Gains seen for Taliban as post-ISAF era looms in Afghanistan

January 25, 2012

(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

A fear embedded deep in the Pakistani security establishment’s psyche has always been that of a successful conventional military thrust by India from across its eastern borders. This is aggravated by their assessment that Pakistan lacks the geographical depth to absorb the onslaught; its logistics dumps being especially vulnerable on account of the inability to place them at an adequate depth. The answer, often articulated, is of a pliant regime in its western neighbour Afghanistan providing the strategic geographical depth that Pakistan needs.

With a state of flux anticipated in Afghanistan as a fallout of the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) impending withdrawal, an important imperative for Pakistan is to ensure Kabul is controlled by a regime amenable and dependent on Islamabad.

However, the chances of orchestrating such a situation remain improbable when viewed in the context of possible scenarios that could be encountered in Afghanistan.

In the first scenario, should the current dispensation in Afghanistan survive the onslaught of the Taliban, the possibility of the regime being a Pakistani surrogate is debatable.

Given the backdrop of their sharp differences and Pakistan continually backing the Afghan Taliban in its attacks on the Kabul regime, even if an understanding is reached, it is unlikely to be durable enough to sustain the illusion of strategic depth. The fact of India enjoying a far more reliable status in Kabul negates the concept further. In fact, a sound Indo-Afghan relationship only initiates another complementary threat perception in Pakistan, that of being sandwiched between two inimical states sharing a proximate relationship.

Even in a situation where the Taliban is able to subjugate Kabul with Pakistani help, the Taliban is unlikely to be as malleable as it was when it ruled Kabul before the U.S. forces evicted them. Notwithstanding the support they have received from the Pakistani Army and ISI, they would want to have greater autonomy. It’s better organised today, and with threat levels reducing on ISAF’s withdrawal, will not be as dependent on Pakistan, as it is now.

Should circumstance lead to ethnic fault lines in Afghanistan dilating and the country splintering between its major ethnic groups, the idea of Afghanistan serving the purpose of providing strategic depth again becomes an elusive objective. Even if Pakistan backs one or more contestants in order to make itself more relevant and a beneficiary, at best, an unstable Afghanistan can be visualised with warring militias dotting the landscape providing no succour to any one’s hopes or aspirations.

The best gainers, in all likelihood, would be Taliban that could garner greater strategic depth for operations and logistics; hiding and training areas. Notwithstanding the hopes harboured of the Taliban reforming to be a responsible actor and sharing power with the regime in Kabul, the likelihood of Afghanistan becoming worldwide jihad’s global oasis is far more probable.

Mullah Omar would waltz with al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the ilk. The huge potential of the narcotics trade could also be harmonised to enhance global jihad’s strategic reach. Instead of Afghanistan proving to be Pakistan’s strategic depth, Afghan Taliban could join its Pakistani partners, turn the guns around, take advantage of the tenuous situation in Pakistan and entrench themselves more firmly on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

You forgot about the 800 Pound gorilla in the Room. Islam, Afghans are some of the most devoutely religious Muslims on the planet, and Pakistan is an Islamic state. Afghans view Bible Believing CHristians as heretics, Hindu Indians are viewed as sub human heretics, Not that I agree with any of this but this is the reality. Islamic brotherhood gives India 0 chance in Afghanistan, not to mention Racism. Afghans view Indians, are a different and sadly inferior race, Not that I agree with any of these either, and to compare an Afghan to an Indian it’s clear they are a different race, while Afghans enjoy simalarities with tens of Millions of Pakistani’s. If USA cannot win in Afghanistan, India has no chance in hell.

Posted by Pakinvincible | Report as abusive

In my view, being able to take advantage of the current scenario in Afghanistan and establish a strong foothold there is a tough but not unachievable task for India. India must try to be able to get in a close and cordial relationship with Afghanistan. This might make the situation between India and Pakistan more amiable and even if it doesn’t, we still add Afghanistan to the list of nations we are affable with.

Posted by garima.tuteja | Report as abusive

Historically, Afghanistan has been plundered too many times by powers trying to gain political and military leverage through the region. To ensure a stable Afghanistan government that may be able to resist the Taliban, the world should think about Afghanistan for Afghans and not Afghanistan for their own interests.

Posted by JoyChatterji | Report as abusive

Afghans have always been a difficult people to deal with. The dynamics which are at work in that country were a hard nut to crack for the Brits and the Russians in the 19th and the 20th century and now the Americans would also stand witness to this fact. They all started off by picking sides in the conflict ridden country and ended up fighting a war of attrition and every time the invading forces have been beaten to the ground. It may seem that the Americans are going home after a job they consider over and a war many would feel they won but only time with tell how long lasting this supposed victory is. This brings us to the issue of future of the fledgling government in Kabul. Taliban, which could be not be finished off by the most powerful army in the world, seems all set to play an important part in the politics of the country. The most likely scenario to me seems to be that of the Taliban coming to power again. But whoever controls Kabul will work very hard to make it absolutely clear that they are in charge and that take orders from neither the west nor the east.

Posted by sankalprangi | Report as abusive

It’s been a decade since Operation Enduring Freedom and the fall of the Taliban. But the question is the so called “Freedom”, come at a cost that the afghan populace did not sign on for. Over the last three or four years, winning hearts and minds has been the soul operational goal of the ISAF. So now the question is have they been successful? With declaration of strategic withdrawal of the ISAF, the eyes of the world are back on this troubled country. The ousted Taliban from a fully fledged national army had been reduced to a guerrilla force, but they have made sure that there terror has remained intact and with the help of the Haqqani network and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i Islami created an insurgency situation that the worlds so called strongest army has had a difficult time handling. Circa 2012 will mark the start of the struggle for control of the country, namely “Taliban Emirate vs. United Front”. At this point of time the boons and banes of any foreign power pondering on citing with sides will adversely affect the countries future. There a majorly two outcomes that I can foresee , the first being that the Opium trade has enough profits for the Taliban to exploit and conquer and ultimately mend its ties with a fellow Terrorist state, Pakistan. The second outcome is the so called International brotherhood pouring in enough international aid to make sure the Northern Frontier and the current democratic Islamic Republic of Afghanistan government remain in power and the country enters in new bilateral ties with not only India but also other democratic states and with the signing of the INDO – AGHAN strategic partnership agreement between the countries, maybe the later scenario is gaining some momentum.
(The views expressed in this comment are my own and do not represent those of Reuters or the Author)

Posted by Anupam.Dutta | Report as abusive