Taliban's Mullah Baradar
Taliban's top political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar addresses during the signing of the Afghan peace deal, Doha | ANI Photo
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Afghanistan has been the graveyard of empires for centuries and of two super powers in the last 40 years — the USSR, from 24 December 1979 to 15 February 1989; and the US, from 7 October 2001 to 29 February 2020.

India, despite being the second-biggest donor of foreign aid to Afghanistan and receiving adequate notice, merely watched the negotiations and signing of the US-Taliban peace deal from the sidelines and made no change in its approach towards the Taliban. No wonder, India was excluded from Taliban chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar’s “thank you” list, which included Pakistan (special mention), China, Iran and Russia.

The ‘defeat’ of the US in Afghanistan, on the other hand, is the finest hour of Pakistan’s statecraft. Never  in history a nation has plotted and actively abetted the ‘defeat’ of a super power and yet continued to enjoy its goodwill.

India with its economic clout and soft power can still be a major player in Afghanistan. But for that to happen, India will have to come to terms with the new reality and engage with the Taliban. Realpolitik is not about absolutism, but involves adaptation to promote national interests.

Afghan-born US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Mullah Baradar signed The Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan on 29 February, 2020, at Sheraton Hotel in Doha. The negotiations followed a chequered course which was less to do with “hard bargaining” by the US and more due to the Taliban displaying its clout with terrorist attacks against US troops, Afghan Armed Forces and civilians.

Shorn of diplomatic finesse, the “peace agreement” is nothing more than a face-saving exit for the US from its longest war. Afghanistan has been left to its fate like Vietnam was 47 years ago.


Also read: Afghanistan is not Vietnam. US should know that walking away won’t be that easy


The agreement

The four-page agreement has been signed between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which is not recognised as a state by the US, and the United States of America. The Afghan government is not a party to the agreement. In fact, it is not even recognised by the Taliban. The future of Afghanistan will be decided by the intra-Afghan negotiations between the Taliban and “Afghan sides” beginning 10 March 2020. A separate Joint Declaration between the Afghan government and the US was issued in Kabul. This declaration contains the gist of the US-Taliban agreement and makes a commitment for a political settlement through intra-Afghan negotiations between the Taliban and an inclusive negotiating team of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (the government), and a permanent comprehensive ceasefire.

The Doha agreement broadly involves the withdrawal of US forces in a phased manner, removal of international sanctions on the Taliban, release of prisoners from both sides and Taliban’s commitment to reduce violence.

As part of the agreement, Taliban will not allow groups like Al-Qaeda to use Afghanistan to threaten the security of the US and its allies. But the agreement is silent on anti-India terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.


Also read: US-Afghan peace deal relies on old flaws, dated assumptions. Taliban of 2020 has changed


Future of Afghanistan

The fact that within 48 hours of the peace agreement and the joint declaration, President Ashraf Ghani said that the release of prisoners was not a promise the US could make and the Taliban resumed its operations against Afghan forces after just seven days of the pre-agreement “reduction in violence” promise, gives an indication of the complexities that will determine this future. On 4 March, the US carried out an

Post US exit, the Pashtun-dominated Taliban backed by Pakistan will be the most potent force and its return to power is ordained. The future of Afghanistan will be decided by the avatar in which it emerges to rule Afghanistan.

In the aftermath of the deal, two extreme possibilities can emerge in Afghanistan. The worst-case scenario is the Taliban going back to its pre-9/11 ways. The best-case scenario is a Taliban-led multi-ethnic coalition government on the Iranian political model with its moderation managed by leverage of international aid without which Afghanistan cannot survive and Pakistan’s influence. This will also be contingent on the leverage the international community can exercise over Pakistan.


Also read: India took the high moral ground by not talking to Taliban and lost influence in Afghanistan


The way forward for India

Realpolitik demand that India should prepare for both the best and the worst-case scenarios. Plan A should be based on the best-case scenario. Post 9/11, India has exercised considerable strategic influence and enjoys phenomenal goodwill among the people of Afghanistan. New Delhi has pumped in about $3 billion in developmental projects. A large number of Afghan military officers have also been trained in India.

New Delhi must shed its inhibitions to support the agreement, engage with the Taliban, and become part of the peace process to get the best for the people of Afghanistan.

As its principal sponsor, Pakistan has considerable influence over the Taliban. But India has what Pakistan does not have — the economic clout to assist Afghanistan. Economic aid never fails to produce influence. Our aid must not only continue but increase with firm commitments over the next 10 years. For India, $1 billion a year is a small price to pay for establishing its influence in Afghanistan.

We must also actively participate in India-China-Afghanistan trilateral economic projects as agreed upon at Wuhan in 2018. For this, we must prevail upon China to influence Pakistan to open trade and transit routes to Afghanistan. To this end, we must recommence our engagement with Pakistan with focus on economic cooperation and transit routes. This will also allay Pakistan’s fears of our influence in Afghanistan.

I foresee the deployment of a peacekeeping force under the UN or the Shanghai Cooperation Council. We must not miss the opportunity to be an active participant in Afghanistan.


Also read: India has invested too much in Afghanistan to let Taliban hold sway again with US blessings


To prepare for the worst-case scenario, we must engage with the non-Taliban ethnic coalition as and when it is formed and assist it economically and militarily through Tajikistan.    

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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29 Comments Share Your Views

29 COMMENTS

  1. General! With all due respect, Your statements are conflicting here or may be you are intentionally inclined to believe a scenario in your national interest which i would not blame you for. Here i quote;
    “The ‘defeat’ of the US in Afghanistan, on the other hand, is the finest hour of Pakistan’s statecraft. Never in history a nation has plotted and actively abetted the ‘defeat’ of a super power and yet continued to enjoy its goodwill.”

    And then, i quote again your another para here;
    “The best-case scenario is a Taliban-led multi-ethnic coalition government on the Iranian political model with its moderation managed by leverage of international aid without which Afghanistan cannot survive and Pakistan’s influence. This will also be contingent on the leverage the international community can exercise over Pakistan.”

    Now compare the first statement with the second and tell me “How exactly the so-called “International community” is going to contain Pakistan when two world super powers could not??

    I’d say the consider the first scenario is most likely India’s challenge ahead and do the best you can to protect yourselves. Your continued support to anti-Pakistan terrorists groups in Pakistan has shed a lot of blood of innocents. Pakistan has passed that time. I hope you guys are ready for your turn.

    I am sure you can hear in Taliban’s voice who is sending you a message.

  2. It is high time that these stupid retarded generals be put into quarantines rather than giving them opportunities to lead indian public into delusions.

  3. General, the game is over.
    Already you have blooded a lot both to afghanistan and Pakistan through your proxies.. History repeats itself.
    Payback time…
    Especially, the Taliban afganies they are not in a mood to forgot ur wrong doings in Afghanistan through your so called investment.
    God knows what will happen to india.
    I fear of worst..

  4. You are missing a point when you suggest that Indian government should shed its inhibitions and engage with Taliban because Delhi pumped in Billions . Yes they did, but to support a government The Taliban never recognised and never will. They are enemies to them. If you think they can’t see that, you are in the wrong.

  5. No need to squander a billion dollars thus. Wait for the peace process to collapse and free for all to begin. Then use drones/mercenaries (or pay someone) to take out high value targets of our interest in the Pak-Af theatre. In a war zone, scope of deniability is immense. A billion dollars can be more wisely spent in the Trump era by buying American influence than Afghan influence.

  6. No need of squandering away a billion dollars. Wait for the Afghan peace to collapse and free for all to begin. Then use drones (or pay the Americans) to take out high value targets in Afg-Pak theatre. In war scenario, scope for deniability is immense. Use the war to our advantage like what the Paks have been doing since 1979.

  7. US concluded a peace agreement with the Taliban completely missing out on the other splinter groups & the Haqqani Network. The various ethnic groups in Afghanistan have also been ignored. These groups are unlikely to accept Taliban’s rule & Taliban too is unlikely to form an inclusive government accommodating all such elements. In all likelihood we may see a continuation of violence & polarisation of groups to fight Taliban. Terrorists from outside Afghanistan are also likely to come in. Afghan constitution is likely to be replaced by Sharia Law.

    Under these circumstances, there is no point in India recognising Taliban. With so many players like China, Russia, Iran & Pakistan having their interests with each working on their own interests ignoring the people, there is no point in India getting involved with Taliban. Sending troops to Afghanistan is a strict No No.

    • US withdrawal from afghanistan could see a repeat of shia genocide like after soviet withdrawal, iran thinks ISI wont kill shias in afghanistan by writing anti india tweets. If taliban cant keep a peace deal for 1 hour, how is iran expecting them to do a multi ethnic unity govt to protect the shias who wanted to kill taliban for 20 years.

    • Dear brig
      How many groups fight during previous taliban regime in Afghanistan.
      Just mention a single case?
      In fact that historians write that those few years were most peaceful era in almost 200 years of afghanistan history.
      So don’t presume things like you did.
      Try to analyse the things , based on previous patterns, facts and figures.
      If taliban couldn’t control the afghanistan, then why a so called super power, where most of the country heads in the world are rubbing there heads in the foots of super power.
      But here it is different, the super power is running from lost to pillar to talk to taliban.
      Almost there top leaders are released, once they called them terrorists and now they are taliban diplomats whom America is trying to talk.
      So history is changing.
      “Those who are adoptable to change could survive. Darwin”
      Survival of Fittest.

  8. It’s the two super power failure in Afghanistan and history again rewrite it self to another HINDU KUSH for Indians .hahaha would be so nice to see in modern world killing of Hindues 😎

    • Suraj Bhai and is lot is frustrated with the mighty Hindus. Just wait we will capture Pakistan and reconvert the Hindu origin people of Pakistan

      • His name is siraj not suraj. Reconvert Muslims to Hindus is just like sending/inserting milk back to the breast.

    • Now if only wishes were horses. Understand your frustration. Guess once Muslims stop slaughtering each other in Iraq,Yemen, Syria, Libya, Pakistan etc. maybe they may turn their attention to Hindu Kush.

      • Imagine what would happen if they do. This will be an example of inserting you back into the hole you came from. And the likes of which this would hasn’t seen before.

  9. Well said Lt Gen H S Panag, but it depends on how our current govt will proceed, with hell bent hatred towards Pakistan, BJP holds very few cards to play this game. Unless Taliban makes a move, India cannot do much but just watch, wait and see, And the Afghans know that India is the only hope for their economic prosperity and financial progress. China will play all its dirty games to trap Afghanistan into its fold and will even use Afghan cards against India for some take aways. Jai Hind,

    • Seriously how stupid and deluded are you? America’s 1 trillion dollars could not make Afghan prosperous but 1 billion from India will fix everything.

  10. A history is going to be repeated in the arena of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The game is no longer going to be so overwhelmingly one sided in the coming decade as it is today in India.

  11. Afghans do have soft corner for India and at least one useful sympathiser in taliban. The two super powers devastated the country where as India had developed it on which a party like taliban to rule. If there is any obstacle it will be from China to snub India and gain power over Afghan resources. Pakistan may be culturally close but that will not not help in infrastructure building. But it can direct hounds towards India. India must act fast before dawn.

  12. Never ever trust Taliban. They will be defeated by Afghans only. There is no point in expecting that Pakistan will not use Taliban against India. Taliban are overestimated dacoits killing people under guidance of ISI. In the last 19 years they could not capture and keep any city of Afghanistan. All they have is interior parts and illiterate Afghans.

  13. Isn’t it time for India to cut its losses, and stay away from Afghanistan and its mess. If Taliban comes to power, any economic aid to Afghanistan will be like feeding milk to a cobra.

  14. Misreading the situation so blatently was not expected from a distinguished personality like you….the situation is very fluid in AFG …its right on the GOI’s part to let it play out…
    make no mistake…troop withdrawl does not mean the US exiting from AFG…the US is going to b there..and thats that…capacity and capabilities will vary as and wn the situation will demand..AFG is too important a location..vis a vis…iran..russia..and china…and of course pakistan(in case their nuke goes rogue…) for the US to close down all its bases and walk away…too much has been invested in AFG by means of contractors…the MIC…etc…to close down shop and walk away into the sunset….the US will use AFG as a staging post..to get hold of pak nukes…electronically and physically…in case there is a threat that it might fall into the wrong hands(this scenario has been thought over and dry run’ed by the US def estblishmnt….again and again)
    Elections r coming in US…trump wants dome OPTICS in terms of AFG…
    wre PAK is considered …please dont give it too much credit and importance…india is playing its cards well…russia is a peripheral player in AFG and will not go against indian interests….china…well..it will sway wre business interests r heavy….china and the US knows if there are any spoilers in this high tea jamborie…it is IRAN (spoiler)and PAK(loser)as both will lose wtever leverage they have worked up till now…india still has the moral high ground and a vantage stand point..
    It is really dissapointing to see you .. sir… to misread the situation in such a way….but i guess sometimes misplaced political conceptions do play a part…

  15. Dear General,
    where does India have the economic clout anymore? Why would a hardline rightwing government which has made islam its number one enemy negotiate with an even more right wing islamic state? Given the lengths they have gone to in India to keep their base happy, it looks very unlikely and Pakistan will not permit it. Where will all those men who know nothing but fighting go? Neither Pakistan nor the Taliban will want them sitting around idly and getting ideas. India is the obvious answer. A couple more state sponsored atrocities and the stage is ripe for a jihad and this time it will be battle hardened veterans who have vanquished 2 super powers. With its failing economy, increasing protectionism, why would the West bother with protecting a not so great market anymore.

    • If you haven’t noticed this hard-line Indian government has excellent relations with a even more Islamist KSA. Guess why, because of non existent economic clout. As for a Taliban that still can’t capture Kabul and an economically failing Pakistan, it would take a lot more then just a few jihadi pinpricks to take on a 1.3 billion+ behemoth.

      • If NATO withdraws its air support from Afghanistan Afghan army has no potential to prevent Taliban from taking over Kabul. Remember, those who control villages in Afghanistan rule Afghanistan.

    • You nailed it. If taliban come to realize that Muslims in india are targeted by communal hindu government, certainly they will not hesitate to invade india.

  16. Nowhere in the discussion I’ve seen people discussing about the 3 million Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan. They’ve families and friends as well as their businesses there. India indeed provided billions of dollars in aid to Afghan government and help Afghan army. But, Pakistan would always enjoy considerable clout on Afghan people due to the people’s religious, family and economic connections. If India really wants to get considerable cooperation from Afghans then it’d have to work closely with Pakistan.

  17. Nowhere in the discussion I’ve seen people discussing about the 3 million Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan. They’ve families and friends as well as their businesses there. India indeed provided billions of dollars in aid to Afghan government and help Afghan army. But, Pakistan would always enjoy considerable clout on Afghan people due to the people’s religious, family and economic connections. If India really wants to get considerable cooperation from Afghans then it’d have to work closely with Pakistan.

  18. Patience Genera patience. Too quick to jump to conclusions and start prescriptive advice !
    The deal is not done yet by any means and there is going to be much more action to follow, not necessarily to Taliban’s or Pakistan’s advantage.
    Your conclusions are premature.
    Wait and Watch !

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