As US President Donald Trump rattles the Afghan security matrix by threatening to halve the number of American troops in that country, leaving a vacuum that the Pakistan-backed Taliban are already readying to step into, India’s efforts must be to ensure that Pakistan does not get a backdoor entry into this vital strategic space.
Friday’s talks between national security adviser Ajit Doval and Afghan NSA Hamdullah Mohib, ahead of a long-overdue visit to Delhi by Mr Trump’s pointsman on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad early next week, are thus of huge import. India must place its concerns, front and centre, over the growing prospects of a Taliban blowback, and the danger it poses to its many development projects, including hospitals, highways, dams and the schools and scholarships it offers Afghan students. Even the notional “library” (err... Parliament) that Mr Trump now scoffs at!
India has consistently resisted US pressure to put boots on the ground, preferring to invest in training and equipping the Afghan security forces. As new dates in July are announced for the presidential elections, Delhi, which has backed both former Presidents, Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, can’t but ensure a friendly, legitimate government is in place in Kabul. And therein lies the problem. As part of his brief to ensure a safe exit of US troops, Mr Khalilzad has not only held unprecedented talks with the Taliban, who have refused to meet Mr Ghani’s representatives, he also offered the Taliban a power-sharing arrangement in any future setup.
If pressured to back the US move, India must know its soft power will amount to nothing in the face of what is effectively a hard-nosed Pakistan-Taliban takeover....