India waits for Donald Trump’s clarification on US cut-back in Afghanistan
India has been prepared for a long time now for an “eventual” pullout of American troops from Afghanistan but surprised by the Trump administration’s sudden decision, as the rest of the world, it wants to know more about the nature and the time-frame of the cut-back to assess implications for its involvement.
Indians are concerned about the security of four consulates — Jalalabad (in the east), Herat (west), Mazar-e-Sharif (north) and Kandahar (in the south) — and the embassy in Kabul, personnel manning them and the projects India is running there as part of the reconstruction effort, as a top partner.
There has been no communication from the United States to India yet about the impending pullout, and it’s been noted in New Delhi. But,people in the know said, assuming the Trump administration had indeed taken a call — “there has been no tweet or announcement as about the Syrian pullout” — they want to see which troops are being pulled out, those involved in counter-terrorism or those advising Afghanistan combat troops, or both.
India also wants to know about the time-frame of the cut back and whether American troops, marked for pullout, leave before the upcoming Afghan elections or after. “Leaving before could determine the nature of the elections — whether they will be free and fair — which, in turn, could determine their legitimacy and the outcome,” said a person familiar with the deliberations.
These two factors are critical to assessing the repercussion for India — “whether the troop-cut would be hugely consequential or one that can be managed”.
Afghan presidential elections are due next April, and Indian officials dealing with South Asia fear most a US drawdown in the first quarter of 2019, which they have considered more as a possibility.
US President Trump has been keen to pullout of Afghanistan, as was his predecessor Barack Obama, but has sought to base it on conditions and an arbitrarily drawn timeline as preferred by his predecessor. But the move to cut the troops presence has not been explained that whether it’s linked to improvement in condition or tied to peace talks.
Even allies such as Germany and the United Kingdom who have large troops presence in Afghanistan were not consulted.
The presence of American and NATO forces has been critical for the security situation, and Afghanistan and New Delhi would be following developments arising out of the Trump administration’s decision closely. “Not only do we have four consulates and an embassy there in Afghanistan, but also a large number of ongoing development projects,” said a person familiar with India’s thinking on the matter.
India has invested heavily in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and from much before, the Trump administration sought to accord India a larger role there.
India helped the central bank of Afghanistan find its feet, starting just days after the Taliban were chased out of the country in late 2001 — with the help of government bankers from Indian staying four to a room in a Kabul property —- rebuild schools (former president Hamid Karzai’s school, to begin with), get the transportation system running — with the help of the Tata company — and resurrect Kabul’s main hospital, quietly and without fanfare.
But it has not been easy, or safe. There have been multiple attacks on Indian missions in Afghanistan, the embassy and consulates. And just this past May, six engineers of a private Indian company were abducted by the Taliban in Baghlan province of Afghanistan.
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