The withdrawal of the US forces will increase India's concern about the recapture of power by the Taliban and the use of Afghanistan’s territory as a safe haven for terrorists, writes Indu Saxena for South Asia Monitor
US President Joe Biden’s announcement of a complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan has charged South Asia politics. How would this decision affect India and AF-Pak region?
The September 11 terrorist attacks on US soil provoked a war on terrorism where the United States rallied its NATO allies and other partners under its leadership. In his recent announcement, Biden said his country accomplished its objective by delivering justice to Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and ensured Afghanistan would not be used as a base to attack the U.S. again.
He further iterated that now the terrorist threat is "evolved," "dispersed" and "metastasized" globally, so it is useless to concentrate thousands of troops in one country.
However, US Army General Richard Clarke, chief of US Special Forces, told the Congress: “The capabilities that the US provides for the Afghans to be able to combat the Taliban and other threats that reside in Afghanistan are critical to their success.”
America’s longest war
America wants to get rid of its ‘longest war’ in history mainly due to two reasons—first, the war has cost much in terms of lives and wealth. The cost of the war has reached $ 2 trillion, of which $ 933 billion is the Department of Defense’s (DoD) overseas contingency funding. The other spendings are $ 443 billion increase in base budget to support the war, $ 296 billion to care for veterans, $ 59 billion for state overseas contingency fund and $ 530 billion interest on borrowed money for supporting the war. Apart from the money, the United States has lost 2,448 troops and personnel, while 20,722 have been left wounded.
Second, feeling the domestic pressure at home, taxpayers do not want their money to go waste in this intractable war when Osama bin Laden - the main enemy - is already dead. The federal project document "The Afghanistan Paper," published in 2019, revealed that the United States became mired in two decades of war without a clear vision.
Af-Pak and Taliban
The Taliban would be the chief beneficiary when the US troops head back home. They would ask or compete for a more significant role in power-sharing with the Afghan government. Looking at the previous history of the Taliban, it is difficult to say that the power-sharing competition would be non-violent.
Two, it is very much on the cards that the Taliban would try to bolster its fundamentalist ideology, in the process getting the support of Pakistan. It has been observed that even after the Doha Peace talks last year, the Taliban has been involved in violence which once again brings to the fore its questionable attitude with regard to democratic transition and peace. It is quite paradoxical that today the Taliban seems in a stronger position than the Afghan government.
It is no surprise that the US withdrawal could turn into a disaster for future peace and stability and lead to another 'coup' like Myanmar in South Asia.
On the other hand, Pakistan will also gain from the withdrawal of US troops due to its strong ties with the Taliban. So in that scenario it is anticipated that Pakistan would play a key role in the future of Afghanistan. In addition, US-Pakistan relations are not what they were in the Cold-War era and after 9 / 11 period.
Pakistan's failure in controlling terrorist activities from its soil, and its close ties with China, have created distrust in US- Pak relations. Nevertheless, Pakistan should be cautious about the conglomerate of militant groups operating inside its soil and the Taliban, which could turn Pakistan into a failed state.
India's concern and role
The withdrawal of the US forces will increase India's concern about the recapture of power by the Taliban and the use of Afghanistan’s territory as a safe haven for terrorists. India witnessed the close cooperation between the Taliban and the militants who hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814 in December, 1999. India is wary that militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad which have been engaging in India's northern state Jammu and Kashmir, would gain in strength in the region and cause instability in the state where things are fragile after the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution.
However, the US wants other countries, especially Pakistan, Russia, China, India, and Turkey, to support Afghanistan in restoring peace and stability. For India, working with authoritarian regimes for the sake of democracy and peace would be another challenge.
In this situation, long-time friend Russia could comfort India, but the recent visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Pakistan and its lending of support to Islamabad in its counter-terrorism capabilities have caused unease in New Delhi.
At the same time, it is a fact that India has been involved in the reconstruction and rebuilding process in Afghanistan. India has assisted in development of Afghanistan with approximately $ 3 billion, larger than any other country.
India needs to play a more constructive role economically, diplomatically, and politically to establish the rule of law, to rebuild democratic institutions, and collaborate with civil society, given its historical and cultural bonding with Afghanistan and its aspiration to be a global power. However, the way forward for India in the Afghan peace process wouldn’t be easy after the US exit.
Now that the United States would be leaving Afghanistan by September 11, which is also the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the US by Al-Qaeda, counter-terrorism mechanisms must be underway under the watchful eye of the US intelligence and counter-terrorism forces. In this mechanism, India needs to play a significant role in training the personnel, taking part in intelligence sharing and participating in joint exercises of counter-terrorism forces.
In other words, the United States should lead the propagation of democracy in the region by clearing the road for the United Nations peacekeeping forces to continue the rebuilding and restructuring work. The Bonn Agreement and collaboration have clearly shown the intent to take Afghanistan out from this quagmire.
(The author is Senior Writer at the Consortium of Indo-Pacific Researchers. Views are personal. She can be contacted at email@example.com. She tweets @Indu0109.)