Afghanistan is considered the central point of attention when it comes to South Asian geopolitics. Particularly since the last one year, Afghanistan has caught a lot of international attention. This was the time during which the US under President Trump signed an Afghan peace process agreement with the Taliban at Doha, Qatar. This was a watershed movement in America’s longest conflict to date which has witnessed thousands of casualties. The loss of infrastructure, human development, and the economy of Afghans are unsurmountable.
The Afghan Peace Process and its Prospects for the Regional States?
With the US announcement of troop withdrawal, renewed speculations started for what lies ahead in the time to come. These speculations are not unfounded. Many call out the fluctuating number of Americans on the ground in the so-called graveyard of empires. This is a transition from a symbol of a US security commitment to an attempt not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
While the US has shown its inclinations to go for withdrawal as many expected that Biden would reverse the policy adopted by his predecessor. However, Biden’s press conference on April 16th solidified the US stance. He stated that the US does not seek any more military presence in Afghanistan.
While addressing the Senate committee on foreign relations, Zalmay Khalilzad reiterated the words of President Biden over US troop withdrawal. Khalilzad has been a part of the US game for Afghanistan ever since the former’s intrusion after 9/11. Khalilzad was the US ambassador to Afghanistan in 2004. During which he not only witnessed but also partook in the formation of a democratic Kabul government. This was after ousting of the Taliban regime.
Appraising US Envoy
Credit surely goes to the US envoy that after the Doha accords things comparatively went smoothly between the Taliban and the USA. The peace process agreement significantly helped in stabilizing ties between the two parties. There were shortcomings too, but the agreement that has persisted over a year by now did not witness any rolling back. Despite the fact there were attempts to derail this peace process, however, Khalilzad remained on watch for spoilers. Previously, any attack by undeclared insurgents would discontinue any peace process. However, during the latest developments, Khalilzad had been at the forefront to call out instigators who threatened peace, particularly ISIL and gung-ho politicos of Kabul.
Nonetheless, this still does not answer what lies ahead for South Asia, Central Asia, and China with respect to the Afghan future, provided an impetus for Intra Afghan dialogue, which would ensure perpetual peace, is yet to come.
More recently, the envoy has also met with Mullah Baradar, the Deputy head for Taliban political affairs, and discussed the current Afghan situation. This positive development comes at a time when confusions for Afghan peace persist, especially the May deadline. US Taliban engagement signifies that belligerents prefer the pathway of dialogue.
It is not only a coincidence that 30th April marks the reunification day of Vietnam. After US withdrawal from the bloody tropical conflict in 1975, the fragile South Vietnam regime could not stand against the harpooning forces of the north under Ho Chin Min. US President Gerald Ford could not persuade his government to remount a defence for the South, as a result, a total communist takeover took place, downplaying US efforts of twenty years in Vietnam.
This example has been frequently compared to US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Fears that the Taliban would take over once the US leaves, provided the evident failures of Afghan forces, are very much evident among observers.
A renewed civil war, if it happens, would result in volatility for the whole region. This makes Afghan peace a priority for regional states like Pakistan, Iran, China, etc. Such concerns are far more concerning with the rise of groups like Daesh (ISKP). These terrorist organizations do not bode well for any faction, even the Taliban. A delayed peace agreement would further give space to ISKP to derail the peace process.
What’s Next for Pakistan and its Role in the Afghan Peace Process?
The country has played a seminal role in the peace process. US special envoy in his latest remarks credited the Pakistani military and political leadership for using their good offices to bring the Taliban to the table. He even added that Pakistan would no more prefer an armed takeover by the Taliban. This is an interesting evolution of policy on behalf of Pakistan that enjoys ties with the insurgent group.
Many of the positive developments concerning US-Pak ties stem from statements by US officials rather than political elites. On 16th April, President Biden acknowledged Pakistan’s role in the Afghan Peace Process. However, Biden and his government continue to give Pakistan a cold shoulder. Ever since coming to the oval office, there has been no direct contact between Biden and Pakistani leadership which should be a matter of concern as the Afghan peace process is entering into a culminating phase.
Biden’s prioritizing India is no hidden fact. Moreover, the dynamic of antagonism between India and Pakistan would be pretty much evident here as well. Biden’s strategy includes special cooperation with India, entailing counter-terrorism, and containing China. This puts other South Asian states on the backhand, Pakistan included. This lack of interest would not only complicate things further but would also entangle the already perplexed Afghan question due to the so-called US Indo-Pacific strategy.
Placement of India in the South Asian Equation
India aims to emerge as the regional hegemon in South Asia and Indo-Pacific. This puts it at odds with neighbouring China. This is also the prime reason for its newfound romance with the USA. However, the recent situation in India is predicted to have long-term impacts on the country. The worsening COVID situation will ultimately influence its policy determinants.
India has reported more than 300,000 cases daily. The country faces an acute shortage of oxygen as well as beds for its patients. This is certainly shocking for a country that spends heavily on defence and has similarly been pursuing an adventurous foreign policy. As a result of a record coronavirus jump, the United States Chamber of Commerce cautioned that the Indian economy – the sixth-largest in the world – is creating drag for the world economy.
Despite its friction with China, India due to its desperation welcomed aid from China when it received life-saving supplies for Covid. Sino-Indian trade had been on a downward trajectory since 2015. This trend is expected to reverse once India foresees its weakened economic indicators in the coming years.
The regional geopolitics for South Asia will become more perplexing as it picturizes rapidly shifting policies. In other instances, it could picture smoke screens for partial gains. However, what it is dependent upon is the future of Afghan peace. An Intra-Afghan settlement is pivotal in defining the strategic dynamics of the region in the years to come. The regional states that are vying for the peaceful resolution of this conflict also recognize this fact. This includes big powers like China, Russia, Turkey, the US, and even states like Pakistan. Politics today is transnational in nature, instability somewhere rapidly translates into crisis elsewhere.