Af: US withdrawal, its implications

Af: US withdrawal, its implications

President Donald Trump’s decision to completely withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and the peace talk between the US and the Taliban have taken place at a time when the security situation in Kabul is far off from normal. 

In fact, According to the report of the US Congress, while the Afghan government controls over only 56% of the territory, 32% is contested. Last year, it took the Afghanistan government 10 days to restore its control over Ghazhi after 1,000 Taliban terrorists tried to capture the strategically important city. But it is also a fact that for several years, the US administration has been trying to pull out of Afghanistan.

This first came during the Obama administration when undermining its promise of the Afghan-led and Afghanistan-owned process, the US paved the way for the Taliban to establish a de facto diplomatic mission in Doha. This was in 2013 and it was to directly hold talks with this terrorist organisation without pre-conditions. During these years, the US has also not included it in its list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations.

During elections campaigns, Trump had promised to end the war in Afghanistan and his election as President therefore had raised serious concerns about the future of peace and security in the country and beyond in South Asia. But, the Trump Administration’s South Asia Policy released in 2017 underscored the need for the stay of US troops in Afghanistan.

In fact, on the issue of promoting peace, security, stability and development in Afghanistan, Trump’s South Asia Policy mentioned that the US will deploy more troops in Afghanistan without fixing a timeline for the return of US forces. The then US defence secretary Jim Mattis’ promise that “we’re not going to surrender civilisation to people who cannot win at the ballot box.”

However over a year later in July 2018, Trump shifted his position on Afghanistan with the intent of clinching a deal with the Taliban so that the US could provide a morally legitimate reason to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.

At the same time, Russia and China’s efforts to hold talks with the Taliban was seen by the US as a major geo-strategic threat to its interests in the region. In fact, Taliban representatives participated in the talks organised in Moscow in November last year, in which the US was not invited. 

But, the question is not that having a peace deal with the Taliban will serve the US’ interests or not. The larger issue is: will a peace talk with the Taliban help promote peace and security in Afghanistan?

And, the hard reality is that engagement with the Taliban will push the people of Afghanistan towards an era of darkness, hopelessness, insecurity and misery, given the fact that the Taliban does not recognise the legitimacy of the Afghanistan civil government. It does not want Afghanistan to be government by a constitution. In fact, it was at the behest of the Taliban that the Trump administration did not consult Afghan President Ashraf Ghani prior to the peace talks with the Taliban.

Undoubtedly, for India, which has always supported the “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled,” process with participation of the Afghan government, the talks for a peace deal between the US and the Taliban and the Trump’s decision to withdraw 7,000 US troops in some months have posed a series security challenges for various reasons.

Ever since the reconstruction work in Afghanistan was started, India has invested over $3 billion building roads, hospitals, schools, providing training and arms, fighter aircraft to the Afghan armed forces.

Taking centre stage

The coming of the Taliban to the centre stage in Afghanistan will not only intensify insecurity in the country, but it will also pose a huge security threat to India because Pakistan’s prominence in Afghanistan will increase and Islamabad could use the Taliban against Indian.

Since Russia has also moved to foster ties with Pakistan and it is also interested in playing an important role in the Afghanistan’s internal affairs, which is evident from the fact that Moscow held a peace talk with the Taliban last year, and China, Russia and Pakistan are also trying to develop a triangular friendly ties, India fears that the possible emerge of this strategic combination along with the transformation of the Taliban from a terrorist organisation to a partner in the Afghan government will be one of the major security threats for it.

It was in this context that at some level a realisation also began in the Indian government and strategic community that to ensure peace and security as well as to protect its strategic and economic interests in Afghanistan, India should make some changes on its principled stand of not holding talks with the Taliban and subsequently, India sent its two former diplomats as unofficial observers to the Moscow conference.

Now, when the Taliban is emboldened about its victory any time, India needs to develop a comprehensive policy to effectively deal with any adverse situation that could emerge in South Asia in the future.

(The writer is Research Fellow Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, Kolkata)

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