Can the leopard change its spots? Very unlikely, particularly when it has been assured of its prey! In the desperation to get out of Afghanistan, where it has fought its longest war, the US has signed an agreement designed to bring the Taliban into the political mainstream. This is a repeat of what happened in Vietnam, when local allies were abandoned to their fate. It is part of President Donald Trump’s plan to not get involved in local conflicts and put the United State’s interests first. The Cold War is a shibboleth and international politics is a mish-mash of interests that cannot be pursued in the old ways. New coalitions are being formed that vary at different levels – China and India are allies of the US at one level and rivals on another.
There is no way that the Taliban is going to compromise on its fundamental belief system, which is bad news for the Afghans. The US has obtained a commitment that it would not provide refuge to Al Qaeda and other such terrorist organisations, but that is about all. Internally, it will be granted the freedom to play its deadly politics, which will eventually bring society back to the medieval age and confine women to the burqa. As in the past, the present dispensation in Kabul might end up isolated like the Northern Alliance. Realising this, the divided government of Ashraf Ghani is already baulking at the conditions of the agreement, which also require release of as many as six thousand Taliban prisoners within days.
India, too, has made many investments in the Afghan economy and backed the present political leadership to the hilt. The Taliban have received duplicitous support from Pakistan. There is elation in Islamabad as it looks forward to the undoing of the Indian project in an area where it has traditionally sought ‘strategic depth’. Any promises made to the US will be conveniently forgotten. Unfortunately, India has few cards to play because, short of deploying troops on the ground, it has little leverage against Taliban influence.
The only solace, of course, is that the Taliban leadership will be much more vulnerable once it comes overground. Thus far, it has hidden itself in the remote regions among civilian populations but, now, it will be more vulnerable to being ‘taken out’ by air and other kinds of strikes if it goes too much out of hand. The US should, therefore, draw the red line on when it would make such an intervention. This would serve as a guarantee for the present Afghan Government and some kind of a defence for the women of that nation, should things get completely out of hand.