Experts flag concerns for India as Biden announces the US, NATO troop pullout from Afghanistan

PTI
NEW DELHI Published: Apr 15, 2021, 08:49 AM(IST)

FIle photo Photograph:( Reuters )

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Regional countries, especially India, will have tremendous concerns about the US pullout from Afghanistan and the likelihood of a Taliban resurgence in the country, experts said.

US President Joe Biden has announced that all American troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 11 this year, thus bringing to an end the country’s longest war, spanning across two decades.

“US troops, as well as forces deployed by our NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Allies and operational partners, will be out of Afghanistan before we mark the 20th anniversary of that heinous attack on September 11 (2001),” Biden said during a televised address to the nation from the White House Wednesday.

He said his administration would remain alert to the threat of terrorism.

“We’ll reorganise our counterterrorism capabilities and the substantial assets in the region to prevent re-emergence of terrorists, of the threat to our homeland from over the horizon. We’ll hold the Taliban accountable for its commitment not to allow any terrorists to threaten the United States or its allies from Afghan soil. The Afghan government has made that commitment to us as well. And we’ll focus our full attention on the threat we face today,” Biden said.

He said his team is refining national strategy to monitor and disrupt significant terrorist threats not only in Afghanistan, but anywhere they may arise — Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere.

It’s time for American troops to come home, Biden said.

“The United States will begin our final withdrawal — begin it on May 1 of this year. We will not conduct a hasty rush to the exit. We’ll do it responsibly, deliberately, and safely. And we will do it in full coordination with our allies and partners, who now have more forces in Afghanistan than we do,” he said.

“The Taliban should know that if they attack us as we drawdown, we will defend ourselves and our partners with all the tools at our disposal,” he said.

Before making the announcement, Biden had spoken with former US presidents Barack Obama and George Bush.

“President Biden has made the right decision in completing the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan,” Obama said in a statement later.

Concerns for India

In the aftermath of the US and NATO withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, however, India will have a tremendous concern about the resurgence of the Taliban and its territory being used as a haven for terrorist, experts said.

“Regional countries, especially India, will have tremendous concerns about the US pullout from Afghanistan and the likelihood of a Taliban resurgence in the country, Lisa Curtis, who was Deputy Assistant to the President and NSC Senior Director for South and Central Asia from 2017-2021 under the previous Donald Trump administration told PTI.

When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan in the late 1990s, they welcomed militants and terrorists of all stripes to train, recruit, and fundraise from Afghanistan. Many of those militants, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, trained for operations in India, such as the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, Curtis said.

An eminent foreign policy and national security expert with over 20 years of service in the US government, Curtis now is a senior fellow and director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) think-tank.

Indian officials also remember the close cooperation between the Taliban and militants who in December 1999 hijacked an Indian airliner. India may seek to use its role in regional efforts to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, like the recent UN effort, to press its goal of ensuring Afghan territory cannot be used by anti-India militants, Curtis said.

India will worry about Taliban controlled territory being a haven for terrorists again, former Pakistan Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, who is now Director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute think-tank told PTI.

The real question now is whether after withdrawing its troops, the US will continue to help the Kabul government and will the Afghan people be able to keep the Taliban at bay, Haqqani said.

The Taliban have shown no interest in peace and the Doha process only reinforced their belief that the US eagerness to leave Afghanistan outweighed its concerns about that country’s future.

India and Pakistan do not have the luxury of distance that the U.S. has and will remain involved in Afghanistan. Pakistan is too deeply tied to the Taliban to stop supporting them now though it should be concerned about the adverse impact Taliban ideology would further have on Pakistan, Haqqani said in response to a question.

The Washington Post in a lead editorial asserted that the plans of Biden to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan will lead to disaster in the region.

“Mr Biden has chosen the easy way out of Afghanistan, but the consequences are likely to be ugly, The Washington Post said.

The New York Times said that stopping terrorism groups over the long term could be harder, an opinion also echoed by The Wall Street Journal.

The symbolic but arbitrary date shows the decision is driven less by facts on the ground than a political desire that is also a strategic gamble. History suggests US interests will suffer, The Wall Street Journal said in an editorial.

The president’s exit means he will have to take responsibility for what happens next. We hope it doesn’t betray the great sacrifices so many have made, the daily said.

The US and the Taliban signed a landmark deal in Doha on February 29, 2020, to bring lasting peace in war-torn Afghanistan and allow US troops to return home from America’s longest war.

Under the US-Taliban pact signed in Doha, the US agreed to withdraw all its soldiers from Afghanistan in 14 months.

Since the US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has spent more than USD 1 trillion in fighting and rebuilding in Afghanistan.

About 2,400 US soldiers have been killed, along with tens of thousands of Afghan troops, Taliban insurgents and Afghan civilians.

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