July 23, 2024

Syllabus: General Studies Paper 2

Context:

The fall of Kabul in the wake of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan will prove to be a defining moment for the region and the future shape of its geopolitics.

Historical Perspective:

  • The geopolitics depends on the Taliban’s actual conduct both domestically as well as on the southern and western Asian geopolitical partners.
  • An axis of regional powers such as China, Pakistan, Russia, and the Taliban, has already started filling the power vacuum and shaping the contours of the region’s geopolitics based on their individual and common interests.
  • These countries harbour deep anti-American feelings in varying degrees which will further shrink the American influence in the Eurasian heartland.
  • The post-American power vacuum in the region will be primarily advantageous to China and its grand strategic plans for the region. Beijing will further strengthen its efforts to bring every country in the region, except India, on the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative bandwagon.
  • The bigger challenge for India though would be a near-certain increase in terrorism and extremism in the region. The U.S. presence in Afghanistan, international pressure on the Taliban and Financial Action Task Force worries in Pakistan had a relatively moderating effect on the region’s terror ecosystem.

Impact of US withdrawal from Afghanistan on the Region:

Afghanistan: Advantage Taliban & Instability

  • Biden’s announcement has removed all incentives for the Taliban to agree for a dialogue with the Afghan government
  • Blinken Proposal dead: The proposal by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in March 2021 is now almost certainly dead in the water. It included 
    • A 90-day ceasefire
    • Talks under the auspices of the UN for a consensus plan for Afghanistan among the US, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran and India
    • A meeting in Turkey between the Taliban and Afghan government towards an “inclusive” interim government
    • An agreement on the foundational principles of the future political order and for a permanent ceasefire.
  • The possibility of the Taliban being able to strike a peace deal with the Afghan government is low, as the Taliban believe that they can triumph militarily.
  • IS and other terrorist groups have gained a foothold in Afghanistan. Therefore, the consequences of a hasty and irresponsible withdrawal from Afghanistan could be dangerous not only for Afghanistan but also for the region and the world
  • There is deep apprehension of a return to the 1990s, although there is also a view that the Taliban too have changed over 25 years, and would not want to alienate the international community as they did when they ruled Afghanistan during 1996-01.
  • By announcing an unconditional pullout, the US has accepted the Taliban’s main demand. Now the international community expects the Taliban to join the political process. There is no excuse to continue the war

Pakistan: Friendly Power & Burden of Chaos

  • The Taliban are a creation of the Pakistani security establishment. After the US invasion of Afghanistan, they removed themselves to safe havens in Pakistan territory, and the Taliban High Council operated from Quetta in Balochistan. 
  • For Pakistan, the Taliban capture of Afghanistan would finally bring a friendly force in power in Kabul after 20 years and India (which had friendly relations with Afghani govt.) would be cut to size.
  • But a US withdrawal also means Pakistan will need to shoulder the entire burden of the chaos that experts predict. 
  • Civil war is not ruled out and with it, the flow of refugees into Pakistan once again, even as the country struggles with refugees from the first Afghan war.
  • The Taliban are not a monolith, and have recently shown streaks of independence from Pakistan. It has to guard against instability in Afghanistan from spilling over the border.

India: Time to be Wary

  • 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 “intra-Afghan talks” between the Taliban and Afghan government. 
  • When the Biden Administration came in, India was hopeful of a US reset.
  • The Blinken proposal gave India a role, by recognising it as a regional stakeholder, but this proposal seems to have no future.
  • Another concern would be India-focused militants such as Laskhar- e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohamed, which the Indian security establishment already believes to have relocated in large numbers to Afghanistan

China: Uighurs and an ally in Pakistan

  • China would have much to lose from instability in Afghanistan as this could have an impact on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. 
  • A Taliban regime in Afghanistan might end up stirring unrest in the Xinjiang Autonomous region, home to the Uighur minority. 
  • Conversely, as an ally of Pakistan, it could see a bigger role for itself in Afghanistan.

Russia: Full circle

  • The US exit is for Russia a full circle after its own defeat at the hands of US-backed Mujahideen and exit from Afghanistan three decades ago. 
  • In recent years, Russia has taken on the role of peacemaker in Afghanistan. 
  • Russia’s growing links with Pakistan could translate into a post-US role for Moscow in Afghanistan.

Iran: Threat, Theological divide & Pragmatism

  • 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. 
  • But Iran, with links to the Hazaras in Afghanistan, has of late played all sides. 
  • Despite the mutual hostility and the theological divide between the two, Iran opened channels to the Taliban a few years ago, and recently, even hosted a Taliban delegation at Tehran.

Way Forward

  • One, there could be a political settlement in which the Taliban and the government agree to some power-sharing mechanism and jointly shape the future of Afghanistan. As of now, this looks like a remote possibility.
  • Two, an all-out civil war may be possible, in which the government, economically backed and militarily trained by the West, holds on to its positions in key cities. This is already unfolding.
  • A third scenario would be of the Taliban taking over the country.

The Hindu Link:

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-fall-of-kabul-the-future-of-regional-geopolitics/article36024512.ece

QUESTION: How US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan will influence the regional geopolitics of the region?

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