Tank Tracks On A Cleared Field
Outlook|March 16, 2020
Faint hope flickers after the US-Taliban deal. But a Taliban offensive, with covert Pakistani help, bodes ill for India plans in Afghanistan.
Pranay Sharma

EXTRICATION from a long war is the trickiest of decisions. It can get tougher when the world’s most powerful nation—the United States—has to do it.

It took 19 years, the longest armed engagement in American history, for the US to realise that despite possessing by far the most modern army and sophisticated weaponry, it no longer wanted to play ‘policeman’ in Afghanistan, particularly when caught in a quagmire. Rather, it was prudent to cut losses and run.

Actuated by that wisdom, the US entered into a “peace agreement” with the Pakistan-backed militant group, the Taliban, on February 29 in Doha that promises to pave the way in legitimising the latter as a key player in Afghan affairs. There is a strong possibility that Afghanistan may now enter into a fresh and prolonged bout of violence, as rival players prepare to expand their influence in the war-ravaged country.

India looks at the recent Afghan developments with mostly well-founded trepidation and some hope. For its past brushes with a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan had been decidedly unpleasant. On top of the list is IC 814. In December 1999, an Indian Airlines aircraft was hijacked to Kandahar by Pakistani terrorists who, aided by the Taliban, secured the release of the Jaish-e- Mohammed chief Masood Azhar from an Indian jail in exchange of the hapless passengers’ freedom.

More worrying is the price Pakistan is likely to extract from the US for delivering the Taliban to the talks table. An obvious concession could be getting it off the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list to help it get international loans and investments. The India-obsessed Pakistani establishment regards Afghanistan as a country that provides it with ‘strategic depth’. A Pakistan-Taliban combine using Afghanistan to launch anti-India terrorist activities would pose a serious challenge to New Delhi.

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