pakistan-backed Kashmir militant groups had been operating camps in the eastern province of Khost. The camps were bombed by the famous American missile attack in 1998, which was originally intended for al-Qaeda fighters. Chances of it being repeated again this time are even more at a time when Pakistan is under FATA’s grey list.
Dealing with the Taliban
For India, whether to deal with the Taliban or not, that phase is over now, said Madhav, adding though it won’t be a “pleasant” experience dealing with them, citing examples of the past. “You can’t choose your neighbors just like you can’t choose parents,” he said.
“New Delhi still lacks a meaningful connection with the Taliban --for good and moral reasons,” Mamumdzay said, adding, “It would be difficult for India to do business as usual with Taliban as they don’t share values.”
Haqqani Network, the most powerful military segment of the Taliban and a favorite of Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI, had been allegedly involved in the killing of Indian defense attache in Afghanistan in 2008, a charge that Pakistan denied.
And Haqqanis also enjoy extremely close cooperation--including sharing logistics and human resources--with Kashmir militant groups operating in Afghanistan. They are likely to resist, undermine and sabotage any potential overture between the Taliban and New Delhi, analysts say.
Unfolding humanitarian disaster
In stark contrast with Pakistan, which relied on hard power tools to pursue its foreign policy goals in Afghanistan, India opted for the soft power strategy --winning hearts and minds of Afghans by investing in common people through culture, building state capacities, and training and educating a new young professional Afghan class.
India has remained an active partner in the Afghans’ journey of the gains of the last two decades. And, the Taliban’s vision of an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan offers little room to accommodate the aspirations and talent of this 'Emirate-era' generation.
“Biggest tragedy is for the Afghan people,” Sinha said, “35 million people are now really being pulled back into a medieval black hole, against their wishes, and will be forced to live.”
“It is a matter concern basically what is going to happen with Afghan people in which we have invested very strongly with infrastructure and capacity building program. There will be a huge outflux of capital and talent from Afghanistan soon,” he said. India has invested close USD 3 billion in Afghanistan's development.
“It is a huge humanitarian disaster that is unfolding for Afghans, actually a genocide of Afghans,” Sinha said, He termed it a “worrying” development. The average age of 35 million Afghans was just 18.5 years. It is a post Emirate generation, which now feels abandoned, he stated. Indian (SAM)
(The writer is a Research Associate, South Asia Monitor. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)