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Afghan Vacuum


US President Joe Biden has decided to pull out all his country’s 3,500 troops from Afghanistan by 11 September. He has extended his predecessor, Donald Trump’s deadline of 1 May, somewhat, but it is clear that, after twenty long years, there is a consensus across the board to no longer help the Afghans kill each other. They can do it by themselves. The remaining 10,000 odd NATO troops, as well as several types of ‘private contractors’, will also have to follow suit, as they will no longer have the logistical and other support provided by the Americans.

The Taliban are expected to prevail, although there are doubts whether they will form the government in a largely hostile international environment. So, in the remaining time, some kind of deal may be worked out with the present government led by President Ashraf Ghani. Heavy concessions will have to be made and the biggest victims are bound to be the women of the country, who will lose whatever little independence they have at the present. It is being hoped that the Taliban, who have also taken many casualties and would not have survived as a force had not there been outside support from the oil rich nations of the Gulf, as well as sanctuary in Pakistan, will adopt a more conciliatory approach. It must not be forgotten that, even when the Taliban were in power, the Northern Alliance had held out against it, largely based on ethnic lines. This situation has not changed.

Countries like India and Iran have worked hard over the past couple of decades to support Afghanistan in rebuilding itself as a modern nation, particularly as it provides access to central Asia. Pakistan has worked hard to scuttle these efforts and with increased influence, now, will be in a quandary regarding future policy. If it encourages the Taliban to adopt regressive policies, it will further fall foul of the US and other western nations. The Taliban already have deep roots in Pakistan and may choose to destabilise that country further, beginning with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. There are already deeply distressing signs of increasing fundamentalism under Imran Khan’s rule owing to his appeasement of the radicals. This could open the gates for further involvement of China in this great game.

All of this will result in increased difficulties for India in the long run. Its investment in Afghanistan – economic and political – is under severe threat. A further radicalised Pakistan will pose a major security risk. There are major changes coming and it is time to prepare.