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Unfolding Crisis

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External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is in the US and one of the subjects discussed with his counterpart will definitely be the future of Afghanistan post the withdrawal of American and allied forces. This is due to be completed in September, which is now not so distant at all. The political situation in that country is already extremely volatile and there are all kinds of scenarios being forecast, none of them positive. This has forced the US establishment to declare that its forces may be leaving as their mission is complete, but American ‘presence’ will definitely remain. This will provide little solace to the vulnerable sections of Afghan society, particularly those who are seen by the Taliban to have worked directly with the US.

After the Taliban’s ouster in 2001, India has invested heavily in the economic development and political stability of Afghanistan. All this is at stake, even though the Taliban have hinted that they will not adopt an anti-India policy. At the present, they seem angrier with Pakistan for its deceitful policy of providing them safe sanctuary in its border areas while at the same time cooperating with the US. Of greater concern is the possibility of the new Afghan regime, in case the Taliban manage to overthrow the present government, demanding parts of Pakistan that have similar demographies. Pakistan is concerned that this will open up a new and bloody front requiring not just its army but also its anti-India terror groups to shift focus to the western border.

The Taliban have survived due to the support of some Arab groups and may adopt a moderate course at their behest, but there is alarm at the rising influence in the region of the ‘Islamic State’. A number of the recent bomb blasts and killings of Shias have been attributed to its affiliated groups. This is bound to rile the Iranians, who also have border and other issues with Afghanistan. Strategists fear that a fresh and bloody churn is in the offing that would further destabilise the region. There is also worry that China, too, will want to benefit from the situation, further undercutting Pakistan’s sovereignty.

India and the US have to consider all these scenarios and come up with an effective counter-strategy, which is of course easier said than done. There are many imponderables at a time when the world is already grappling with another major crisis. One of these is that that US ‘presence’ may even have a foothold in India of the intelligence and surveillance kind, but only time will tell what shape it takes.