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Maintain Distance

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India can afford to wait and watch as events unfold in Afghanistan. Its present priority is to ensure evacuation of any citizens that might still be stuck in that country. It is the task of the countries most immediately impacted by the Taliban takeover and subsequent upheaval to try and bring some kind of normalcy. The US and NATO countries that were deeply involved for twenty years have already shifted gears to providing humanitarian aid to the ordinary people, who might face various kinds of hardship.

The biggest challenge is for Pakistan. Its long held objective of obtaining strategic depth in Afghanistan and denying India a role in that country seems, on the face of it, to have been achieved. Now, it has to ensure that the Taliban pay back for the services rendered to them. Presently, the Taliban seem greatly divided and struggling to form a government. The ISI Chief was sent to provide assistance in this matter. Pakistani air and ground support has also been extended to prevent the resistance forces from digging in at Panjshir.

However, with such influence also comes responsibility – the kind even the US could not bear. This is particularly so in the realm of the economy. It is being hoped by all concerned that China will pick up the bill. In that case, however, Pakistan will be once again be reduced to the level of an intermediary. Earlier, it served the US, now it will be China’s lackey. So, its ‘strategic space’ will come from piggybacking on that which is occupied by China. It may very well work out well for the Road and Belt initiative, but will the Taliban accept the consequent reduction in sovereignty? Will China make large scale interventions knowing the unstable political conditions in the region?

Another directly affected country, Iran, has very maturely laid down its fundamental condition for engaging with Afghanistan – a democratically elected government. This would give far greater legitimacy in the eyes of the world than the present anarchic rule – even if the leadership is announced after some kind of a deal among the Taliban factions. It may be noted that none of these countries has the skills required to engage on a people to people basis the way India has in the past many decades. Over time, this truth will dawn on whatever dispensation takes over in Afghanistan. India needs only to bide its time and, in the meanwhile, strengthen its defences for the obvious next stage in Pakistan’s terrorism play.