The situation in Afghanistan is a hot topic of discussion. As the United States and its allies set out their "drawback" plans, the Taliban threw all diplomatic caution to the wind and took over the country in what may be termed as a political blitzkrieg. The global political leadership is busy working out the position and posture of their country in the fast-evolving scenario.
Now is the time to cut out the clutter to get a clearer picture of how the world will look in the short, medium and long term in the wake of this development. First and foremost is the situation in Afghanistan itself; the Taliban realises that taking over the country was the easier part of the game plan, and running the administration is a different ball game altogether.
The accounts of the country, amounting to about $10 Billion, maintained by the US and other western countries have been frozen, leaving no money to run the administration. There is a shortage of everything, including ammunition for the vast plethora of weaponry that the Taliban has looted from the Afghan National Army.
The Taliban wishes to portray a moderate face to build on its legitimacy; however, the world is not convinced. The media is covering every atrocity being committed by the fundamentalist cadre of the organisation.
Militarily and politically, the advantage for the moment may be with the Taliban, but the war is not yet over. There are reports that most airworthy assets of the Afghan Air Force have been flown into Uzbekistan. The regrouping and counter-offensive of the Northern Alliance under the warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, Ahmed Massoud, the son of renowned Afghan warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud and Amrullah Saleh, the former Vice-President of the country, has been launched at the Panjshir Valley. There are conflicting reports, with some suggesting that the Taliban has broken the resistance and others saying that the forces are holding out.
Another significant fact is that the Afghans we see today are not what we saw in 1996. The population has seen a quantum jump from 21 million to 35 million. Of these, 65 per cent are below the age of 20 and are tech-savvy. Seventy per cent of Afghans have access to cell phones, with a considerable proliferation in social media.
There is every reason to believe that the Taliban will not be able to rule with an iron hand as it did earlier. There will be resistance from various quarters, and there will be global support to this resistance.
So far as the US and its western allies in the Global War On Terror (GWOT) are concerned, President Biden has made it quite clear on behalf of the group that he is unlikely to change his decision of complete withdrawal. “Look, we spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years. We trained and equipped over 300,000 Afghan forces. Afghan leaders have to come together…… They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation,” he said in a press conference. There is a lot of truth in his assertion. The moderate elements in Afghanistan had more than two decades to marginalise the Taliban and build a healthy democracy politically. They, sadly, failed to make the necessary progress. It is quite surprising and shameful that a 300,000 plus trained and well-equipped army would succumb to a motley and ill organised group of militants in such a short time span.
The pullout was in the minds of both President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump since they were convinced that the war was not winnable. President Biden is simply applying a policy that evolved much before he took office.
The west is now quite gravitated towards a policy that suggests letting the so-called developing Nations and their trouble spots resolve their issues internally. The Taliban, therefore, has only good friend Pakistan to look for support. Pakistan cannot look after its self so what can it give to the Taliban? It is also notable here that the situation in Afghanistan is the creation of the ISI under the supervision of the Pakistan Army.
Now, as it is stuck between the devil and the deep sea, Pakistan has created a Quad of its own to deal with Afghanistan; it has Russia, China, and Turkey as members. This group has eyes only on the strategic importance of Afghanistan in view of its geographic location and the vast mineral wealth that it holds.
A deep study of the statements and actions emanating from Pakistan makes it very clear that the Pakistan Army and the ISI dictate the Afghanistan policy of Pakistan; in simple words, the Pakistan Army wishes to control Afghanistan.
Pakistan will do all it can to keep India out of Afghanistan, for which reason it will keep Iran at arm's length too. Pakistan's talk of inclusivity in governance in Afghanistan is eyewash; it is looking for a pure and pliant Taliban Government. Ultimately, the Pakistan Army will try to use Afghanistan as a strategic asset against India to the extent of proliferation of terror in Kashmir, increase in drug supply to Punjab, and create Jihadi cells across the country.
Pakistan cannot grasp that the Taliban will have a mind of its own once it settles down in governance. It will not wish to play second fiddle to a country that has no standing. It may even derecognise the Durand Line and lay claim on some strategic real estate in Pakistan itself while looking for a united Pushtun region.
Many have criticised the decision of the Indian Government to move its Embassy and its citizens out of Afghanistan. The critics feel that India should have maintained its presence to build bridges with the Taliban. Such a thought process is essentially flawed. Nobody is quite sure who is in charge in Afghanistan, and, under the circumstances, the Indians in Afghanistan are not secure. Their lives cannot be put at risk to cater for some ambivalent diplomatic gains in the future.
For India, the best option is to wait and watch. First, it is necessary to ascertain how the new dispensation finally evolves and only then place the cards on the table. It is also necessary to keep an Eagles-eye on the proliferation of fundamentalist actions against India by the mingling of the LeT and JeM with the Taliban. If such actions are noticed, the Taliban leadership should be told the repercussions of such misadventures at the behest of Pakistan in no uncertain terms. It will not be the Afghanistan National Army but the mighty Indian Army and India's decisive and robust Government that they would come up against. Afghanistan will be made to pay a hefty price indeed. Similar action needs to be taken on drug smuggling into India, especially Punjab, which has already seen a marked increase. The Taliban should be aware that India will not tolerate it.
India needs to remain committed to the Afghan people in the soft power domain as earlier and in view of the historical ties between the two countries. To this extent, India should not refuse any humanitarian aid needed, especially in food products, medicines, and the most important COVID vaccines.
Overall the Indian response should be well thought out, calibrated and dynamic. It should be in sync with the global trend and essentially humanitarian in context.