The Afghan nation-state was one of the oldest states of Asia. It became the first failed state in Asia. In the interests of not only regional stability but global security as such, this contagion of collapse must be contained.
Indian Stakes in Afghanistan
Afghanistan is a state that is vital to India’s security. Historically it was located at the junction of many great empires and was a classic buffer state. The unmitigated Cold War competition destroyed this buffer state and reduced it to a tragically failed state whose rugged terrain was transformed into a Somalia analogue of South West Asia. It became the base of Al Qaida and the launch pad for 9/11. The world realized the stark perils of accepting ungoverned regions in the heartland of Asia that have become havens for non-state actors.
Stake Analysis. Serious International efforts are on to revive the nation-state in Afghanistan. Any analytical study on Afghanistan that is done from an Indo-centric point of view, must first and foremost define what precisely are India’s stakes in Afghanistan? India has critical stakes in the viability and continued existence of an independent nation state in Afghanistan. Some of these vital stakes are listed below:
- In purely military terms, in the Soviet era, Afghanistan had tied down two Pakistani Corps on its western front. Post 1989, these became available to Pakistan for deployment against India. Pakistan’s consequent perception of conventional military parity has encouraged her to launch the proxy war in J&K, and now a terrorist jihad in Indian cities. The destruction of the Afghan nation-state has created the military resource surplus which has encouraged Pakistan to launch its asymmetric war of a thousand cuts against India.
- The Afghan nation-state was one of the oldest states of Asia. It became the first failed state in Asia. In the interests of not only regional stability but global security as such, this contagion of collapse must be contained. It must not be allowed to spread. Pakistan’s ISI used the ideology of Jihad to destroy an old and established nation-state. By seeking to re-impose the irredentist Taliban, it is doing its best to reduce Afghanistan to the status of a Jihad franchise and colony that provides it strategic depth against arch rival India.
- Afghanistan has traditionally been hostile to Pakistan on issues of the Durand Line’s legality and access to the sea. This has historically served to put Pakistan in a classic two-front situation. India therefore has vital geopolitical stakes in the continued existence of a viable and independent Afghan state.
- As per Robert Gates, US Defense Secretary and former Director CIA, during the Taliban regime in Kabul (1996–2001), 22 percent of all terrorists operating in J&K were either from Afghanistan or had been trained there. India therefore simply cannot afford to let Afghanistan be controlled or dominated by any power hostile to India.
- A client regime of Pakistan in Kabul seriously curtails India’s access to the hydro-carbon resources and markets of Central Asia.
- India can accept Talibani resurgence in Afghanistan only at its own strategic peril. Even the “moderate Taliban” in Kabul could soon result in the domino effect of the Talibanization of Pakistan. This could place Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in the hands of non-state actors. This would have very serious implications not just for Indian security but also the peace and stability of the existing global system per se.
- Pakistan is acting from a baseline assumption that the USA and NATO lack the stomach for a prolonged engagement in Afghanistan (the traditional graveyard of empires). It is maneuvering to facilitate an American exit which leaves the so called “moderate Taliban” in power in Kabul. Even at the time of Op Enduring Freedom in 2001, Pakistan had tried to put forward Jalaluddin Haqqani as the moderate Taliban with which the US could strike a deal. Haqqani had then refused to disown Mullah Omar. India will have to clearly determine the stark security implications of such a restructuring of the security architecture in South Asia. It may have to weigh its options in the contingency of a US Exit from Afghanistan.
Episodes of Hubris
The situation in Afghanistan today is the result of two extreme episodes of hubris. In 2001, the Taliban decided most foolishly to fight like a regular army and defend cities and towns. The 12,000 Pakistani Pathan troops in mufti, who manned its tanks, artillery and aircraft, had been withdrawn under US pressure. The Taliban still insisted upon fighting like a regular army. It presented concentrated targets and was decimated by the US Air Force. The Northern Alliance had simply mopped up in the wake of devastating US air strikes and captured Kabul.
Occupation and pacification of a country needs boots on the ground. This tiny US military footprint has now bred a long term disaster.
This ridiculously easy victory in turn led to hubris in the Pentagon. The new Gurus of “effect based operations” jettisoned years of classical military theory. Lt Gen Tommy Franks decided to keep the US footprint in Afghanistan very small (just 10,000 men) supported by massive airpower. This small footprint was ostensibly designed to obviate local hostility against US troops as occupiers. Overtime however, the indiscriminate use of airpower to protect this handful of troops, has caused significant collateral damage that alienated the population much more thoroughly. At the very least, this ridiculously low level of force deployment stood CI theory and practice on its head. Occupation and pacification of a country needs boots on the ground. This tiny US military footprint has now bred a long term disaster.