All reports indicate the certain and imminent coming back to the political power of the dreaded Taliban in Afghanistan. They seem to have defeated the US mission of subduing them in Afghanistan. The US and its allied NATO forces are completely withdrawing from Afghanistan by September this year without their not being able to end the Taliban’s fight against the Afghan Government. The Afghan Government has stated that without the US military backing they cannot survive the ongoing onslaught of the radical Islamic Taliban. India has been part of the US-led efforts of helping the Afghan Government through various measures including the provision of military training to its security personnel and equipment. The US exit from Afghanistan thus leaves both the Afghan Government and India in a perplexing situation. Clearly, India is now forced to adopt a different strategy to continue its presence in Afghanistan.
The Taliban first came to the notice of the world when they first appeared in the political firmament of Afghanistan and took over Kabul in 1996 by violently overthrowing the then Government of Afghanistan. Apart from the US, Pakistan, Egypt and other Muslim countries supported them with the provision of arms and funding in their fight against the Soviet-backed communist regime of Afghanistan.
After achieving the objective of ousting the communists from the power these fanatics got divided into warring factions along ethnic and sectarian lines in their contention for power. Finally, the Taliban’s, mostly recruited from the Pashtun ethnic group, emerged victoriously. The world witnessed their brutal nature when they publicly executed former Communist President Najibullah and his brother on the day they took Kabul. They were aided by the financial support of Saudi Arabia and the political patronage of Pakistan State. They aimed to establish an Islamic government based on their radical Islamic law (Sharia) which they did by ousting the then Afghan Government.
With the formation of the Taliban Government in 1996, the historical connection of India with Afghanistan which had close links with ancient Indian culture and civilization was abruptly snapped. The Taliban’s regime in Afghanistan was marked by the total absence of democratic and human rights, denial of any kind of freedom and dignity for women and deprivation of modern education for Afghan children. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were the only countries that officially recognized the Taliban regime of Afghanistan. For India, the Pakistan-sponsored Taliban regime in Afghanistan meant enhancement of security threat in the insurgency-ridden Kashmir. Countering the Taliban’s by supporting their rival Northern Alliance was, therefore, a strategic choice for India along with Russia.
The US policy towards Afghanistan during the Taliban regime was one of nonchalance. It bothered little about democracy, human and women’s rights. The ouster of the Soviets in 1992 by the Mujahedeen was enough for the US. The Taliban regime at that time did not pose any direct security threat to the US. Besides, since the Taliban’s were closely allied with terrorist’s heaven Pakistan.
Taliban invited the wrath of the US in 2001 for their harboring and support to the terrorist Al Qaeda which carried out the 9/11 terrorist attack on US in that year. The US and their NATO armed forces invaded Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban’s from power. The US and its allies propped up a Government in Afghanistan with the objective of eliminating terrorist forces from Afghanistan. The objectives of fostering democracy and economic and social development in Afghanistan were also stated. Now the future of Afghanistan and its people and society will depend on the political settlement after the complete withdrawal of the US and allied forces from Afghanistan by September this year.
All through the years of US presence in Afghanistan, Thousands of US personnel suffered casualties and fatalities in Afghanistan by the violent attacks by the terrorist outfit Taliban. The Trump administration of the US which started the negotiations with the Taliban was not in favour of continuing in Afghanistan because of the costs involved and the danger to the lives of the US citizens. The new US President has stated that the US has no plan for any future intervention in Afghanistan because the US has achieved its objectives of getting "the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and to deliver justice to Osama Bin Laden, and to degrade the terrorist threat."
During the last almost 20 years India has been involved in support of the US efforts to eliminate militant Islam and terrorism from Afghanistan as well as for rendering all possible help to the Afghan Government for reconstruction and humanitarian and social development assistance, particularly in the areas of health and education. Now with the withdrawal of the US, what will be the role of India in Afghanistan has become a point of discussion in Indian foreign ministry corridors. Given that the brutal Taliban is on the ascendancy and is close to capturing power again, most probably on its own or may be with some political settlement with the incumbent alliance groups in power and is menacingly closing in on Indian establishments and personnel, India is already on withdrawal course, shutting down its consulates in Afghanistan. Not only India but other countries like Russia are also concerned about the security of their personnel in Afghanistan and they are also withdrawing their diplomatic and other personnel from Afghanistan.
It is important to note that the Taliban's commitment as a condition for the US withdrawal is to halt the terrorist threats to the US and its NATO allies alone. They have not committed anything to India and the Afghan Government. The Haqqani group are against any role for India in Afghanistan. Seemingly the political leadership of the Taliban’s wants the continued role of India in Afghanistan’s reconstruction and socio-economic development as India is considered the only country which has strategic autonomy vis-à-vis a US-China contestation or US-Russia contestation for influence in the region and which has also the economic clout for affording to help Afghanistan’s economy. The fact that the US has agreed to the Taliban’s condition of not involving the present Government of Afghanistan in the US-Taliban dialogue for facilitating the exit of the US reveals that the US is not much concerned about nation-building, political conciliation or development in Afghanistan.
Why should India then want to continue to be engaged in Afghanistan for helping its reconstruction and economic development? India has been helping the incumbent Afghan Government with the training of its National Defense and Security Forces for countering Taliban insurgency. This will not and cannot continue now given the ascendency of the Taliban. India’s cooperation with Taliban for economic development of Afghanistan will suit its strategic objective of preventing potential sources of terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan abetted by Pakistan and checkmating a possible Pakistan-Taliban axis formation against India’s security and territorial integrity, especially in Kashmir.
Where seems to be an apparent contradiction in the efforts of the political leadership of the Taliban to engage in dialogues with India and other regional powers and the unrelenting violence and fight of their ground-level forces against the Afghan Government forces. This may possibly be a tactic on their part for bargaining a higher share of power if they prefer to go for a political settlement with the existing factions in Government. In any case India cannot afford to easily forego the huge investments it made in Afghanistan and goodwill it has created among the people of Afghanistan through reconstruction, humanitarian and development assistance. India should be aware of its neighbour, the terror supporter Pakistan whom foreign policy is only guided by the anti-India policy of creating a disturbance by any means.