US Withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Emergence of Neo-Taliban: Lessons for Indian Afghan Policy

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The US withdrawal from Afghanistan resulted from the historical Doha Agreement signed between Taliban leadership and the Biden administration on February 29, 2020. The four pages document, in three parts, laid down a complete plan of American withdrawal from Afghanistan. The drafted agreement outlined a complete withdrawal of mainly all US military forces, allies, and coalition partners from Afghanistan. The agreed framework of withdrawal became a historical document due to its significant impact on global power politics generally and South Asian regional politics particularly. The leading circles of international academic communities have marked the agreement as a critical international development that poses various questions on the American global standing.

The withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s retake of Kabul have translated globally as an American defeat in the ‘graveyard of the empires’. President Biden’s decision of hasty withdrawal plan re-validated the international community’s claims for calling Afghanistan a ‘graveyard of empires’. While analysing Washington’s losing geostrategic interests in the ‘graveyard of empires’, the international community has preferred to dub this scenario as an open defeat of the US due to the re-emergence of the Taliban. Parallel to the American evacuation plan, President Ashraf Ghani left his government in Kabul and increased the chances of chaos and disorder in Afghanistan. The UAE government accommodated the exiled President Ghani on humanitarian grounds, whereas his absenteeism became an opportunity for local Taliban and internationally recognised as Taliban victory. It is considered internationally the end of the two-decade-long intra-state conflict that compelled the US to abandon global counter terror campaign, which had already failed in Iraq.    

The defeat of the US or the victory of the Taliban has more significant implications for the broader South Asian region generally and the India-Pakistan conflict specifically. The Indian involvement in the domestic affairs of Afghanistan always remained a major hurdle in restoring peace in Afghanistan. Indian active role in Afghanistan, cemented in broader anti-Pakistani agenda, always tried to keep Afghan land an appropriate ground for crafting various anti-Pakistani clandestine activities. Indian Afghan policy purely pursuing an anti-Pakistani approach is fundamentally designed by New Delhi to keep Kabul diplomatically away from Islamabad.

The quest for weakening Pakistan’s position led New Delhi to cultivate cooperative ties with Kabul to disturb Pakistan’s ties with its immediate Afghan neighbour. New Delhi’s mainstream pattern of Afghan policy primarily revolves around its hostility towards Pakistan. With the support of the US, the Indian leadership dramatically increased its investment in Afghan society under the broader framework of numerous anti-Pakistani thoughts. In this way, the Indian Afghan policy, which became successful under the presence of US military troops, was primarily designed to remain Pakistan-Afghanistan relations disturbed and stressed. The contemporary scenario changed the situation dramatically due to India’s weakening covert anti-Pakistani campaign in Afghanistan. The promotion of anti-Pakistani sentiment has become a difficult task for India with the US evacuation plan.

The post-America Afghanistan is intended to hamper the conventional patterns of New Delhi’s multi-layered collaboration with Kabul under the shadows of Washington. In this way, the American plan to leave Afghanistan in the ashes of its global war on terror and the Taliban’s quest to manage their own country peacefully have undermined the fundamental structure of Indian Afghan policy.

As the result of American plans of evacuating from Afghan land, the re-emergence of the Taliban in Kabul and their success in securing Afghan land against foreign interventions have alarmed Indian security establishment. Taliban’s plans for developing an independent Islamic government without foreign interventions have further jeopardised the Indian role in Afghanistan. Therefore, Indian leaders need to redefine New Delhi’s Afghan policy because the emergence of neo-Taliban in Afghanistan has challenged the conventional wisdom attached to the traditional concept of Taliban. While keeping in mind the changing dynamics of South Asian regional politics under the influence of great power politics, Indian leaders need to redefine the fundamental framework of New Delhi’s Afghan policy based on the following lessons.

One – post-America Afghanistan has added a new chapter in the history of Kabul due to the rise of an upgraded version of the Taliban and their improved mindset. The recent reports on their expansion after US departure has repeatedly mentioned that the neo-Taliban have moved away from their traditional strict political rule and stringent societal restrictions. Based on the contemporary peaceful political power shift in Kabul, it can easily be maintained that the new political climate of Afghanistan will commence a new phase of the Afghan nation under the reformed ideology of neo-Taliban. Under the neo-Taliban, Afghanistan’s determination for not allowing anyone to use their land against territorially adjoining nations will start various multi-layered positive developments in Afghanistan. The determination of new leadership for securing Afghan land against foreign forces has become a serious challenge for Indian Afghan policy. So, an active New Delhi’s Afghan policy, designed to promote countless anti-Pakistan sentiments in the Afghan nation, will not be an advantageous future strategy for India.

Two – the emergence of neo-Taliban will introduce Afghanistan as a formidable power against external intervention. It will not allow anyone to use Afghan land as an appropriate place for a proxy war. The Indian critical evaluation of the new Sharia government in Kabul raised several of New Delhi’s reservations on establishing an Islamic government in Afghanistan. An anxious feeling of contemporary Indian government has labelled the Taliban’s Afghanistan as an ’empire of terror’, which is witnessing a temporary phase of a purely ideological takeover of Kabul. Instead of negatively viewing the arrival of neo-Taliban in Kabul and their intention for creating an Islamic state, New Delhi needs to seriously realise the potential of the Afghan government under neo-Taliban where a positive engagement of New Delhi with the new leadership in Kabul will produce various positive outcomes more than its conventional anti-Pakistan Afghan policy. So, New Delhi needs to learn its strategic failure in Afghanistan while reforming its Afghan policy on positive lines.  

Three – Afghanistan-Pakistan-India triangle can develop a cooperative framework cemented in different formats of bilateral relations between three neighbours instead of destroying the vision of a politically stable Afghanistan. The conventional patterns of New Delhi’s Afghan policy rooted in an anti-Pakistani obsession will not be a favourable choice for India in future. Thus, Indian leadership is required to rationally study Pakistan’s vision of peace in Afghanistan and its geographical proximity to the Afghan nation. These two elements have increased the scope of the Islamabad-Kabul cooperative neighbourhood approach, which New Delhi could not overlook. So, the Indian leadership is required to adopt a constructive Afghan policy free from its anti-Pakistani thoughts.

Four – New Delhi aims to deepen strategic cooperation with the US, increase trade volume with China, and grow strategic inclinations towards Russia will no longer be the preferred choice for Indian foreign policy. On the question of Afghanistan, Indian leadership is required to realise the potential of changing regional dynamics, in which the international community has identified the Indian negative role in Afghanistan through various authentic channels. Evidencing from the multilateral meetings for addressing Afghanistan quagmire, the leaders of different nations tried to keep India out of Afghan peace debates. In contrast to New Delhi, Islamabad’s role has been appreciated internationally for restoring Afghan peace. The international community considered Pakistan as an appropriate facilitator in resolving the Afghan quagmire positively. In this way, the international community would probably expect Indian to adopt a productive approach for Afghanistan beyond the influences of its regional bellicose. While sharing Islamabad’s vision for supporting peace in Afghanistan, New Delhi should alter its conventional strategy for opposing the peaceful settlement of the Afghan issue. Thus, the Indian Afghan policy should be structured on the principles of peace and stability instead of designing it on centuries-old outdated and offensive strategic thoughts.

Five – Neo-Taliban’s pragmatic visualisation of the changing great power politics resulted in their bilateral meetings with Beijing and Moscow. Apart from discussing in Moscow the scope of a peaceful and stable political order in Afghanistan, the contemporary leadership of the Taliban decided to meet Chinese state authorities has been labelled as the increasing diplomatic power of neo-Taliban in the world. Thus, the Taliban’s updated approach for managing cooperative ties formally with the international community will force the Indian government to positively view the political reforms in Afghanistan in the post-US withdrawal scenario.     

Therefore, New Delhi’s positive appreciation of the peaceful settlement of the government in Kabul will refine the Indian position in its home region. It will let Indian leaders overhaul New Delhi’s traditional Afghan policy. It will also force New Delhi to alter its foreign relations with Kabul according to the changing dynamics of post-America Afghanistan. Under neo-Taliban’s Afghanistan, the Indian government will be compelled to change the main course of its Afghan policy. In this way, an impartial and rational revision of Indian Afghan policy will reduce New Delhi’s strategic choices on the one hand. On the other hand, it will enhance the scope of peace of stability in the broader South Asian region. It will specifically allow the new Afghan leadership to independently manage their foreign relations with the territorially adjoining nations and the world beyond neighbours.   

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About Dr. Attiq ur Rehman 5 Articles
The author is Assistant Professor at National University of Modern Languages, (NUML) Islamabad

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