Had India helped the US and sent soldiers to Afghanistan to help the Afghan armed forces to combat the Taliban, this situation would never have arisen

by Ravi Shanker Kapoor

The world’s two largest democracies are practically out of Afghanistan—one willingly (the United States) and the other grudgingly (India). The Americans exiting the war-torn nation is understandable, for they achieved their goal of eliminating Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 11 September terror attacks. It made little sense for Washington to risk American lives in a country which in Trump and Biden’s view no longer posed a threat to it. India’s exit, however, is the result of some foreign office mandarins’ stubborn persistence with the discredited Nehruvian policy of non-alignment. Such stubbornness has badly hurt national interests.

Had India helped the US and sent soldiers to Afghanistan to help the Afghan armed forces to combat the Taliban, this situation would never have arisen. The results are for everyone to see. Indian staff and personnel were evacuated from the consulate in Kandahar a few days ago. The evacuation symbolized India’s decreasing presence and role in Afghanistan; this despite having spent around $3 billion in building roads, dams, Parliament, etc.

New Delhi is watching the situation in Mazar-e-Sharif in the north of the country, where it has a consulate, the Indian Express reported recently. Watching what? The increasing might of the anti-India forces in the war-torn nation? The Taliban are gaining strength by the day; so is Pakistan. And now that the Taliban have also given up their coreligionists in Xinjiang and declared China as a “friend”, New Delhi must expect more hostility in Afghanistan.

“As of Sunday, there were no Indian diplomats or other staffers at the Indian consulates in Kandahar, Herat, and Jalalabad—there were only about 15-20 Afghan staffers at each of these locations,” the news report added. “The Indian embassy in Kabul though, was still functioning with Indian diplomats and Afghan staffers.”

The Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said: “The Consulate General of India in Kandahar has not been closed. However, due to the intense fighting near Kandahar city, India-based personnel have been brought back for the time being. I want to emphasize that this is a purely temporary measure until the situation stabilizes. The Consulate continues to operate through our local staff members.”

It is not just that the basic principle that for so long guided the Ministry of External Affairs is non-alignment. Non-alignment as defined in India is in essence an anti-Western, especially anti-American, idea. It was bad earlier, it remains bad now.

In the bad old days, America-hating Leftists, embedded in the system, never let the world’s two biggest democracies come together. Whatever proximity there is between the two countries, it is because of millions of people who have settled in the US, business between two countries, and now the common threat New Delhi and Washington see in China. This threat is understood both by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden. It needs to be mentioned in this context that it was the force of circumstances—essentially, the perfidy and egregiousness of Beijing—that led to the mandarins agreeing to ratcheting up involvement in the Quad by India.

The MEA still appears not to see the Quad as every geostrategic expert does: as a security alliance of democracies against China, which in reality it is. Instead, it tends to diffuse the solitary objective of Quad by a multiple of 10. Denying that the Quad is a security alliance, or an “Asian NATO”, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on 14 April said the grouping has dealt with 10 broad subjects so far—vaccine collaboration, higher education and student mobility, climate action, HADR (high availability disease recovery), emerging technology, resilient supply chains, semiconductors, disinformation, counterterrorism, and maritime security.

This is a case of diplomatese making clear that non-alignment has remained an unshakeable dogma. Thanks to this policy, Afghanistan is fast emerging as a hotbed of jihad. In the first week of June, the UN Security Council underlined the danger an ascendant Taliban posed in Afghanistan. It said that the Taliban still had close relations with Al-Qaeda.

VOA reported on 11 July: “US officials, both publicly and privately, insist both terror groups are a shadow of their former selves. Al-Qaeda, they say, commands maybe several hundred fighters across Afghanistan, while the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate, IS-Khorasan, has slightly more.”

Al Qaeda, Islamic State, and other terror groups may have weakened over the years and may not have the capability to strike in the US, but they are strong enough to trouble India.

New Delhi could have averted this eventuality with a proactive approach. A democratic government in Afghanistan, helped with Western and Indian assistance, would surely have kept the barbaric Taliban subdued, if not at bay. Without much challenge, the beast has become more ferocious. India, and others, may have to face the consequences.