The US involvement in Afghanistan is in its 16th year with no clear end in sight. Some expected President Donald Trump to start the withdrawal process but, perhaps rightly so, he was advised against doing so after what happened in Iraq. Trump, in his statement, had blasted Pakistan for supporting terror groups and called for India to do more. While the statement may come out to be controversial, it is unlikely that India and Pakistan will read much into it and will probably refrain from taking sudden actions. But let’s first understand what the issue is about.
1. What was the beginning of problems in Afghanistan?
Difficult to pinpoint. Though, roughly, it began with US and Pakistan fighting against the Soviets in 1979 and helping proxy groups do the dirty work. It could be said that this was not very-well thought and after the Soviets retreated, the militant groups suddenly had no objective and were left with a sizable weapon cache. The friction between the administration and militant groups then created an unstable environment.
2. When did the US' war on terror begin?
US got into Afghanistan after the 9/11 attack in 2001. Then President George W Bush declared a war on terror and forced Pakistan to join them by warning that if they don’t, they will be ‘bombed back to the stone age’. Thus started the war that still hasn’t achieved its goals.
3. Has Afghanistan made any progress?
Yes, significant. US deserves a lot of credit for this and so does Pakistan for helping the US. Today, we now have a working (not as well as many would have liked) government in Afghanistan, with significant progress being made economically as well as in the security domain. But still, a peaceful, prosperous and stable Afghanistan is far away.
4. Pakistan’s involvement
There is no questioning that Pakistan helped the US in Afghanistan. But it’s Pakistan’s support to the terror groups that angers both the US and many other major powers including India. Officially, Pakistan, as always, is in the state of total denial and says it wants a stable and prosperous Afghanistan. But its actions say otherwise. The Taliban foothold in Afghanistan could not have occurred without Pakistan’s help and there is also the angle of Pakistan wanting to keep helping the terror groups to hold India at bay in Afghanistan.
5. Indian involvement
India's only involvement in Afghanistan has been economic aid ($2bn till date, with $1bn more promised). It has helped construct a major dam, a Parliamentary building and other projects. As of today, it is hard to imagine why India would want strategic influence in Afghanistan. Not only would it give Pakistan an incentive to keep supporting the terror groups but it would also complicate India’s relationship with other major powers - China and Russia.
6. Chinese and Russian involvement
China is the biggest investor in Afghanistan, as it is in many other countries. As of now though, it has not indicated any strategic interest but it would be naive to rule it out. China may covertly support Pakistan in the matter. Russia still hasn’t forgotten the lost war and its increasing involvement is a bad news for the US as well as India. India will refrain from acting against Russian interests but at the same time would like to support a stable government. All of this has created this whole issue of utter chaos with outside factors complicating an already complex issue.
So what’s the solution? Well maybe there isn’t one in sight at the moment. It is easy to say that Afghanistan should be helped to stand on its own but countries like Pakistan see no interest in doing so. Maybe a middle path will be drawn but it is difficult to comment on any timeline. We can just wait and watch how the game plays out.
Title image: Thenation