What India can do in Afghanistan: editorials
The new peace agreement is the beginning of the end, or a new beginning, of the war of the United States in Afghanistan. The United States and the Taliban agreement could see US troops end their 20-year military presence in 14 months. What it is designed to do is symbolically fulfill the electoral promise of President Donald Trump to end the most expensive overseas war in Washington. One can expect many landslides between the cup and the lip, given the little that has been done. The blockade of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in the first step of the agreement, the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners, is a reminder that many interested parties are not part of the agreement.
India may be unhappy, but this treaty has been in perspective for more than a decade. President Barack Obama repeatedly tried to get the United States to leave Afghanistan. The noise of the US presidential campaign indicates a strong bipartisan desire for a withdrawal of troops. The only difference is that Trump seems less concerned about the regional consequences of such action. In the past, this would have inflated Pakistan’s military and its terrorist cohorts and would have meant problems for India. Today, New Delhi has much less to worry about given the economic weakness and international isolation of Islamabad. A more complicated debate is whether the Taliban and Afghanistan as a whole have evolved to become more resistant to manipulation by Rawalpindi and his terrorist cohorts. Much will depend on a set of variables that will be developed in the coming years. One of them will be the port of Chhabahar, backed by India, and its promise of economic independence from Pakistan.
New Delhi knew, for several months, that a withdrawal from the United States was more than likely, only that the calendar was uncertain. To talk about India trying to fill the spaces that the United States can leave is arrogant. India lacks the financial and military capacity and geographical proximity to do so. India can only try to make the withdrawal process longer and make Kabul’s role in the negotiations more robust. A more useful objective would be to restore the democratic process in Kashmir as quickly as possible before it becomes a crack in the country’s external armor.