Afghanistan: Possibilities and near Certainties

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.



Filed under Geo-Politics

10 responses to “Afghanistan: Possibilities and near Certainties

  1. Excellent analysis, wonderful write up.

  2. Excellent analysis, however with one observation – Pakistan neither wants a Taliban controlled Afghanistan nor a government which serves as a proxy. May be, today, Pakistan provides a buffer to India but I am sure India in future would not like to share border with a Taliban controlled Pakistan.

    • You are right. At the time I wrote this all Pakistani actions seemed to suggest they are very committed to the chosen path – Taliban controlled Afghanistan. Now, at least on the media side, there is a growing realisation the kind of havoc this will cause on the Pakistani side. Its like you have spent a decade pursuing a plan, suddenly you are realising that it will massively backfire and its too late to go back, possibly.

      Pakistan is no Somalia or an Afghanistan. It will not roll over. But, the dark powers will try their best to achieve complete domination. I truly believe in the one institution in Pakistan, which works, and ,ironically, has also been responsible for this mess in the first place – The military.

      Things are so messed right now that it is hard to see even 5 years down the line. 2014 will be the defining year, for me, as far as Af-Pak goes. By the summer of 2015, or by Dec 2015, we’ll be able to say for sure.

      Trust me, I really really want the Pak Army to defeat the Taliban.

      How things change, huh? A Patriotic Indian rooting for Pakistani Army!

  3. faheema

    A clear scenario of future of this regions based on stark realities. There is no doubt worst loser in this entire game will be Pakistan since there is least hope it’s deep state will ever learn from the follies of past. Fanaticism in Pakistan is crossed all alarming heights, its deep state is still adamant, its most vibrant but coward media not prepared to bring to light dreadful picture to future to their country.

    • There is a possibility that it could be too late for Pakistan to use the NATO’s presence in Afghanistan to its advantage.

      Of course there is still hope that Pakistan will defeat the Taliban and its ideology, but it will definitely not come out of this mess unscathed.

  4. Zalmai

    The other possibility is that Afghans will finally get their act together and unite against the Taliban and their main backer, Pakistan.
    Afghan factionalism is on the wane and there is consensus among the different ethnic groups and their leaders to cooperate in the larger interest of the nation.
    Anyone who has read Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef’s book, My life with the Taliban surely understands that the Taliban are not beholden to Pakistan and they have
    their own agenda independent of Pakistan and the ISI.
    The future of Afghanistan is bright because now all factions know their enemies and friends and public opinion is against Pakistani and Iranian interference in the affairs of Afghanistan.

    • Zalmai,

      Yes, thats the best possible scenario for everyone in the world(except of course, Pakistanis at a strategic level). Afghans at peace and Democracy prevailing, sounds good.

      I’ve read articles by Afghans of how this time it’ll be different and Taliban will not walk over. But, there are a lot of noise suggesting the opposite too. Its too early for me to call it a certainty.

      I consider the scenario you mentioned covered in Scenario 1..

  5. Pukhtun Khan

    A Hindu relishing misfortune for Pakistan. Very stereotypical. You are obsessed with hating Muslims. I want you to understand one thing: The Pukhtun people of Afghanistan and Pakistan are one and the same, and this invasion by US, EU, India, Israel, and numerous other foreign countries has been the most detrimental to Pukhtun the most. Our people have been facing ethnic cleansing at the hands of these foreign armies. 75% of the world’s Pukhtun people live in Pakistan and we love Pakistan for always helping us. Don’t talk about our Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Islamic religion with disrespect. You are a foreigner, this is a matter for Muslims to resolve. You only cause more problems like supporting foreign invasions of our land, like India supported US and Soviet invasions of Afghanistan.

    • Mr. Khan

      Thank you for reading my article.

      Predictably instead of forwarding cogent arguments, you talk about things which are steeped in cringe-worthy cliches.

      India is the most liked country in Afghanistan, says surveys. Ordinary Afghans, like ordinary Pakistanis, watch our TV shows and movies.

      If Afghans truly think so well of Pakistan, over India, then there is really nothing to worry for you all, isn’t it. India will have to exit when US withdraws next year.

      But, deep down you know its not true. The current Afghan President studied in India, so did most of the educated lot in power currently. India is giving training the Afghan Army and Police. I wonder why Afghans are not sending the troops to Pakistan, but to India.

      If your Islamic brotherhood is so strong and genuine, why did Asad kill so many Sunni Muslims in a Chemical Gas attack? Why have so many Shias been killed in Pakistan? Why are Ahmadis being discriminated in Pakistan?

      You ask others to keep out of Muslim issues, but are you willing to do the same? 9/11, 26/11, 7/7 are dates of Muslim attacks on the non-Muslim world. These are the very same places Muslims line up to go. When they get there, all you get is mayhem in return.

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