By: Amit Kumar
The withdrawal of United States from Afghanistan has unleased Taliban pandemonium in and around Af-Pak region resulting in serious regional security concern. With Biden’s final call, the decades-long war in Afghanistan will come to an end on September 11, 2021. The decision came under severe criticism in the region for two reasons: First, it would create massive power vacuum in the world’s most unstable region.
Second, Afghanistan’s incapacity to protect its people, democratic values, and institutions. In the previous two decades, Afghanistan has experienced unprecedented levels of security, liberty, and freedom, particularly for women. The departure of NATO troops from Afghanistan reversed all advances, and owing to a lack of advanced military firepower, technology, and fighting spirit among soldiers, the Taliban has taken over 40% of the districts, murdering civilians and journalists and enforcing harsh Sharia laws. Women and children are the most vulnerable victims of this power conflict.
The Lax Approach of the United States
On 2nd July at 3 AM, the United States abandoned the Bagram Airfield. This resulted in looting by the Taliban, giving them enormous confidence. The United States’ withdrawal has shattered the trust of its allies including India and spontaneously benefitting China and Pakistan to wield more influential power in Asian politics. As the withdrawal process is 90 percent complete, the power of the Taliban has also grown expansively. The United States has certainly failed to measure the after effects of force withdrawal, the Afghan government is weakly equipped and since 2002, the Taliban has gained much power in the region with Pakistan’s support.
The NATO forces through their presence in Afghanistan had received success in securing the region and limiting the expansion of the Taliban. With the decision of withdrawal, Biden has a lot on the table to lose, the growing instability in Afghanistan indicates the short-sighted approach of the United States that withdrew forces without measuring the violent spread of the Taliban and its repercussions for the region. Least to ask for the Afghan people, United States should have trained and equipped the Afghan government or made ‘Plurilateral’ or ‘Multilateral’ security arrangements.
Although this withdrawal looks a blunder, but there is a chance that the US wished for China to get entangled in this region’s politics. Due to the fear of spiralling and spilling over of Islamic extremism, China will set boots on Afghan soil, only to become further engulfed in the region’s storm. This region, as history has shown, is a very expensive affair and famously known as graveyard of empires. Don’t forget that this region is only a sliver of the larger battle for the top spot in global affairs.
The Failure of India’s Foreign Policy
For India, Afghanistan has been a foreign policy debacle. India has been unable to assist either the Afghan government or forge a good relation with Taliban. With China’s growing power in the region and Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban, India has very little sway over the outcome of the Afghan conflict. The security of the region is under grave threat and the fight against terrorism will worsen in the coming years. The Taliban-Pakistan-China alliance has the potential to be disastrous for India. India has failed to capitalize in the last 20 years, it lacked a backup plan or a vision for the future in the absence of NATO troops in Afghanistan.
No other country has as strong cultural and people-to-people ties as India. As a result, India must offer military and financial aid to the Afghan government, as well as wield influence over local warlords, all while maintaining plausible deniability. India should use Farkhor (Tajikistan) airbase to supply cash and munitions to local warlords and mobilise them against the Taliban. These local warlords can act as buffer for Afghan regime. If nothing else works, India can actively provide financial support to the United States and increase airstrikes on the Taliban. At any cost, India should not allow the Taliban to take control of Afghanistan.
It is high time India must flex its muscles and money power to further strengthen Afghan regime for it cannot afford to lose one solid ally in the region. Losing influence over Afghanistan would mean losing geopolitical sway and geostrategic outreach to Central Asian region. As the world’s largest and responsible democracy, India must rise to the challenge of defending the Afghan regime, Afghans, and fundamental democratic values. India’s foreign policy was short-sighted, failing to take into account Asia’s rapidly changing geopolitics. If India does not act quickly and decisively, it will lose stakes in Afghanistan’s future.
China’s Foray into Afghanistan
With Pakistan’s assistance, China’s infrastructure investment in and around Afghanistan, such as the Kabul-Peshawar highway, has the potential to influence regional geopolitics and gain significant power in the region. Without much effort, China will gain more authority in the region following the withdrawal of NATO troops; it will easily overcome India’s and the United States’ investments and establish influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan will serve as a catalyst, causing the entire situation to work in China’s favour.
America’s loss in Afghanistan is a significant gain for China’s aspirations to become a superpower. With America stepping down as a security provider, the good times for Chinese infrastructure projects have also come to an end. China will now have to reconsider its previous strategy of business without politics. Because this region is rife with terrorists, militants, and insurgents, China will need to beef up its security systems to protect its assets. It will need exceptional political intelligence to navigate the political issues while maintaining a flawless balance of internal and external Islamic Jihad problems. China’s destiny will be determined by how it navigates this region.
The Next Steps
Although the international media and global affairs experts predict a Taliban-led Afghanistan in the future, I remain optimistic that the Afghan regime can be rescued. If the Taliban is to be absorbed into the Afghan government, it should have less say. Taliban connotes religious fanaticism, gloomy days, backwardness, archaic traditions, and the prohibition of women from all domains. Taliban does not imply a progressive society in which girls may be educated and given wings. If Taliban takes control, two decades of painstaking effort to achieve social, economic, and educational advancement would be reduced to ashes.
The region’s security is under threat, and India, the United States, and their Asian partners must figure out a plan to stabilise the region. The authoritarian regime of China and Taliban will be a toxic cocktail for Afghan regime, society and democratic ideals. “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident,” President Biden said, “we have to defend it, fight for it, enhance it, renew it, and show it isn’t a relic of history.”
In Afghanistan, India and the United States must take a leadership role in the fight against Taliban. It is a war between barbarous, bigoted humans and modern, progressive humans. It is a war between humans from the Stone Age and those from the Space Age. The moment has come for India and the United States to devise a long-term strategy to defend Kabul, strengthen democracy, and serve as a beacon of light for humanity.
The author is PhD scholar at BITS PILANI, India.