Most people are unable to comprehend U.S. overtures to the Taliban, its sharing of intelligence with them and leaving behind significant amount of arms and equipment in Afghanistan. Taliban is being portrayed as a good terrorist.
Only time will tell the reasons for such behaviour. This article does some crystal ball glazing on possible reasons for such U.S. behaviour and its plans. Unfortunately, most experts are writing about how the Taliban takeover is a setback for India’s foreign policy and a symbol of another U.S. defeat after Vietnam.
The U.S. government has decided to outsource the execution of its plans in this part of Asia to the Taliaban just like U.S. companies outsource backend services to India. Given Afghanistan’s strategic location, being at the “crossroads of Central, Southeast and South Asia” and having as its neighbours Iran, Pakistan, China and Central Asian countries (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) those who control Afghanistan can impact its neighbours. See Map above.
For a long time the U.S. used Pakistan, to control or poke countries, to help meet its strategic objectives in the region. However, the U.S. realized how trustworthy Pakistan is and its affection for Iron-Brother China so it was looking for another partner.
What better option than the Taliban!
Today primary U.S. adversaries in the region are not India or Russia but China/Pakistan (Belt and Road Initiative connects Xinjiang to Gwadar port) and Iran. Afghanistan shares borders with both. The U.S. intends to use the Taliban to keep its adversaries under check. For example –
The Karakoram highway that links Kashgar in Xinjiang to Islamabad is close to the Wakhan Corridor (a wedge between Pakistan and Tajikistan) in Afghanistan. Taliban could thus strike at and or make life uncertain for the traffic on the highway. This way it increase the risk of China’s investments and keep both countries under pressure.
Being a self-respecting nation the U.S. must be wanting to teach Pakistan a lesson for hosting Osama-bin-laden and undoing their plans in Afghanistan during the last twenty odd years even though Pakis helped U.S. during Soviet occupation.
The Taliban could –
• Provide support to the Baluchistan Freedom Movement (what India should have done decades ago).
• Motivate Pashtuns on the Pakistan side of the border to demand a separate homeland. Guerilla style warfare could cause grief to the Pakistan Army.
• Instigate the government in Iran, so as to destabilize it and arouse local population.
• Export terrorism to Xinjiang in modern day China.
Taliban is the rising star. It might be more trustworthy than Pakistan and help meet U.S. objectives better.
Moot point is – will the U.S. be able to break the Taliban-Pakistan friendship? “Will Pakistan allow Taliban leaders, whom it hosts, to return to Afghanistan or Afghan Pashtuns to gain traction in its tribal belt?” There are no easy answers.
Outsourcing would require the U.S. to invest dollars. But was it not paying Pakistan too! The U.S. pumped money for development into Pakistan too just like the Taliban is asking for today? It is a different matter that a lot of U.S. aid was used against India because of Pakistan’s blind hatred for it.
This way the U.S. outsources on ground work to Taliban for which it must accept them as legitimate rulers and equip them. This could be one reason for leaving so much of U.S. equipment in Afghanistan. This way U.S. Inc would also have unfettered access to Afghanistan’s mineral resources (rare earths, lithium and copper).
Remember the U.S. is driven by national and business interests, need to control its biggest strategic competitor China and ensure that terrorists in the Afghan-Pak region do not attack the U.S. and Europe.
Outsourcing allows U.S. to focus on China and put pressure on two fronts, in the Indo-Pacific and the Afghan-Pak regions. It shall also prevent China from exploiting Afghanistan’s mineral resources. Another benefit – U.S. soldiers do not die so there is no domestic backlash.
Pakistan’s Generals have mastered the art of survival and could support the U.S. moves whilst remaining loyal to China. Will the U.S. be fooled once again?
Russia would be happy to see China’s power being checked. It could offer tacit support to U.S. moves provided they do not affect it and the Central Asian Republics.
Where does that leave India?
She shall provide support to this plan and hope the U.S. is able to reign in China and Pakistan. Remember former Defence Minister George Fernandes called China, ‘Enemy Number One’ way back in 1998.
If Pakistan disintegrates into separate homelands for Sindhis, Baluchis and Tribals there is a possibility that Gilgit and Balistan could become part of Ladakh Union Territory. If that were to happen it would undo Nehru’s blunder and restore India’s traditional contacts with Central Asian countries and Xinjiang (to know about these contacts read ‘Sanskrit on the Silk Route’ published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan.)
Having said that, India needs to be alert to U.S. moves and prevent infiltration through its Western (esp. Jammu) and Bangladeshi borders. Do not trust the Americans blindly, beware of demographic changes that U.S. moves could result in and be guided by DHARMA alone.