Indians, thanks to Pakistan being a buffer, hardly discuss about the implications of ongoing events in Afghanistan. That is in a way understandable as India does not share a border with Afghanistan and there is no immediate impact of the chaos which routinely engulfs Afghanistan. But, that is a very simplistic view of things. After the Kandahar hijackings its certain that whatever happens in Afghanistan will affect us, may be not immediately but gradually.
The biggest question is what will happen after 2014, when NATO’s partial but substantial withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Now for the possibilities:
Scenario 1: NATO withdraws partially, Afghan security forces manage to keep the Taliban at bay
We often see reports of how utterly incompetent the current Afghan security forces are. Whilst you can’t expect them to function as efficiently as the NATO forces, but for counter-insurgency you need a certain degree of capacity. If the Afghan forces achieve that capacity and with the unending NATO weapon supplies and monetary support, this is possible.
But, many are saying Afghan security forces are ill-equipped to takeover from NATO forces when they leave.
Scenario 2: Complete Taliban takeover to pre-9/11 levels
This is the most scariest of all. The medieval Taliban taking over a large part of South Asia. This will have tremendous impact in the region for all neighboring powers.
Pakistan might be supporting these Taliban, but there is a very real and hotly debated aspect of the boost the Pakistani Taliban will get when they see their ideological equivalents few miles across the border dominating the region. Pakistan today already is heavily radicalized and according to latest surveys view US and India as greater threats than the Taliban.
Its clear that the Pakistanis Generals and the pro-military public do not foresee the danger that this tactic of supporting radicalized Islamists might bring.
Pakistan, being rated 13th most failed state(According to FP Magazine), has very little to lose. India has greater, grander aspirations. India has a lot to lose than Pakistan.
Scenario 3: De Facto partition of Afghanistan
This is a scenario that Robert Backwill speaks of. With Pakistani state support and safe havens the Taliban will have influence and eventual control of Pashtun areas in the south of Afghanistan and areas bordering Pakistan. With support from regional powers and continued NATO support the Afghan forces might be able to hold off the Taliban from advancing into other areas of Afghanistan. Even the most pro-Taliban will accept the fact that this time it will not be a walk over for Taliban into Kabul. There will be hard fighting.
This is the worst possible scenario for Pakistan as it has a sizable Pastun population in the areas bordering Afghanistan. Remember, even under the Taliban, the Afghans refused to accept Durand Line as a border insisting that all Pashtun areas belong to Afghanistan. Pakistan might very well be faced with the scenario of Pashtun nationalism.
I think the De-Facto partition of Afghanistan is a real possibility. Afghan Forces though poorly trained and motivated have money and weapons. Not a single country surrounding Afghanistan wants the Taliban as their neighbour, except, of course, Pakistan. NATO forces will not for sure leave the region and will provide all important Air support and not to mention the precision bombing using Drones.
Those are the 3 possibilities and all the 3 eventualities are on the table.
Now, with the certainties:
1) Afghanistan will be chaotic, violent and unstable. Duh! History tells us so and there are too many competing forces trying to outdo each other for stability to set in.
2) India will not face the direct and immediate consequences of any impending civil war in Afghanistan. Pakistan, gracefully, acts as a shield. (Thank you, Jinnah?)
3) The most devastating certainty for Pakistan: Sanctions and Isolation. Not many will disagree that US and Pakistan have conflicting interests and each have been at the other’s throat. Pakistan wants everything the free world doesn’t- The control of Afghanistan by the Islamists. Pakistan has already done much damage. Were it not for the leverage Pakistan has over the NATO forces, in the form of supply routes to Afghanistan, Pakistan would already have been sanctioned by now. Post-2014 this leverage will disappear as a) NATO has Northern Distribution Network(NDN) and b) Due to massive reduction in forces the load on the routes reduces tremendously and so do the costs of operating NDN.
4) US will not have “won” in Afghanistan, but would not have lost either. It came with the purposes of defeating Al Qaeda and has been very successful. It later took on the mantle of stabilizing Afghanistan, which is a near impossible task. There it will fail. US citizens, thousands of miles away, will be safe and prosperous. It is the Afghans and Pakistanis who will die(Not that I am blaming America but this is how it is).
5) Anyway the Pakistanis look there is nothing but disaster. If they support the Taliban, it will take on the free world and result in isolation and possible sanctions. If they take on the Taliban, it will face massive, bloody blow-back and a civil war-like situation. It is the fear of India’s influence in Afghanistan which makes Pakistan support the Taliban. India by not lifting a finger is hurting Pakistan. Talk about being consumed by hate!
Ultimately, nobody will be entirely happy at the end.