The US withdrawal form Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover of the country on 15 August have dramatically altered power equations in the region. The US has shifted its focus to the Indo-Pacific, and will no longer have a military presence in Afghanistan, though it will perhaps continue to keep an eye on the region. The manner in which the last of the US troops withdrew from Afghanistan made for extremely bad optics, but while the US image stands dented, it still remains the sole super power in the global order. However, the events in Afghanistan have spelled the end of unilateralism and henceforth, the US will have to depend on allies to execute change in global affairs.
With respect to Afghanistan, its immediate neighbours, who were earlier desirous of an US exit from the region, will now have to bear the cost of security, which the US and NATO forces had borne for the last two decades. As no country will be willing to put up with such a commitment, the prospects of regional stability are low. Radical groups from all across the globe, such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State will in all likelihood set up bases within Afghanistan, which has long-term negative consequences for global security. The threat is also of the spread of radical ideology from Afghanistan, which will impact the region.
The Russians will be concerned as a radicalised population in the Central Asian Republics will have a domino effect on the Muslims in Russia. For the Chinese, concerns will remain over the growth of the ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement), a group which is fighting for a free state—East Turkestan—which China now calls Xinjiang. The Taliban is unlikely to hand over its former allies to the Chinese, so the resistance movement by the Uyghur population in East Turkestan may not be that easy to put down. Iran, on its part, remains concerned about the treatment of the Hazaras in Afghanistan who belong to the Shia sect of Islam. Pakistan has been the main beneficiary of the events as they have unfolded, but that is a temporary affair. Pakistan has already started facing increased turmoil within its borders, especially from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which too seeks to impose Sharia in Pakistan. The TTP has already upped the ante in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with a series of attacks against the security forces. Instability within Pakistan is thus set to rise, which will put a further dampener on the already weak Pakistani economy.
Afghanistan, in all probability, will remain in a state of turmoil, as the recent bomb explosion outside a mosque in Kabul, has indicated. The likelihood of Afghanistan slipping into a civil war is on the cards, as the Afghan Taliban lacks a popular mandate and is vastly unpopular.
So, what are the options for India, in this very bleak scenario? India has invested heavily in Afghanistan, but despite that, for the last two decades, has remained a fringe player in the region, as it lacked land connectivity. A Taliban held Afghanistan which has close linkages with Pakistan poses serious challenges to India’s security. There is a view that Terrorism in Kashmir will increase as a large number of fighters from Afghanistan will now be free to continue their jihad across their borders. This threat is credible, but can be managed by India’s security forces. The larger danger emanates from the spread of a radical ideology, which may impact some of India’s Muslim population. Even a minuscule element getting radicalised poses serious challenges to the state, especially in West Bengal and Kerala. How this can be prevented will be the real challenge for the Indian establishment in the coming years.
For the moment, India must continue with its wait and watch policy and be in no hurry to recognise the Afghan Taliban. In all likelihood, a movement from amongst the people of Afghanistan will develop against the Taliban. It is the people of Afghanistan that India must then support.