Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Reuters file)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Reuters file)

Opinion | Time to revise our Afghan strategy

With Russia and China lining up behind Pakistan, India will have to redraw its post-US Afghan strategy. There are a few silver linings, though

After a relatively good run in Afghanistan, where India shored up goodwill by building the Afghan parliament and attracting thousands of Afghans to India for education and medical treatment, it seems New Delhi’s luck is running out. The US under President Donald Trump is looking for an exit, and this has given Pakistan the leverage it has been seeking over the Trump administration. Days after a visit to Washington DC by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan with Pakistan’s top army brass in tow, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made public that the US would exit Afghanistan by 2020 in a speech at the Economic Club of Washington.

One of the elements being negotiated is a phased withdrawal by the US from Afghanistan: i.e., each stage taking place after verification that the Taliban have kept their part of the final bargain. The issue of US military bases could prove a sticking point in the talks. That the US intends to keep close track of Taliban commitments may be reassuring for India, but the lack of a border with Afghanistan and inability to commit ground soldiers appear to have weakened New Delhi’s claim to a seat at the table negotiating Afghanistan’s future.

With Russia and China lining up behind Pakistan, India will have to redraw its post-US Afghan strategy. There are a few silver linings, though: Pakistan is economically weaker than in 1996 when the Taliban first took control of Kabul, India is far stronger, the Taliban are split into factions, and Afghan civil society and youth will hopefully fight extremism in all forms. These could give India some possibilities to work with. New Delhi, for example, could support elements that want freedom from Pakistani influence.

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