Afghanistan is once again under the control of the Taliban which ruled the nation for five years before the United States-led forces ousted them in 2001. The return of the Taliban to power, ending a 20-year control by the US and NATO, is a failure of their policies.
In fact, the end of the Ashraf Ghani regime began in February last year when the Trump administration started direct talks with the Taliban and executed an agreement on February 29, 2020 to leave the country in a phased manner. This was followed by president Joe Biden reaffirming August 31 as the exit date by which the US’s entire security forces would leave the country.
The agreement, orchestrated by America’s Afghan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and ignoring the legitimate Ashraf Ghani government from the entire process, was a bad idea. The Ashraf Ghani regime, through the agreement, was compelled to hold talks with the Taliban for a power-sharing formula and the release of Talibani prisoners. This agreement was followed by a meeting between representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government in Doha with the Taliban’s principal demand being that negotiations with the government would take place only if 7,000 Talibans, captured in the last 20 years, be released.
The Afghan government was initially reluctant to release the Talibani prisoners as it was aware of the repercussions it could have on the country. But it was left with no choice but to accept their demand due to the undue pressure from the US administration, which has now created havoc in the region.
On the one hand, the Talibanis were negotiating in Doha with the Afghan government for a peaceful power-sharing formula in the country. But on the other, the Taliban was spearheading its activities to recapture power by force. The release of its ferocious fighters, in fact, acted as an aid to the strength of the Taliban as it reinforced its fighting force, which kept pursuing its onslaught on Kabul.
It is surprising that the US could not understand the Taliban’s gameplan as even after the execution of the agreement, there was unrest in the region. Or it could be made to understand that the US administration deliberately ignored it and allowed the Ashraf Ghani regime to fall gradually and consistently, resulting in Afghanistan being captured by the Taliban on August 15 – coincidentally also India’s independence day.
In the aftermath of the Taliban taking control of Kabul, the most important repercussions are to its neighbours – India, Pakistan, Iran and Central Asian republics – apart from Europe and America.
The emergence of the Taliban at the helm of affairs will lead to a change in the geopolitical situation in the region as the Indian government, throughout the last 20 years, shared a good rapport and friendly relations with the Afghan government. Over the last two decades, India also invested nearly three billion dollars in Afghanistan to build infrastructure in the region, and opened a number of consulates in the country. In the same time period, the Afghan government had bitter relations with Pakistan as it held it responsible for creating instability in the region. It seems the Indian government will not recognise the Talibani rule in Afghanistan which will further create bitterness.
The other area of concern with the Taliban taking control is economic relations. Trade between India and Afghanistan looks bleak with the Taliban coming to power. Afghanistan has vast mineral deposits, including copper, coal, iron ore, lithium and uranium, and with the Taliban at the helm, China and Russia will now compete with each other to capture these resources. India also has to take a stand on how to continue trade with the new government that might come into existence.
Now, the Indian government has to deal with the present situation very carefully as the emergence of the Taliban will aid China and Pakistan, as both countries will recognise their government and use Afghan soil for its purposes against India. The Indian government needs to make new friends and take into confidence the leadership of Central Asian republics and Iran and protect the Chabahar project, which allows Indian goods to reach Afghanistan through Iran and links the western coast of India to Chabahar.
Pakistan, with the help of the Taliban, may try to damage the Chabahar project in order to promote the Gwadar project with China, which is a flagship project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Another important issue to be handled by the Indian government is that the Chinese may try to build influence in Afghanistan by expanding its belt and road project which may be supported by the Taliban and will become a threat to India, especially in the Kashmir region.
Even though the Taliban is offering all kinds of assurances for the safety of its citizens, however, with the Taliban taking over, the insurgencies in Afghanistan will rise, which is evident from the recent bombings in Kabul airport that killed 180 people, including 13 US troops. Although the Taliban has denied its involvement and claimed that Talibani fighters also died in the blasts, the incident has created further doubt about peace and security in the future.
Further, the Taliban has promised to refrain from reprisal killings and to allow women and girls to continue their studies and be equal partners in work within the parameters of Sharia law. But no one knows the real intention of the Taliban, as disturbing news has come in from Kabul regarding women harassment. The Taliban should unite with all political parties and ethnic groups and create a political framework within the constitution of Afghanistan and have a broadly inclusive government having representations of all ethnic groups, which will create a sense of security among its civilians.
In the long term, India should work for a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan which is in India’s interests, and bring stability to the region by ensuring that no violence or civil war situation arises in Afghanistan. India should be more concerned than ever before about regional stability due to the Pakistan and China’s control on the Taliban and ensure that Afghan insurgencies do not spill over to our territory. This is now an inherent threat and, therefore, a peaceful and progressive Afghanistan is a necessity for India’s internal security and friendly relations.
SM Khan is vice president of the India Islamic Cultural Centre, New Delhi and former press secretary to the President of India. Shahryar Khan is an advocate in the Delhi High Court.
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