Afghanistan: US exit & its geostrategic implications
With the Biden administration having announced the exact date of exit of the US military from Afghanistan, it’s imperative now to discuss and assess its implications in the region. For years, the US military presence has been one of the most if not the most important factor in strengthening the legitimate democratic governing system of Afghanistan, providing military assistance and stable environment in the nation against the Taliban insurgency. This has also shielded others from terror attacks by not letting Afghanistan again become a safe haven for terror groups, like it had become under the previous Taliban Regime in the past.
But how things will unfold after its exit? Will Afghanistan unite to fight the insurgency? Will Taliban usurp the governing body and engulf whole of Afghanistan? Or will it be the return of the ’90s factional warfare? What role India will play in all of this and why Afghanistan matters so much to Pakistan?
There are many questions like this with pretty complex answers.
A resurgent Taliban
In the past few years Taliban has again started to gain footholds in the rural areas of South Afghanistan. Many areas which were once liberated by the ANA and ISAF have again fallen into the hands of Taliban. Many other areas in the region are also gripped in war between the two and are the heavily contested areas. Taliban’s numerical strength which once was seen to be dwindling at mere around 2000 personnel has again swelled up to pre intervention periods. Internal Ethnic tensions, a degree of distrust on government due to local level corruption and over security concerns , and foreign assistance in the form of operational and military aid from Pakistan has exacerbated the menace.
At one glance it might appear that Taliban has become a popular movement inside Afghanistan with considerable support amongst the ethnic Pashtun population, but nothing can be farther from the truth. Majority Afghans irrespective of their clan and ethnicity believe in democracy as is evident in various successful elections conducted in the period.
Pakistan’s Afghanistan Obsession
The Durand Line, NWFP & Pakistan’s Pashtun Problem
It’s more or less common knowledge now that Taliban was and still is being supported and aided by Pakistan as a destabilizing force in Afghanistan. But the big question is why does Pakistan wants Afghanistan to remain in a state of civil war and in a morass? Well the answer might lie in the Durand Line that separates Pakistan’s Pashtun dominated North West Frontier Provinces(NWFP) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa .
Afghanistan lays claim over all of the area due to it being historical Afghan lands which were ceded to the British Raj during Anglo-Afghan wars. Many Pashtuns in the area have cross border family and clan connections and keep rebelling time to time. By keeping Afghanistan destabilized,Pakistan hopes that it can keep these areas secure.
But it has started to backfire as TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban, Pakistan) ,itself a Pashtun dominated outfit born out of radical extremism promoted by Pakistan among Pashtuns during Soviet-Afghan wars have started to conduct terror strikes inside Pakistan itself.
Even stranger is the fact that the Taliban itself doesn’t recognize the Durand Line.
For now, the Afghan Taliban keeps distance from TTP, to get the much needed supplies from Pakistan but soon it might declare its support to TTP, given its recent perceived “success” against US forces.
Return of the ethnic factions & a new civil war?
Afghanistan is made up of different ethnic groups residing in different parts of the country. They have their fair share of cultural diversity and have also fought each other in the past. There were bloody battles being fought between them during the early ‘90s, but all came together, putting aside their minor differences against Taliban under Ahmed Shah Massoud’s leadership as the United Front better known as the Northern Alliance here.
Current Afghan political leadership comprises of leaders like Marshal Dostum, Dr.Abdullah, President Ghani and Ata Mohammad Noor who know exactly what devastation upon nation can factional differences bring and thus are unlikely to let things go awry. They have seen firsthand what destruction civil war brings upon the population .
On the other side of the spectrum are foreign funded Taliban and even ISIS now that has come into the fray. The most likely fight in Afghanistan if the talks fail will be between these two factions of the government and Taliban with ISIS like entities making things even messier and complex.
Central Asian concerns: Potential spilling of radical extremism and mass migrations.
As is seen during the Syrian civil war, warzones can create mass migration crises and a spill-over of radical extremism across the neighboring Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan can’t also be ruled out. Both of these nations have been already fighting minor extremist terrorist factions in their respective hinterlands already which can become a bigger threat if a new Civil war between Taliban and Unified Party government begins in Afghanistan. This might force the Central Asian countries to get involved militarily, making the situation even grimmer in the near future for the whole region. The presence of ISIS in Afghanistan makes the situation even more dangerous for Central Asia as the ideology has approached literally at its doorsteps now.
Global Terrorism: A Safe haven for global terrorist factions
As is already known there is a presence of ISIS(K) in the hinterlands of Afghanistan now. For now its fighting for dominance against Taliban in the southern regions of Afghanistan but it’s only the matter of time when both of them will join hands like Al Qaeda had in the past. Although currently Taliban is saying it won’t support global extremist movements and will never let Afghan territory be used for terror activities once it comes to power, we must remember the history when in the past they had openly supported Al Qaeda and their role in IC814 hijacking.
This will have dangerous consequences for not only the region but the whole world.
Russia had been engaged in a brutal warfare against its own Chechen radical separatists and has won a hard fought victory over them and brought stability to the Caucasus .This can again facilitate the nearly annihilated Chechen separatists to seek refuge and start terror camps in Afghanistan.
China through its own mishandling of Uyghur grievances in its Xinjiang province has made it a ripe target now for radicalization and terror activities. The fact that its near to Afghan border makes it even more concerning for China. It’s still to be seen if China takes a stand against violence and destabilization in Afghanistan or strike a deal with Taliban with the help of Pakistan to make use of Taliban to quell unrest among its own Turkic Uyghur population.
India too might be affected when Taliban starts providing places for Pakistani terror outfits for training deep inside Afghanistan or becomes a transit point for the global terror organizations, ferrying terrorists from one region to the other ,or even join them to make attacks especially in Kashmir region. This will also affect Europe.
Pakistan too will feel the heat once TTP joins hands with Taliban and other terror outfits and starts carrying out big attacks on Pakistani soil itself.
India’s Role in Afghanistan: Will being only a development partner be enough?
It is already evident now that without solving the internal security problem in Afghanistan, development work cannot continue. A secure, safe violence free environment is needed for overall development of a society and nation. India must now make it clear that it stands strong with Afghanistan and won’t hesitate to take harsh measures to insure its integrity and stability. It should be made clear to Taliban and other destabilizing forces that talks and violence can’t go hand in hand and if need be ,a military presence should also be contemplated to facilitate the stabilization and peace process.
Road ahead for Afghanistan
The road ahead for Afghanistan is seemingly a perilous one but history tells us that Afghan people never give up. They must come together and muster their inner strength to create a united front against all their adversities as the fate of Afghanistan rests upon the shoulder of Afghan people. Others might only help whether militarily or economically or both.
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