As Washington pulls out of Afghanistan to focus on East Asia and thwart Beijing’s designs, India’s vision for a self-sufficient Afghan nation comes under a dark cloud.
Thanks to a series of ill-conceived and, worse still, ill-timed decisions, by the West, Afghanistan’s fate appears to be doomed and, with it, the billions of dollars in investment and not to discount the years of well-being invested by India, for the benefit of the Afghan people, that appears to be deleted at one stroke.
The withdrawal of the US and Nato forces has provided the Taliban the impetus that it had been looking for, after being muzzled for years and they now appear to be capturing large swathes of land and territory in their ultimate march towards securing the capital city of Kabul and bringing the whole country once again under their control.
More than just the military offensive that is being carried out the reality on the ground has also become a geo-political battlefield with China ready to recognise a Taliban government, should it come to power, and allegations that certain other nations that share the border with Afghanistan are fuelling the aspirations of the Taliban in the absence of foreign security forces.
The seeds of well-being, prosperity and dignity, sown by India, now appears to be crushed under the force of the violence that has been unleashed upon the Afghan people once again rendering them bereft of hope. There is a grim possibility that New Delhi may have no role to play in the future of this nation should it come under the control of the Taliban who are being heavily backed by non-state actors like China and Pakistan.
Two decades of rebuilding a nation will be erased. Afghanistan is vital to India’s strategic interests in the region it is a SAARC member that is closely aligned with India on multiple platforms. Under the security blanket provided by the US and Nato forces India had been one of the architects of rebuilding this nation pouring in funds for development in the areas of vital roads, dams, electricity transmission lines and substations, schools and hospitals to the tune of well over $3 billion. More importantly, these infrastructure projects were actually operational, but now their fate, in all probability, has been sunk.
Bilateral trade was actually worth $1 billion thanks to the 2011 India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement where funds and expertise from India ensured the setting up of Afghanistan’s infrastructure and institutions; education and technical assistance for capacity-building in many areas; investment and allowing duty-free access to the Indian markets.
As India’s foreign minister Dr. S Jaishankar had commented while speaking at the Afghanistan Conference in Geneva, in November 2020, “No part of Afghanistan today is untouched by the 400-plus projects that India has undertaken in all 34 of Afghanistan’s provinces”. At this conference, India had announced about 150 projects worth $80 million. There was clear evidence, before the recent offensive started by the Taliban, that Afghanistan was a country in a positive state of transition.
The US and Nato’s withdrawal, especially the former, is a calculated move. Washington has realised that it must renew its foreign policy focus on East Asia, to thwart Chinese influence, and timed its Afghanistan departure in tune with that strategy. Staying engaged in hopeless wars no longer makes financial and strategic sense as a wider geo-political face-off has emerged with China.
According to Reuters, India has pulled out its citizens from northern Afghanistan. The Indian government shut its consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, the biggest city in the north, and has urged its diplomats and Indian citizens to take the special flight home. New Delhi has now closed all its consulates, leaving only the embassy in Kabul operational. According to an MeA advisory, India has asked Indian nationals to leave Afghanistan through commercial means as there is no formal evacuation mechanism. According to an MeA spokesman, “Our Consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif has withdrawn all India-based personnel earlier this week, this is a temporary measure. Our consulate there continues to be operational with locally recruited staff.”
Islamist Taliban fighters have overrun six provincial capitals in recent days in the north, west and south of Afghanistan.
According to ANI, the Ashraf Ghani-led Afghanistan government yesterday offered a "share of power" to the Taliban in a bid to stop the escalating violence where the insurgent group has captured 10 provincial capitals so far, local media reported. The government had offered a power-sharing deal in which it has also asked the Taliban to end attacks on civilians. The development came soon after Taliban spokesperson Qari Yousaf Ahmadi said the group had captured Ghazni city, the capital of the eponymous province in Afghanistan's southeast.
It appears that the world has once again abandoned Afghanistan to its internal and external destructive forces.
- Inputs from Reuters & ANI