CDS Gen Rawat flags concerns about US troop exit from Afghanistan
India’s senior-most military commander on Thursday flagged concerns about disruptors stepping in to fill the vacuum that will be created in Afghanistan with the withdrawal of American and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) troops, possibly resulting in violence continuing in that country.
US President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that the remaining US troops will leave Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that took them there in the hunt for Al Qaeda.
“We have concerns about Afghanistan. If the US feels that their withdrawal and a similar withdrawal by its NATO allies that we are hearing about is ultimately going to lead to peace and tranquillity, we would be happy to see such a situation emerging. But our concern is that the vacuum should not create space for other disruptors to step in,” Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat said during a discussion at the Raisina Dialogue.
Biden said on April 14 that American forces cannot stay on in the hope of creating the ideal withdrawal conditions and “it’s time to end America’s longest war.” There are 2,500-3,500 US troops in Afghanistan, in addition to 8,500 deployed by coalition allies.
Asked if Pakistan and Iran were the other disruptors he was referring to, the CDS said that he would not like to name any nation, but many countries were looking at the opportunity to walk into the vacuum.
“Afghanistan is a nation which is rich in resources and there are nations we know who tend to exploit resources (of other countries) for their own benefit without the benefit going to the community of that nation. So, if that is going to happen, it should be prevented and the international community must step in to ensure that Afghanistan is for the Afghans,” Rawat said.
The CDS’s comments came on a day US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kabul to brief Afghan leaders on the forthcoming US troop withdrawal.
Rawat said India would be happy to provide whatever support it can for the development of Afghanistan and to make sure that peace returns to that country.
The CDS also spoke about China’s assertiveness in the region at the Raisina Dialogue.
He said while China believed it could compel nations to give in to its demands with “a little bit of push and shove,” it was not able to do that in the Ladakh sector where the two countries have been locked in a border row more than 11 months.
“India stood firm on its northern borders and we have proven that we will not get pushed (around),” Rawat said during a discussion on the future of conflict.
His counterparts from Australia and Japan --- Generals Angus Campbell and Koji Yamakazi --- were also on the panel. India, the US, Japan and Australia constitute the Quadrilateral security dialogue or Quad. China has been wary of the grouping that was revived in late 2017, and Beijing’s suspicions have increased since the four countries upgraded the forum to the ministerial level in 2019.
Asked to comment on China’s aggression in the region despite its behaviour bringing the Quad closer, Rawat said the Chinese feel that they have arrived and have a better armed force because of the technological advances they have made.
The CDS linked China’s assertiveness to its developing disruptive technologies that can paralyse systems of its adversaries, causing breakdowns in critical areas such as banking, power grids, transportation and communication.
“In whatever we have been able to achieve in standing firm, in preventing change of status quo; we have been able to gather world support. The international community has come to our support to say that yes there is an international rules-based order which every nation must follow,” Rawat said.
Experts said China miscalculated India’s response in the Ladakh sector while making its forward deployments to alter status quo in the sensitive area.
“China went wrong in its assessment of India’s response and resilience to the People’s Liberation Army’s forward deployment and aggressive behaviour along the LAC. This resulted in the first ever withdrawal of China’s forward deployment from a neighbouring country including the maritime domain,” said Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd), a former director general of military operations.
The CDS said China tried to show it can change status quo by the use of disruptive technologies without using force. “As of now, they have not used force and they thought India as a nation will succumb to the pressures they are putting on us because of the technological advantage that they have,” he said.
He said nations that have developed disruptive technologies feel they will be able to impose their will on other nations by saying that “if you don’t come to my terms, I have other means of bringing you into conflict through unconventional means.”
“So, nations are trying to become assertive and this is what China attempted to do and say that ‘it is my way or no other way.’ Such nature of undeclared wars will place dilemma in the minds of decision makers whether or not to resort to kinetic force and thus be labelled an aggressor. It is trying to draw you into a conflict without you starting the conflict but (by it) resorting to disruptive technologies,” Rawat said.