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USA’s withdrawal from Afghanistan: Implications for India

by HE Times
I’m now the fourth US president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan: two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth : United States President Joe Biden

n April 14, 2021 United States President Joe Biden told Americans when their country’s longest war would finally end. He announced, ‘’ I’m now the fourth US president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan: two Republicans, two Democrats.
I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth”. The decision to pull out is being seen as an admission of failure. It is being said that Biden’s announcement has removed all incentives for the Taliban to agree for a dialogue with the Afghan government.
The United States invasion of Afghanistan occurred after the September 11 attacks in late 2001 and was supported by close US allies which had officially began the War on Terror.
Its public aims were to dismantle al-Qaeda and deny it a safe base of operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power. In December 2001, the United Nations Security Council established the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to oversee military operations in the country and train Afghan National Security Forces.
The February 2020 Doha deal between Washington and the Taliban did little to find and promote a peaceful resolution to the war.
The primary US goal was to hunt down Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. But there was nevera clear exit strategy. The troops stayed when the US launched another war, in Iraq in 2003and after killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 in Pakistan.
So, can we say that USA’s objectives have been achieved? When the intervention began in October 2001, Afghanistan was an isolated, devastated country.
Only three countries recognized the Taliban’s fundamentalist emirate: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Today, Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with a Western-sponsored democratic constitution and an internationally recognized, elected government.
There is greater public knowledge about human rights, and a more vibrant discourse around human rights across Afghanistan. Access to health care has increased, as has the number of roads, cell phone towers, dams, bridges, power pylons and water pipes.
But, the country has not found peace and has deep social and economic divisions, as much of the aid has only reached the urban elites. More than half of the population continues to live in abject poverty.
According to the Long War Journal, of Afghanistan’s 325 districts, the Taliban are in control of 76 or 19%, and government forces 127 or 32%. The remaining are contested. According to the Council of Foreign Relations, the Taliban are stronger now than at any point since 2001, when US forces invaded Afghanistan.
US intelligence agencies have concluded that the government could collapse within six months of the departure of the last international troops. Afghanistan is close to losing all the gains of the last 15 years.
The important question to be asked is about the losses that USA has suffered. The West invested billions of dollars into the goal of building a democratic Afghanistan after the Taliban’s swift fall in December 2001.
According to the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, since 2009, nearly 111,000 civilians had been killed or injured by the end of 2020. The US Army has lost 2,442 soldiers.
In January 2019, President Ashraf Ghani claimed at the World Economic Forum in Davos that more than 45,000 members of the Afghan security forces had lost their lives since he took office in 2014.
Brown University’s Costs of War Project has also estimated that the United States spent more than $2 trillion (€1.7 trillion) on the war in Afghanistan from October 2001 through April 2021.
So, where do we go from here? One thing that is confirmed is that peace is not coming anytime soon. Taliban projects itself as the winner against mighty NATO. With Pakistani support, the Taliban have achieved one of their main goals: the unconditional withdrawal of international troops.
They are now on the offensive. The Taliban reject the Afghan constitution and want to replace it with a “truly Islamic system”.
Clearly, the west has been humbled in Afghanistan, if not defeated. The lesson to be carried forward from Afghanistan is that wars are not won simply by more men and more money, one needs to learn about the social setups of the enemy.
The US withdrawal is a big event that is going to churn lot of geo-political events in the region and beyond. Pakistan will get a “strategic depth” in Afghanistan considering its friendly relations with Taliban.
China would have much to lose from instability in Afghanistan as this could have an impact on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and might end up stirring unrest in the Xinjiang Autonomous region, home to the Uighur minority.
Russia’s growing links with Pakistan could translate into a post-US role for Moscow in Afghanistan. However, it is probable that no one in Afghanistan will accept a return of Russia and Moscow lacks domestic political support as well.
As a country that shares borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan, Iran perceives active security threats from both. And a Taliban regime in Kabul would only increase this threat perception.
India was hoping to be part of the Blinken initiative, which gave India a role, by recognizing it as a regional stakeholder, but this proposal seems to have no future.
India is nervous about the US withdrawal. India was on the outer edges of the Trump drive to exit Afghanistan that culminated in the Doha Accord, and was a reluctant supporter of the “infra-Afghan talks” between the Taliban and Afghan government.
But, now India won’t be able to remain indifferent to another state collapse in Afghanistan. The South Block need to navigate all policy options, hard as well as soft, to deal with the issue.

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