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It is almost a month since American forces left the famous Bagram airbase, which had been the main base of the US counter-terrorism operations across Afghanistan for the last two decades. These military operations were targeted against Al Qaeda, Taliban, ISIS, and other terrorist groups. At the same time, the Taliban and all other supporting terrorist groups were at guerrilla warfare against the Americans & Allied forces and the security forces of Afghanistan. This sudden withdrawal of US and allied troops has left a big vacuum in the area thus giving a celebratory upper hand to the Taliban.
Advantages Taliban Enjoyed Against American Troops
The presence of snowy and dominating mountain ranges of the eastern and north-eastern regions of Afghanistan. The rivers, streams along the foothills of the two mountain ranges in central highlands further assisted the Taliban militants in waging effective guerilla warfare.
Good coordination amongst terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan with the Taliban.
The strong support of Pakistan’s ISI agency to the Taliban, especially the Haqqani network, which is an important component of the Taliban.
The gradual reduction in American& Allied forces in Afghanistan and sudden complete withdrawal, due to which the condition of the Afghan Forces has become even more critical. This has been a major factor in the growing power of the Taliban and the increasing violence in Afghanistan
Changing Equations in Region and Concerns for India
As the US troops have moved out, now the government and forces of Afghanistan is getting weaker, consequently, the Taliban is claiming to dominate almost 85% of the area in Afghanistan. Now Taliban has reached attacking Kandahar airport. The Taliban is assuming that the power of Afghanistan is almost in their hands. Few signals indicate possible regional alignments in being.
The Taliban is talking to China formally and inviting China to invest in Afghanistan.
The possibility of China-Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran alignment looks to grow significantly. The improvement in China- Iran relations may hasten this alignment.
This alliance may become even stronger if Turkey and Russia join the group. The likelihood of such a scenario is fairly high as Turkey enjoys good relations with Pakistan, while China’s relations with Russia are also reasonably smooth.
Possibility of an alignment between China-Pak-Afghanistan-Iran-Turkey and Russia over Afghanistan.
This form of alignment can make India’s strength in this region very weak from a military and economic security perspective. India has to stop this equation from taking shape at any cost because if this happens then India faces the consequences of losing its investment of over three billion dollars in Afghanistan.
This will also lead to, Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Pakistani terrorists together training their guns towards Kashmir.
If the current Afghan government loses power, then a large number of Afghan populations may migrate to India.
Analyzing and sensing existential danger to its survivability, the Afghanistan Ghani government has requested for military & financial assistance from India and many other countries. Considering all the above, India must take initiative with all diplomatic calculations and help Afghanistan as much as possible by taking on board QUAD members onboard.
Options for India
The rapidly deteriorating internal security situation of Afghanistan is pointing towards a fierce civil war and the future of Afghanistan looks absolutely unpredictable and bleak. In such a situation, India has very limited options.
It would be in our national security interest to prevent the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan as the dominant component of any future ruling dispensation.
A government of possible reconciliation is the only viable and peaceful way forward. In order to ensure this, we need to provide all possible military equipment assistance to the current Afghan government in collaboration with Quad countries.
To prevent Russia and Iran from joining the China – Pak – Taliban ruled Afghan alignment. Diplomatic maneuvers would play an important role in achieving this.
India will have to strengthen its hold on Chabahar and Jask ports to prevent the ever-increasing influence of China into Iran.
Considering QUAD partner’s position on Iran in mind, India will have to move very cautiously, by adopting an issue based approach towards Iran as our economic and energy security issues are deeply keyed into Iran.
Pakistan and China are important aspects of such alignment. To counter them, India’s best bet will be to operate in the ambit of “Grey Zone Warfare”. India must support the people of Baluchistan against atrocities by Pakistan.
India needs to highlight China’s atrocities against Uyghur Muslims at the international level, step-motherly treatment of Tibetan Buddhist people, cultural genocide, China’s undemocratic attitude in Hong Kong, and support the Taiwanese cause.
If there be an opportunity for an UN-mandated intervention (UN Peace Keeping Force) in Afghanistan, it would be in India’s interest to be part of this development.
Expansion of the QUAD by including France, Britain, and friendly countries of South East Asian Nations such as Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, and Indonesia.
Afghanistan is currently a challenge not only for India but for the whole world and we have to face and solve this challenge together. The Comprehensive National Power (CNP) of our country, which includes military power, will have to be expanded.
(Commodore Vijesh Kumar Garg, VSM is Joint Director of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. The views expressed in this article are personal.)