Afghanistan and the US seem to be inching towards an agreement that would allow America to leave behind at least a residual troop presence. This is broadly a positive development. But it is notable that it is becoming increasingly common to hear in the region that Washington’s ever-changing Afghan policy has generated more uncertainty than it has security. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is not completely incorrect when he says that his country may be better off if all foreign troops were to leave — something that would have been viewed as laughable five years ago.
More than anything else, most capitals with a stake in Afghanistan want to get clarity on only two aspects of US policy. One, what is the size of the military footprint that the US wants to leave behind in Afghanistan. Two, how much financial support is it prepared to extend to Kabul and for how many years. Washington has nothing much else to offer to the future of Afghanistan. American President Barack Obama has no vision about a country in which his country has waged its longest war, which has cost billions of dollars.
For India, the Afghan problem is a subset of a much more dangerous Pakistan problem. Afghanistan’s Taliban are able to wage war against Mr Karzai because, as he has said repeatedly, they receive haven and other support from the Pakistan military. But this military is not merely keeping Afghanistan in flames. It is also warping its own country’s development. So long as the US military presence in Afghanistan helped contain the Pakistan military, the US troops helped both countries to slowly move towards stability. Today, with Washington repeatedly trying to persuade the Pakistan military to help it broker an agreement between Mr Karzai and the Taliban, the US presence is enhancing the Pakistan military and helping the spread of the jihadi cancer. Whether President Obama wants to be part of this policy or not should be seen as irrelevant to India’s strategy.