The US decision to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan has wider ramifications for the region and poses new and daunting security challenges for India, which is engaged in the reconstruction works in the war-ravaged country. The potential consequences of the American exit from the volatile region acquire a new sense of danger because of the resurgence of the Taliban, which ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, and its affiliates. The possibility of a Taliban takeover and an increased political role for Pakistan could badly hurt India’s interests in the region. New Delhi’s contribution to reconstruction and rebuilding the infrastructure and humanitarian aid has been significant and widely acclaimed as India’s engineers have over years risked their lives and rebuilt hospitals, roads, bridges and schools. This being the ground reality, US President Donald Trump’s thoughtless comments mocking at India’s role in Afghanistan are highly deplorable. They smack of his lack of understanding of the geopolitical realities of the region. In the event of America’s total withdrawal, the country’s gradual descent into a civil war is likely as various regional stakeholders will try to reshape the battlefield in accordance with their own strategic priorities. Any arrangement where the Taliban gets an upper hand will have implications for Kashmir as anti-India militant groups will be emboldened to step up their activities. The Taliban could join hands with Pakistani militants to create safe havens for terrorists targeting the interests of India, the US and other countries.
Given the unilateral and often impulsive actions of the Trump administration, India must revisit its policy and should be prepared to fight its own battles. Taliban’s expected rise could sound the death knell for the government of Ashraf Ghani and possibly end Indian influence there. However, there is huge goodwill for India among the common people in Afghanistan and this needs to be harnessed. For Pakistan also, the challenges are many. Though the Taliban may have received shelter on Pakistani soil, the situation might quickly change once it gains control over the country. On issues ranging from the dispute over the Durand Line to relationships among the Pashtun tribes along their common frontier, there are serious differences between the Taliban and the Pakistani establishment. Once the US leaves, these differences are bound to aggravate. Once the civil war ends, Afghanistan will need a large number of professionals and educated elite to rebuild the nation. India can pitch in and help nurture them by opening up educational opportunities for them. New Delhi can even host campuses in India so that the next generation of Afghans are not denied education because of political instability. India’s interests must remain with the people of Afghanistan.