India, US withdrawal from Afghanistan

Domestic politics has heated up so much in recent times in our country that public interest in political developments in our neighbourhood has waned. President Trump’s decision to halve US troop strength in Afghanistan from 14,000 to 7,000 has practically gone unnoticed. The Taliban is now being wooed by both the US and Russia. Both countries are engaged with the Taliban to strike a peace deal.  This directly affects India and heightens India’s security problem. The Taliban is a creation of the Pakistan army and the ISI. How much influence it has in Afghanistan in terms of territory controlled may be debatable but there is little doubt that withdrawal of US troops will strengthen Taliban immensely and consequently weaken the elected government of Afghanistan.
As Taliban is an extension of Pakistan army and ISI, rising strength of the Taliban in Afghanistan will be to India’s disadvantage. A stronger Pakistani presence in Afghanistan will be disadvantageous for India on another count also as it will help China to have far easier access to the Central Asian countries, which were once constituent republics of the former Soviet Union. These countries are rich in mineral resources and fossil fuels which a fuel hungry China is in great need of. India was vitally interested in the once much touted 1,840 km long TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline which was to bring gas for India. But nothing has been heard of about the progress of the project during the last one year. Pakistan’s increasing hostility toward India and a stronger Taliban control of Afghan territory will make the future of this project uncertain.
India’s financial assistance to Afghanistan runs to more than a thousand million dollars. Many Indian private companies had also started exploring the possibility of making investments in Afghanistan. So, security considerations apart, Afghanistan was becoming an investment destination for India. All these will go haywire if the Taliban emerges stronger from its present negotiations with US and Russia. The situation is complex and India’s future role in Afghanistan at the moment seems uncertain. India will have to interact with both the US and the Russians to safeguard its own strategic and economic interests. India must claim a seat at the table in any negotiations with the Taliban or about the future political set up in Afghanistan. No deal should be struck with Taliban that goes against the interests of India, like the risk of increasing terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir.

Tuesday, 5 February, 2019