Col (r) Ikram Ullah Khan
The ultimate fall of Panjsher that has given an absolute victory to Taliban over entire Afghanistan has come as a huge strategic debacle for India whose massive strategic investment in Afghanistan to the tune of more than three billion dollars aimed at destabilizing Pakistan has finally met its doom. The conquest of the invincible Panjsher valley by Taliban, a stronghold of Northern Alliance is considered to be the last nail in India’s coffin in Afghanistan. The US precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan paved the way for Taliban’s lightning advance and ultimate takeover of Kabul without bloodshed that has left India utterly stunned and dismayed.
With the US active support, India had long been working on the ‘great game” of disrupting the region’s peace and stability which couldn’t succeed due to well-coordinated joint efforts of China, Russia and Pakistan. With Taliban’s rise to power, India’s dream of achieving its long-cherished strategic objectives using the formidable Panjsher valley as a launching pad for anti-Taliban operations to reclaim Afghanistan from Taliban’s iron clutches has been totally shattered. India has started painfully realizing that with the defeat of the Northern Alliance at the hands of Taliban that has led to Taliban’s total control over Afghanistan, it has become well-nigh impossible for India to use Afghan soil against Pakistan for terrorism that forms part of India’s state policy. Seeing oneself out of the ‘great game’, and out of sheer frustration, India has intensified its smearing campaign against Pakistan to mislead the international community as is evident from the fake news making the round in both print and social media accusing Pakistan of providing air support to Taliban to win the battle in Panjsher, and also to manage its perennial domestic problems making the internal situation fast slipping out of Modi’s hands.
The failure of India to deliver in Panjsher despite its full military and intelligence support to Northern Resistance Front (NRF) has lowered its image as a reliable strategic partner in the eyes of the US which is evident from the recent cold reception accorded to Nerander Modi in the Oval Office during his visit to Washington before addressing the UN General Assembly. This is likely to make a serious dent in the relationship between the two countries. The US which has always been using India as a bulwark against China’s growing influence in the region has now started looking at India with much suspicion and low estimation.
The false image of military and economic might of India has been badly tarnished after an ignominious defeat in the recent border dispute with China. Due to the total defeat at the hands of China in Ladakh region and the failure to deliver in Panjsher, India has lost its credibility when it comes to any meaningful future role in the region thereby shaking the US confidence which it so boastfully reposed in India.
Making a slight departure from the main theme, it may be pertinent to add that at the world stage, with expansionist designs on the wane, the US as India’s patron and backer has started viewing international politics in its correct and realistic perspective especially after making a forced exit from Afghanistan empty-handed. The policy of expansionism pursued by the US over almost a century has been supplanted by the policy of containment. Global politics has undergone a tremendous metamorphosis during the past few decades. Regional players have assumed more importance reducing the global players to insignificance. Imperialism has long vanished from the earth. Roman, British and Russian imperialism are a case in point.
Having said all that, we must not be under any illusion that India’s subversive role has completely been eliminated from Afghan soil. Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), al-Qaeda, Dae’sh and other terrorist outfits duly sponsored and funded by India are still actively operating from Afghan soil although with reduced sinew and intensity. Pakistan can’t afford to lower its guard on that account and should always remain in a high alert position. It needs to play its cards discreetly and intelligently while dealing with the Taliban as there is no permanent friend or foe in international politics and that there are always spoilers around who may exploit the dicey security environment in Afghanistan and may succeed in making Taliban turn against Pakistan any time. India is on the lookout for an opportune moment to turn the tables on Pakistan.
Finally, given the enormous volume of trade between India and Afghanistan in the past, it would be very hard for Taliban to continue with hostile posture towards India for long. Over the past two decades bilateral trade between India and Afghanistan has surged by leaps and bounds touching two billion dollars annually. At some point in time, Taliban would be compelled to resume relations with India willy-nilly as Afghanistan has always remained a huge market for Indian merchandise and vice versa. At the end of the day, economic interests take precedence over everything else.