A Neighborhood Friendly Taliban
When it comes to the US-Taliban peace deal, India’s situation can be very well described as the child whose older sibling just graduated high school. While the US may as well be India’s proverbial big brother, Taliban is the horrific high school experience that India will have to wade through all alone. And this experience is only worsened by the degenerating political and social environment of Afghanistan. The country is currently oscillating between Ashraf Ghani, the alleged winner of the Presidential election and Abdullah Abdullah, the self-declared winner of the same, while the US refuses to overtly acknowledge either as the President. For a country that has always depended upon America to ‘help’ them out, President Trump not congratulating his long term friend Mr. Ghani on his reelection is certainly grave. Additionally, a wobbly and conflicted team responsible for Intra-Afghan peace talks, amidst the Taliban assiduously violating its promise of maintaining peace, is the icing on the disastrous US-baked peace deal.
The catalyst for the aforementioned sad tale, the US-Taliban peace accord, signed February 29, 2020 holds the US time-bound to remove its troops within the decided 14-month time period, but not the Taliban to keep its promises. The removal of UN sanctions under the peace deal further weakens any leverage that the US might hold in Afghanistan. With the removal of the US-Troops, and a burgeoning Taliban influence, the people of Afghanistan have a bleak future to look forward to, and India, perhaps not as worse off, is definitely in the line of fire.s
No individual who has ever witnessed an India-Pakistan cricket match can be ignorant of the 70-year old festering wound between the two countries. The unceasing tussle for power between the two countries and Pakistan’s inclination towards providing refuge to terrorist organisations as a way to one-up India is not a secret. And, consequently, Pakistan’s close friendship with and ideological alikeness to the Taliban is the primary impetus to the threat to India’s security.
Pakistan has been responsible for harbouring prominent terrorist organisations such as JeM and LeT on its territory and providing them protection after attacks on India. While Taliban promises not to allow Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the aforementioned organisations have been left out of the deal, allowing these terrorist organisations the opportunity to garner support and refuge in Afghanistan as well. Pakistan was a staunch supporter of having the Taliban as an active participant in the 2001 Bonn Agreement which was intended to establish an Afghani government after the Taliban’s removal. Furthermore, Pakistan’s support of a Taliban-led government in Afghanistan only makes Pakistan dearer to them. Juxtaposed with India’s past dealings (or lack thereof) with Taliban, India is likely to find itself in an ‘enemy of my friend’ situation. India has historically vehemently refused to acknowledge the Taliban as anything other than a terrorist organisation and has always supported the Afghanistan government. On a quest to counter Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, India has spent considerable time, money and effort to build a trusting relationship with the Afghan government through its multiple development and infrastructure projects, posing them as a direct adversary to the Taliban. And now that the Afghan government is itself in a precarious position, India’s assurance of relative peace on the India-Afghanistan border is dwindling and its efforts conclude to be naught.
Another facet of this predicament is the apparent and sudden benevolence shown by the US to Pakistan. Pakistan has been a key player in bringing the Taliban to the table long enough for a peace accord to be established. And considering that President Trump’s re-election campaign is contingent on him bringing the American troops back, he currently considers Pakistan to be in his good books. Hence, Pakistan finds itself in a far more favourable position to cause considerable damage.
Furthermore, the US is by association to the Taliban making deals with the Haqqani network as well. The Haqqani network is a recognised terrorist organisation, which was also responsible for the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008. Hence, America is giving legitimacy and validation to a terrorist group which has posed a threat to India in the past. This legitimisation and validation by a country that India considers to be an ally is only an affirmation of the USA’s indifference to any more peace violations by the Taliban in the future.
Adding to this, the instability currently in India over the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir and the mass unrest and chaos due to the CAA/NRC protests, India finds itself in a pernicious position. The Al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network have made attempts and calls to fight India on the issue of Kashmir and on behalf of Pakistan. With the newly-minted support in Afghanistan and far more freedom once US-troops leave, India will have its hands full dealing with them. Much like Afghanistan, India’s dependence upon the US troops to fight a war not their own proves to be its Achilles heel.
If one was to consider the possibility of India stepping up to protect its borders, it doesn’t seem improbable, however, it is the approach that remains to be seen. India could increase border security, employ more force and troops, it can hope for the peace accord to hold and pray that the Taliban does not establish a government and Pakistan does not use this to its advantage to attempt an ambush. Or perhaps, less likely and more smartly, India can continue to build and facilitate growth and development projects in Afghanistan, making India a friend to anyone in authority, very much like it did with the previous Ghani-led government. One cannot tell for sure what the currently-ruling BJP government will do, and keeping in mind their almost negligible previous response to the peace accord, we can only hope for some undertaking. The consequences of the deal may not be apparent right now especially when currently, the COVID-19 pandemic takes precedence, as it should, yet it will not always be so and India must be ready with a water-proof plan for when the time comes.
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