Among the regional players, India appears to be the biggest loser as Afghanistan has fallen to the Taliban after a weeks-long blitz that saw provinces fall like a pack of cards to the insurgents amid the exit of American troops and little to no resistance by the Afghan forces. A question mark hangs over a string of development projects worth over $3 billion being executed by India and its hopes of seeing a free, democratic system taking roots in the war-ravaged nation have been dashed. The Taliban rule in Kabul is the worst possible scenario for India, which has been an ardent supporter of democratic forces there. It took the Taliban, essentially a creation of Pakistan, just over a week to seize control of the country after a lightning sweep that ended in Kabul as government forces, trained for years and equipped by the United States at a cost of billions of dollars, melted away. China, Pakistan, Russia and Iran are the new influencers in the emerging security and economic architecture in Afghanistan while it is virtually the end of the road for India. For Beijing, it is like adding another country to its shopping cart, with Pakistan already being reduced to the status of a client state. For Islamabad, a long-cherished dream has now come to fruition. By training, funding and arming the Taliban and providing them with diplomatic support through their negotiations with the United States, Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agency has achieved its goal: annexation of sovereign Afghanistan through their proxy soldiers, the Taliban.
The new axis of influencers will be happy to see that the US hold reduces further while China and Pakistan will also try to minimise Indian engagement with the new Islamist regime. The denouement in Afghanistan, reflecting America’s biggest military and political fiasco in recent times, has sparked fears among many Afghans that their country might return to brutal past and imposition of harsh practices of sharia. During the Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001, women could not work and punishments such as stoning, whipping and hanging were administered. The implications for India are particularly ominous. The Taliban mercenaries, trained by Pakistani ISI, could be redeployed to target India with a particular focus on Kashmir. There is a dangerous possibility of Pakistan shifting the training camps of terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed to Taliban-occupied Afghanistan for future terror strikes against India. Already, groups like the al-Qaeda, Islamic State, East Turkestan Islamic Movement and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are thriving under the protection of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban dispensation in Afghanistan will give a fillip to the extremist elements in Kashmir. India should brace for these new sets of challenges.