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Published on: Aug. 23, 2021, 6:58 p.m.
Casting shadows on India
  • Their almost magical victory will make the Taliban more bigoted

By Brij Khindaria. The author is an international affairs columnist for Business India

Pakistan, not India, is poised to be the big loser of the Taliban’s victory over the United States and its allied NATO militaries in Afghanistan because the Pakistani state is very fragile while the Indian state although still too poor is robust internally.

In the immediate and shorter terms, Islamabad might score some Pyrrhic gains from the Taliban’s rise but in the medium and longer terms its kneecaps will shatter under the gigantic burdens of bolstering a fractious tribal Afghanistan led by fanatics shunned by US, Europe and many other countries.

Their almost magical victory will make the Taliban more bigoted because its leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and his acolytes attribute it to divine intervention. The exercise of power is unlikely to bring moderation “There was no expectation that we would achieve victory in this war,” Baradar said. “But this came with the help of Allah, therefore we should be thankful to Him, be humble in front of Him, so that we do not act arrogantly.”

That humility will be demonstrated by adherence to their unique brand of strict interpretations of Islamic Sharia laws. More so, because of the superstition that failure to apply those interpretations could bring humiliation and disaster because of divine wrath.

Pakistan’s protector China does not care who rules Afghanistan or how it is ruled so long as Beijing’s interests are given privilege and are safeguarded. That said, Beijing does not have the wealth or expertise needed to significantly control the world’s most bigoted Sunni theocrats whose beliefs are totally alien to the modern Chinese Communist Party’s way of thinking and to ancient Chinese civilization. If Beijing does become Afghanistan’s protector, it will be only a matter of time before it bites the dust as did Moscow and Washington.

India will be the gainer if it plays the long game using patience and time’s passage to allow collapse to settle on Islamabad’s and Beijing’s ambitions in Kabul. Meanwhile, it must strengthen its defence, security and democratic interests through economic cooperation with the US and Europe. It is well to remember that the West has a combined GDP of over $44 trillion and possesses preponderant influence in global technology, trade and financial innovations.

President Joe Biden may be reviled by hawkish Americans for handing 39 million Afghans to a totalitarian theocratic dictatorship and many around the world may gloat at the seeming humiliation of Western power by ragtag militias. But it would be unwise to draw hasty conclusions about the decline of American and allied influence or power.

Admittedly, it is unnerving to see heavily armed Western soldiers looking like warriors from sci-fi movies being roundly defeated by turbaned men sporting long beards fighting without body armour or advanced battlefield communication systems, carrying light weapons, wearing tennis shoes or slippers and riding on pickup vans and motorbikes. 

Yet, this is a labyrinth of mirrors designed to distort and confuse everyone involved. Biden did not quit the fight abruptly because America was defeated. He simply left Afghanistan and the region to brew in its own hell fires. It was callous and immoral but he has larger fish to fry in China and Russia.

Faced with such massive military rivals, he sees no gain in continuing to flog the decrepit nags of medieval Islam in Afghanistan’s tribe-infested remote mountains and deserts. Rulers who want to recreate a lifestyle of 1,400 years ago in the 21st century when the world is mired in pandemics and climate catastrophes are best left to stew in their own illusions.

Many respected South Asia analysts opine that the American withdrawal will be devastating for India. But this is akin to thinking backwards. It is true that Pakistan is a large thorn in India’s side especially with a malevolent China egging it on as a proxy to menace terrorism in Kashmir while grabbing territories along India’s Himalayan borders.     

But these are yesterday’s situations still casting shadows on today’s India. The next 25 years are unlikely to repeat the geopolitical configurations and border disputes of the past 25. If Islamabad continues to kowtow to the Taliban, it is unlikely to avoid becoming a failed Sunni theocracy ostracized by the world because of the hordes of jihadists sheltered inside Pakistan. Together with Afghanistan, it will be shunned as an exporter of Islamic terrorism causing even Beijing to step back because of its obsessive fear of jihadists entering China.

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