Afghan, Taliban, and the United States: What Next? PM Modi has the opportunity to demonstrate statesmanship and a lasting legacy.

For years the United States made Afghanistan it’s base and fought the Taliban. It came to the region as the erstwhile USSR attacked Afghanistan and tried to swallow the country. Taliban supported by Pakistan and America fought the Russians and made sure that the Russians are ousted from the region. But then there were many consequences to the whole affair. Once the Russians went, the Taliban became the leaders and started imposing sharia law. The unfortunate air India flight kidnapping also happened during the same time and then Foreign minister Jaswant Singh had to negotiate with the  Taliban while PM Atal Bihari Vajpai govt was just formed. 
The whole region became a hub of terror activities. Many things happened during the time which requires a separate article. IN summary, the United States had to be permanently stationed in the region and fight the Taliban who were their partners against the Russians. Pakistan kept its policy of duplicity and unreliable partners and supported both sides of the game Taliban and America. To the credit of ISI despite their clear malpractices they were never caught or rather were always able to hoodwink the Americans. 
The Pakistanis behaved like a clever mistress who had several illegitimate relations with many paramours simultaneously. Unfortunately, all the paramours never understood the mistress and shared a bed with her. 
During the process, the Americans also lost many lives and also have to fund the campaign with billion of taxpayers money. AS the issue became politically sensitive the Americans finally after dilly-dallying had announced that they will abandon Afghanistan as it is without due planning and understanding of the consequences. 
The Taliban have moved fast and are capturing one by one many cities of the country. Today there is news that the Afghani finance minister has fled to America reflecting the instability of the region in full glare. Pakistan as usual is playing its own game.  So far China was out of the region in a very calibrated manner but has now found the perfect timing to enter the region. Turkey also playing an active role while Iran shares a big border with Afghanistan and is also active. Russia which under Putin is always inclined to interfere and create its own pawns in the middle east will also find the game interesting to play its own part. 
That leaves us the Indians. Learning lessons from the past when India saw the Taliban gaining control of Afghan and the poor Afghan head Najibullah being hanged on the tree, India found once again itself in a dilemma. To be or not to be the moment to be precise,  which side it should take? Afghan or Taliban; while the writing is clear on the wall that sooner or later the Taliban will be again on the power seat. IN another latest the Taliban have captured a helicopter gifted by India to Afghanistan. 
India so far has not sent its army to Afghanistan. IT tries to help the country through infrastructure projects and direct funds. The Americans were never interested in the region and it was a folly on behalf of the world and all the players to look upon it as a permanent and trustworthy partner in the region. 
The main stake players are the four countries that share borders with Afghan. Pakistan, India, China, and Iran. Out of these two are the countries with whom we compete in all spheres. Iran is a dicey country and yet the Indian strategists thought it prudent to be away from Afghan. Therefore the question is will this strategy of Indians to remain out will be positive or is full of unknown consequences. 
We have always advocated a pro-active role for the Indian army. We have several historical anecdotes behind us which tell us how Indians have always been shortsighted in their outlook. The Marathas never thought to eliminate Hyder Ali nor rule Delhi. They were the most powerful kings (Peshwas) during their time and defeated almost all the other rulers. The defeat with Abdali was an error and didn’t reflect on the power of the Marathas. It was more of a diplomatic loss. However, later the Marathas recovered from that defeat and were once again truly rulers of India. But due to reasons not known very clearly they never thought to rule the country and soon the English rules for the next 200 years and almost depleted the country with all its ancient culture, values, and skills. 
This Indian short-sightedness keeps reflected in the Indian context every now and then. We are told that the Indian army was always discouraged to occupy enemy lands during war time. FM Manekshaw has to rule Indira Gandhi to make Bangladesh. Pakistan nuclear facilities could have been never worked but for Indian lethargy. 
WE are again on the losing side of a game where we have not understood the full consequences. Once the Taliban are established the whole region will again become a hotbed of terror activities for one. Pakistan will always try to show its power game but in actual practice will be a loser as the country becomes hollow from the inside day by day. China will make sure that it is able to be on the right side while exploiting the game in all its interest. 
The most dreaded scene will be the collapse of Pakistan and Kashmir the Taliban getting a free hand in the Kashmir region to play their daredevil game along with other terror organizations. 
It is time that India makes Afghanistan a foreign policy priority. Though EAM Jai Shankar has been meeting all these meetings do not count in the fast-changing scenario. There has to be a very proactive in the region and do whatever it can. 
Let us not be pawns in the game but kingmakers if not kings. India has to reach out to America and get a good role to play along with it. Americas though are unreliable but they also need someone whom they can partner with. They have burnt hands with Pakistan and may prefer India as a favored partner. India has good relations with Russia as well as Iran which can be favorably exploited and negotiated for long-term peace in the region. 
It is high time to get out of the seat and reach to all the stakeholders who can help us. PM Modi has to show his true statesmanship and boldness now. Afghanistan is a good powerplay that suits the PM for a lasting legacy. 

Dr. Asheesh Shah
Asheesh Shah
Author: Asheesh Shah

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