The beautiful country lying on the silk root and famous in stories of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore (Tagore’s Kabuliwala) – Afghanistan, was one of the most beautiful countries in the world embraced with the Hindu Kush mountain ranges and beautiful valleys for tourism, a few decades back.
The dark period for Afghanistan started with the invasion of the Soviet Union in December 1979. The local rebellions – Mujahidin, grew in response to this and spread all over the country. Meanwhile, the USSR armies took control over the major cities, including Kabul, and by the end of 1982, 2.8 million Afghans had sought asylum in Pakistan and approx. 1.5 million fled to Iran. Soon the cold war adversary of the USSR- the USA, started supplying arms and extended its support to these rebellions via the help of Pakistan. In 1988-89, an agreement was signed between the USA, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the USSR, according to which the latter would withdraw its troops and Afghanistan would return to its non-aligned status. In this war, around 15000 USSR soldiers lost their lives.
In April 1992, various rebellion groups overthrew the communist president- Najibullah, and a transitional government by the sponsorship of these rebel fractions proclaimed the country as the Islamic Republic. But this jubilation was short-lived, and the problem started in the country again. President Burhanuddin Rabbani, leader of Jamʿiyyat-e Eslāmī (a major Mujahideen group), refused to leave office following a power-sharing arrangement as per the newly formed government.
Partly as a response to this, a puritanical group of activists, led by Mohammad Omar- the Taliban, became active, and it captured Kabul in 1996. This group consisted of those militants who the USA and Pakistan earlier trained, and it also had the support of the Pakistani Intelligence Agency- ISI. But this group built its strong ties with Islamic Extremists groups- Al Qaeda and ISIS. So the Taliban started opposing America itself. After the attacks on 11th September 2001, the Taliban came into the prospectus. Soon the American forces invaded Afghanistan and drove the Taliban from power by early December 2001. Since then, American troops have been still fighting in Afghanistan, trying to maintain internal peace and security.
Now last year, in Feb 2020; the Trump administration in the USA signed a peace deal with the Taliban in Doha according to which:
1. The USA would withdraw its troops by the next 14 months (May 2021), and the government of Afghanistan would also release the arrested Taliban militants.
2. The Taliban has agreed to break its ties with Al-Queda and would not let international Jihadi organizations like ISIS use its land.
In addition to this Taliban would also continue peace talks with the Afghan government.
In a recent decision, American President Joe Biden announced that the USA would withdraw all troops from Afghanistan over the coming months, completing the military exit by the 20th anniversary of the 11th September 2001 attacks. This decision came after an administrative review of US presence in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is still a potent force despite the two decades of efforts by the USA to defeat it and establish stable, democratic governance in the country. In a letter written to Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, the US secretary of state Antony Blinken proposed a UN convened a meeting on 7th March 2021. For the first time, India is also acclaimed as a major stakeholder in Afghanistan except for Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, and the USA, and a meeting of the foreign ministers of these countries is called. Russia also opposed India’s involvement in this issue.
Now the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan will create a power vacuum in the region, and the stakeholders have their effects by this.
On one side, the USA is withdrawing its troops as it is no longer beneficial for America to remain in Afghanistan. Moreover, in the last 20 years, the country has lost more than 2300 of its soldiers, and thousands of Afghans were wounded or killed, and more than 2 trillion dollars have been spent in this Afghanistan war. The USA also has more pressing issues in the Middle East, especially China, to focus on Afghanistan. On the other side, the Taliban is claiming itself to be stood victorious against this superpower in the war of Afghanistan.
China also has security concerns over the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. The fact is: the Xinjiang province of China shares a border with Afghanistan. It is the same province in which the USA had made allegations of the genocide of Muslim Uyghur by China. A separatist Uyghur militant outfit- East Turkistan Islamic Movement (EATM) is also working in this area, on which the Trump administration had also lifted the ban a few months back. Now China is surely concerned about the grouping of hundreds of Uyghur militants working with the Islamic State in Syria and Afghanistan and their possible attacks on the Chinese province. But China also has some benefits in this. It not will provide stability to China Pakistan Economic Corridor, but also it will give support to the most anticipated initiative of China- the Belt and Road Initiative.
Since all this chaos of history started with the invasion of the Soviet Union, Russia is one the major players in the ground of Afghanistan. Over the past several years, Russia has been working to enhance its relationships with the Taliban to extend its strategic interests in Afghanistan. Once the NATO and the USA forces leave, Russia will stand out as one of the biggest beneficiaries as it may again get a chance to step into Afghanistan.
Apart from this, following the USA-Taliban agreement in Doha, the US and Russia surprisingly issued a joint statement and concurred that the international community wouldn’t recognize the Taliban designation as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Overall it can be said that it will be a great game of Redux in Afghanistan- Russia is in it to win it this time.
Pakistan also has its deepest interests in this withdrawal. Since the Taliban itself was a result of the seed sown by the USA in the land of Pakistan, the country has a big role to play in it. Taliban is a sycophant of Pakistan, and after the attacks of 11th September 2001, Pakistan, under the pressure of the USA, had to break all its relations with the Taliban officially, but it was supporting the Taliban behind the curtains of International Platform. But now, the withdrawal of USA troops brings immense opportunities for Pakistan, as Afghanistan is strategically important to it to counter India in Kashmir.
Iran also has vested interests in this withdrawal. Since Iran has its conflicts with the USA, the departure of the USA would surely help Iran extend its influence in the area.
India is acclaimed as one of the major stakeholders in Afghanistan, and it has also taken part in the peace talks in Doha. Apart from this, the NSA of India has also visited Afghanistan in January 2021.
India and Afghanistan have shared mutual relations for a very long. After the invasion of the USSR in Afghanistan, India was the only country in south-east Asia, which recognized the USSR supported the communist government in the country. After the departure of the USSR in 1990, India became one of the stalwart members of the anti-Talibani “Northern Alliance”. India also proposed the membership of Afghanistan in SAARC in 2005. The relations of these two countries got a significant boost with the signing of a strategic partnership agreement in 2011. India is providing aid for the developmental works in Afghanistan.
Since then, India has contributed a lot to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Whether it is the construction of Chabahar Port and connecting Afghanistan to the port via roads and railways or development of Zaranj Delaram highway, construction of Parliament in Kabul and Salma Dam (Afghan India Partnership Dam); India has spent more than INR 50 thousand crores in Afghanistan.
So India has several vested interests in the stability of Afghanistan, which can be understood under the following points:
1. Geo-Political: India represents its Soft Power through Afghanistan. Indian Movies, Cricket, etc., are much appreciated over there. India has gained a lot of Soft Power credits by doing developmental works in Afghanistan.
2. Geo-Strategic: If India has good relations with Afghanistan, it will get a big benefit to counter Pakistan. In the case of any conventional war, India may also have a front for Pakistan. Apart from this, there is a proxy war going on between Pakistan and India in Kashmir; if it shifts in Balochistan, then India would surely be in a win condition.
3. Geo-economic: Afghanistan geographically lies in a position through which it shares its borders to Middle Asia, western Asia, and East Asia. If India has its dominance in this country, it may indeed give a boom to Indian trade as it gives us direct entry to middle Asia, which would benefit us in many aspects. Apart from this, the TAPI Gas Pipeline project also depends upon the stability in the Afghanistan region.
Since the Indian government never had good relations with the Taliban. Whether it was the hijacking of IC-814 or the Parliamentary Attacks of 2001, India still has some of the bitter memories of history in this scenario. India in the 1990s also supported the anti-Taliban, communist government in Afghanistan, which is the main reason behind these relations. Now India has dangers of Taliban to impede its ambitious projects like Chabahar, TAPI, and more than that, its investment in the country. Taliban may also hinder the Cultural and Social investment done by India in their country. Pakistani influence may also create a headache for India after the Taliban come into power.
In this scenario, India must make the International Community realize that peace and stability in Afghanistan are difficult without them. Apart from this, India has to protect itself from its Panipat Syndrome, and a suitable strategy should already be in place for Afghanistan so that the National Interests of India can be achieved. It is worth mentioning here that historically the rulers of India were active only when the attackers reached Panipat through the Khyber Pass, etc. It is termed Panipat Syndrome in Indian history.
Now India must actively participate in ensuring peace in Afghanistan. It may also be a mediator in talks between Iran and the USA. India must look into its foreign policies and reconstruct them to maintain good relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan to achieve its national interests at max.
By Soham Agarwal