OPEN APP
Home >Politics >News >Biden’s Afghan blunder hurts India and helps China

The U.S. military withdrawal undercuts the Quad’s ability to put pressure on Beijing.

President Biden has bet that exiting Afghanistan will strengthen the U.S. in its competition with China. But he may have overlooked an important detail: This withdrawal threatens the Quad, a vital component of American strategy in Asia.

Composed of America, Japan, India and Australia, the Quad was revived four years ago amid growing concern about an assertive China. On Sept. 24, Mr. Biden will host the first in-person summit of leaders of the grouping. The message is unambiguous: Flanked by fellow democracies, the U.S. is gearing up to oppose Chinese belligerence. And Wednesday’s announcement of a new three-way defense pact among the U.S., U.K. and Australia makes the same point.

But instead of fortifying the Quad, the haphazard American withdrawal from Afghanistan may have weakened it. The return of Taliban rule in Afghanistan is an unambiguous strategic setback for India and, at least in the near term, a triumph for the Taliban’s chief backer—Pakistan.

Islamabad-aided terrorist groups will almost certainly use Afghanistan to organize attacks on Indian-controlled Kashmir and other parts of the country. The longstanding Indian goal of gaining access to Central Asia by building a port and railway line through Iran and Afghanistan remains a pipe dream. Facing these challenges, India will likely have less resolve and fewer resources to contribute to facing the China threat.

“There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that one of the inadvertent consequences of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is that we have compromised India’s security," says Ashley J. Tellis, an expert on Asian geopolitics at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in a phone interview. “India wanted Afghanistan to be the graveyard of terrorism, not the graveyard of empires."

So far, the Indian government has refrained from criticizing the Biden administration’s Afghanistan exit. In response to a question from former Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop earlier this month, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar instead praised America for its “deep strengths" and its “extraordinary capacity to reinvent itself."

Indian pundits have been far less generous. Borrowing Winston Churchill’s famous insult of Labour leader Clement Attlee, influential journalist Shekhar Guptacalled Mr. Biden a “sheep in sheep’s clothing" who had presided over “an unconditional surrender to an amorphous, armed rabble" in Afghanistan, and reduced the Quad to “another fancy, periodic naval parade or spectacle."

The strategic affairs commentator Brahma Chellaney wrote that the U.S. exit told its allies “that they count on America’s support when they most need it at their own peril." In an op-ed titled “The unravelling of Pax Americana," Samir Saran, president of the Indian think tank Observer Research Foundation, dismissed the idea of quitting Afghanistan to focus on China as naive. “Land frontiers still matter," he wrote, “and the U.S. has ceded South and South West Asia to Beijing."

It is clear why so many Indians are upset. To keep Pakistan in good humor, successive American administrations limited India’s security cooperation with Afghanistan. Nonetheless, over the past 20 years, under a security umbrella provided by the U.S. and its NATO allies, India worked hard to grow its influence in Afghanistan. It established a large embassy in Kabul and consulates in Kandahar, Herat, Jalalabad and Mazar-e-Sharif.

New Delhi paid for the new Afghan parliament building as part of its commitment to a democratic Afghanistan, as well as for a dam, a highway and energy projects. The Indian government donated helicopters to the Afghan air force and helped train a small number of Afghan army officers and police. Indian teachers, engineers and doctors flocked to the country. The Indian government funded scholarships for Afghan students. The roughly $3 billion in assistance it provided made India the second largest non-Western donor to Afghanistan after Japan, and the fifth largest donor overall.

How will India’s eviction from Afghanistan at gunpoint affect the Quad? Mr. Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment points out that the situation “intensifies an old Indian dilemma between continental commitment and maritime commitment." He says, “If the continental challenge is attenuated, it frees India to play in the maritime space. In effect the U.S. has unintentionally weakened India’s ability to be of assistance to us in the maritime space."

Just how much India has been weakened, and whether the U.S. can address New Delhi’s concerns about terrorism, remains to be seen. Faced with an aggressive China on its borders, India still has reason to draw closer to the Quad. Nonetheless, this much is clear: You can’t neatly compartmentalize the threat from China by ignoring trouble spots like Afghanistan. Instead of ratcheting up pressure on Beijing, Mr. Biden may have eased it by endangering an important partner.

Subscribe to Mint Newsletters
* Enter a valid email
* Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.

Never miss a story! Stay connected and informed with Mint. Download our App Now!!

Close
×
Edit Profile
My ReadsRedeem a Gift CardLogout