Comment: India risks losing influence in Afghanistan, after US troops withdrawal


Photo: Xinhua

As the US forces prepare to leave Afghanistan after two decades of war there, India is feeling perturbed.

U.S. forces invaded the country in 2001 following the September 11 terrorists attacks, with the resulting war becoming the United States' longest military engagement.

The decision to leave Afghanistan came after an agreement between the United States and the Taliban in Doha in 2020. US President Joe Biden has announced the US troops would return home by September 11 -- the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the United States.

Experts believe that the absence of the US in the region will be disturbing for India.

They say India's concerns are linked to instability in Afghanistan, the rise of the Taliban and the role of Pakistan and China. All this while, India has always been a supporter of democratic governance in Afghanistan.

According to analyst Avinash Paliwal, Pakistan's growing influence in Kabul will increase the risk of instability in Afghanistan.

One of India's major concerns is the possible increase in Taliban power after September. In such a situation, Afghanistan could once again become a base for extremists.

According to Lisa Curtis, a member of the National Security Council in the Trump administration, withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan will cause concern to countries in the region, especially India that worries about the Taliban’s strength.

Recently, India's Chief of Defense Staff Bipin Rawat has expressed concerns over withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

The concerns have also been compounded by intelligence reports that say after the withdrawal of US troops, extremist organizations will head to Afghanistan in large numbers.

India has been avoiding direct talks with the Taliban, though it had sent an unofficial team to the Moscow peace conference on Afghanistan. It has also been involved in several peace meetings in Afghanistan, Doha, Geneva and Dushanbe.

India’s main concern is also caused by Pakistan's increased role in Afghanistan. In fact, Pakistan has played an important role in the talks between the US and the Taliban in Doha.

Though Pakistan has direct or indirect links with Taliban, it has never supported extremism and also denied the charge equivocally. Its record in the war against terrorism is proof to this end.

According to analysts, Pakistan's influence in Afghanistan cannot be ignored.

Pakistan has an important role to play in Afghanistan not only because of its geographical, religious and ethnic proximity, but also because of its well being and prosperity, as well as the peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Some analysts believe that Islamabad’s influence in Afghanistan may hurt India. However, analyst K N Pandita says, 'it is expected that Pakistan's leadership will be so sensible that it will not allow any such situation to arise.'

India may also feel that Pakistan can help China in this area to extend its Belt and Road Initiative to Afghanistan. Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Zhao Lijian has already talked about it and this is very much likely.

For now, India needs to mend its ways and work to propose confidence-building measures for peace and stability. In this regard, Pakistan is given credit for having played an important role in pushing the Taliban to sign the agreement with the US.

“Pakistan’s support has been very important in directing the Taliban to come to negotiations and their continued support is going to be very important as we go through this difficult period of deciding if the Taliban are actually serious about this and that they are going to live up to their commitments, ” General Kenneth McKenzie, head of US Central Command, told a US Senate panel last year.

Since the beginning of the peace talks three years ago, Pakistan has earned a good reputation by playing an effective role as a mediator.

The changing dynamics in Afghanistan indicate New Delhi may be considering opening talks with the Taliban.

Addressing the intra-Afghan talks last year, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jai Shankar reiterated his country’s support for an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled” peace process, though he refrained from offering any view on the Taliban’s participation.

Last year, Zalmay Khalilzad, US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, called on India to engage with the Afghan Taliban and “directly discuss its concerns related to terrorism, ” adding that Washington wants New Delhi to “take on a more active role in the Afghan peace process.”

The Indian fears of losing solitary influence and involvement in Afghanistan in the absence of US troops may be true because Pakistan and China will be better placed to carry out developmental activities in this war-ravaged country.

Against this background, India should face reality and work towards improving relations with its neighbours - including Pakistan and China – to attain peace and development in the region.

(This article first appeared in Asia Pacific Daily. The writer, Mr. I. Hussain Janjua, is a non-resident fellow of Chengdu Institute of World Affairs His can be contacted at ihussainjanjua@yahoo.com).

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