The US entry into Afghanistan that began as revenge for the 9/11 attacksgradually transformed into a mission for ensuring peace and democracy has now become an exercise to provide an honourable exit to the US.

Afghanistan, which is acknowledged as the “graveyard of empires,” holds the distinction of forcing all global powers to back away at some point or the other. Earlier Russia burnt its hands in Afghanistan, and now the US realizes its folly in getting entangled in the Afghanistan imbroglio.

President Trump’s desperation to get out of Afghanistan before the 2020 Presidential elections is likely to plunge the strife-torn nation into a “civil war” and adversely impact peace and prosperity of the neighbouring Pakistan and India. Should the Taliban acquire a commanding position in Afghanistan, they are likely to spread their tentacles in neighbouring Pakistan and Kashmir, which would be bad news for Pakistan and India.

The Taliban has demonstrated its muscle power in Afghanistan through bold terror attacks in Kabul and is likely to pose a severe problem to the trio of USA, Indian, and Pakistan. With medieval barbarians like the Taliban in power, there is every possibility of the Taliban joining hands with Pakistani militants to create safe havens for terrorists targeting India. A destabilized and Talibanised Afghanistan will give rise to jihadist violence in Jammu and Kashmir, and pose severe threats to Indian investments — economic, political, diplomatic, and security — in Afghanistan. It is worth mentioning that the Taliban takeover in 1996 had ousted India from Kabul and only after the Taliban defeat in 2001, India was able to get its foothold back in Kabul.

With Pakistan PM Imran Khan and its army openly declaring to go to any extent to liberate Kashmir, the Taliban, and its ally Al-Qaeda, backed by Pakistan Army, is likely to increase terror activities in Jammu and Kashmir. Muslim-majority Kashmir is highly prone to religious violence and is home to anti-India protesters and armed extremist groups. The ideological backing of a reinvigorated Taliban could provoke another insurgency in the Muslim dominated Kashmir valley.

Taking advantage of Trump’s desperation to exit from Afghanistan, Pakistan is likely to bargain for a quid-pro-quo over Kashmir for Pakistan’s support to exit from Afghanistan. The US is expected to be a meek spectator to Pakistan’s adventurism in Kashmir. This will be a win-win situation for Pakistan with no pressure or sanctions on Pakistan to refrain from infiltrating terrorists into Kashmir.

This narrative is reflected on Pakistan’s side. The exclusive Pashtun organization, the Taliban’s ascendance to power, will pose serious threats to Pakistan as well. Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan is a breeding ground for extremist factions. Pakistani Pashtuns, of the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, owe allegiance to groups like the Tehriq-e-Taliban and the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, and these Pashtuns hardly recognize the Durand Line, as an international border.

The Pashtuns, on both sides of the disputed Durand Line, will revolt against any forceful Pakistani military actions against their community. With the exit of American troops, the Afghan Pashtuns are likely to join hands with their Pakistani Pashtun brethren, living across the disputed border and going for the kill to have their pound of flesh in the political power. Ultimately if Southern Afghanistan is destabilized, Pakistan’s stability will face challenges from across the Durand Line.

India is in a catch 22 situation. Taliban takeover in 1996 had ousted India from Kabul and India got back in 2001 only after the Taliban defeat. India got a supportive government in Afghanistan; as a result, India earned goodwill by its Afghan-driven development programs and grew its stature in Afghanistan.

With the prospects of the Taliban bouncing back to power, India might be at the receiving end of the Pakistani proxies. Dealing with the Taliban’s means a no-win situation: the Taliban will hardly be forthcoming, and India will lose friends and allies in Afghanistan.

But political observers sound optimistic according to themevery endgame is only the beginning of a new ‘Great Game’ in Afghanistan. The silver lining is allegiance, and alliances keep shifting, interests keep getting re-defined, and equations keep changing in Afghanistan. India will, therefore, always be a force to reckon with though it might be a bench sitter or just an observer in the crowd for some time.

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