What India can do in Afghanistan | HT Editorial
Seek to make Kabul’s role in the negotiations more robustUpdated: Mar 02, 2020 19:49 IST
The new peace agreement is the beginning of the end, or a new beginning, of the United States’ (US) war in Afghanistan. The US and the Taliban deal could see US troops ending their 20-year military presence in 14 months. What it is designed to do is symbolically fulfil President Donald Trump’s electoral promise of ending Washington’s most expensive overseas war ever. One can expect many a slip between the cup and the lip, given how little spadework has been done. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s block on the first step in the agreement, the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners, is a reminder that many stakeholders are not party to the deal.
India may be unhappy, but this the treaty has been in the offing for over a decade. President Barack Obama tried repeatedly to get the US to leave Afghanistan. The noise from the US presidential campaign indicates a strong and bipartisan desire for a troop withdrawal. The only difference is that Mr Trump seems less concerned about the regional consequences of such an action. In the past, this would have puffed up the Pakistan military and their terrorist cohorts and spelt trouble for India. Today, New Delhi has far less to worry about given the economic weaknesses and international isolation of Islamabad. A trickier debate is whether the Taliban, and Afghanistan as a whole, have evolved to becoming more resistant to manipulation by Rawalpindi and its terrorist cohorts. A lot will depend on a set of variables that will play out over the next few years. One of these will be the Indian-backed Chhabahar port and its promise of economic independence from Pakistan.
New Delhi knew, for several months, that a US withdrawal was more than likely, only the timetable was uncertain. Talk of India attempting to fill the spaces that the US may leave is hubris. India lacks the financial and military capacity and geographical proximity to do so. India can only seek to make the withdrawal process more drawn-out and Kabul’s role in the negotiations more robust. A more useful goal would be to restore the democratic process in Kashmir as fast as possible before it becomes a chink in the country’s external armour once again.