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India’s Afghanistan Endgame

Mohsin Durrani

03rd Sep, 2021. 03:21 pm

After nearly two decades of war, with more than 2500 American lives lost, over 141,000 Afghans killed and $2.6 trillion spent by the U.S, the speed at which the Taliban consolidated power over Afghanistan has shocked the world. The rhetoric the world had been force-fed for two decades were sadly miles apart from reality. News of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent fall of the Afghan regime took the world by storm on August 15, 2021.

President Ashraf Ghani fled even before the Taliban entered the capital, setting into motion a major humanitarian crisis, the likes of which the world was just not prepared for.

The fall of Kabul on Indian Independence Day sent the Indian media houses, defence and security analysts into a frenzied overdrive. The frenzy was expected given how heavily New Delhi had invested (over $3 billion) in President Ashraf Ghani and their shared love of Afghanistan (Pakistan in actuality).

The Indian media, in its typical soap-operaesque style, started bellowing how Pakistan is the sole reason for the Taliban takeover of Kabul and how the world is doomed. Such statements are predictable; they have been echoing  since the United States signed the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban against the wishes of the Indian and the Ghani government. Social media in India and Afghanistan was already waging a war against Pakistan as if preparing themselves for a suitable scapegoat.

After 9/11, India took full advantage of the opportunity provided by the US operation against the Taliban government to re-consolidate its influence and infiltrate all sectors of Afghanistan thereby making them dependent on Indian support. The objective was to make Afghanistan a launching pad for its double pincer envelopment against Pakistan.

Post 9/11, American game plans in Afghanistan brought pro Indian forces in play with unparalleled accumulation of power in the hands of erstwhile Northern Alliance. Indian consulates in Afghanistan, in particular, became a bone of contention between India and Pakistan. These consulates were having less to do with humanitarian aid, visas and scholarships and more to do with India’s top-secret intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the Afghan NDS playing terrorist liaisons for banned terrorist outfits present in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has accused Indian consulates of setting up and monitoring networks of terrorist training camps located inside Afghanistan and operating in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa. Reportedly, Indian consulates in southern and eastern Kandahar and Jalalabad have been supplying money as well as arms and ammunition to the TTP and Baloch militants which has added to the trouble and violence in the tribal belt. The India friendly Ghani government offered another front to dissipate and over-stretch Pakistan’s defence resources to fight on two different fronts.

India’s posture as a counterweight to China complemented U.S. objectives of preventing Chinese or Russian influence over the newly independent Central Asian republics, helping these states develop alternative exit routes for their oil and gas other than through Russia or Iran. In a bid to reinforce India’s strategic relevance in the region, the United States had in turn encouraged Indian trade, investment, and assistance to the Central Asian states and Afghanistan. This continued until the Americans saw it fit to cut losses and leave the ‘Forever War’ and its allies behind.

India needs to realize that, since Pakistan is a strategically tied neighbour, it’s influence in Afghanistan will always surpass that of India. Apart from the desire to restore Pakistan’s two-front problem, some of the Indian objectives in Afghanistan were to support Pakistan’s Afghan adversaries to counterbalance Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir. The irony is that while they cry for the human rights of the Afghans, they turn a blind eye towards the plight of the hapless people of the Indian occupied Kashmir and minorities and Dalits of the country.

India ignored the fact that while Kashmir was an international dispute pending in the United Nations waiting to be resolved, unrest in Balochistan and the KPK was an internal matter of Pakistan where India had no locus standi. If India wishes to play hardball, there are over a dozen independence movements in India which can receive Pakistan’s attention, which may prove to be injurious to Indian interests.

Amongst all the South Asian states, India has been the only country that has frequently used force against its neighbours. India never open heartedly accepted the creation of Pakistan, hence it has been busy destabilizing Pakistan. India combined all tools including sabotage, internal dissention, coercion and enflaming ethnic issues and discords of other states with Pakistan and unfortunately, Afghanistan played its part as a tool in ‘India’s Great Afghan Project’.

Indian support of the US invasion of Afghanistan was motivated by anti-Pakistan sentiments and were not meant for ending terrorism there. Pakistan had to remain prepared for new situations on the Afghan side and adapt accordingly.

The Taliban coming into power will present its challenges for Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region. It is very important that the regional players like China, Russian, Iran, Turkey, Central Asian states and Pakistan make sure that the Afghan people and their rights are put to the forefront of any governing dispensation that takes over in Afghanistan.

Post the completion of the US/NATO withdrawal, the Indian Ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal met with the Taliban representative Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai in Doha, who assured the Indian envoy that Indian concerns will be ‘positively addressed’. This marks the first official engagement between the two sides since the Taliban took over Afghanistan. Security of Indian citizens and concerns of Afghanistan’s soil being used for anti-Indian activities were raised.

Over the past two  decades, the manner in which India has bankrolled anti-Pakistan activities through its proxies in Afghanistan has kept the region in a constant state of flux. A reduction in Indian support for such factions will, in fact, ease a lot of concerns in the region concerning security and lead towards lasting peace on Pakistan’s western border.

Pakistan should be content with having an independent, integrated and friendly western neighbor as a part of its broader regional policy and regional consensus. There has to be a realization that any adversity faced by one will affect the other. If both Muslim neighbours work in tandem, they may reach agreed solutions to problems like infiltration across borders, drug trafficking, Afghan refugees and realize their objectives of peace and prosperity by keeping the regional spoilers in check.

 

Mohsin Durrani is an independent analyst with keen interest in domestic and regional politics.

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