The Narendra Modi government has been in touch with the Trump administration on Afghanistan.
The striking Taliban attack on Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel, which ended after a 13-hour siege on Sunday morning and took the lives of 18 people with several score injured, takes us to the current political dilemmas faced by Afghanistan and its well-wishers, including India.
The government of President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah, artificially put together by the US in 2014 when the presidential election did not yield a clear outcome, was of doubtful legitimacy in the eyes of the public. This feeling came to be strengthened when the government failed to obtain ratification for itself and the post specially created for Dr Abdullah from the Loya Jirga, the traditional Afghan forum. Indeed, the government got cold feet and did not even call a Loya Jirga within the stipulated two years to make the necessary constitutional changes.
In a very fundamental sense, this has negatively impacted the already plummeting American prestige in Afghanistan. In light of this, various nodes within Afghan society have sought to pre-position themselves in the past year for a possible political convulsion in the not too distant future.
At the political level, former President Hamid Karzai — by far the country’s most influential political figure — has been in the forefront of these efforts. At the level of politics that explicitly uses violence to advance itself, it’s the Taliban which made a stunning recovery in Afghanistan, thanks to the abject failure of 15 years of gross American mishandling.
There have been a series of spectacular hits across the country in the past 9-10 months, mostly by the Taliban and mostly in Kabul, the world’s most politically contested city where the US sits right at the centre of things, surveying the crumbling of its efforts.
It’s estimated that today the Taliban either control or have a crucial say in large swathes of the country — from about a third to half the 34 provinces, varying estimates claim.
This indicates the potentiality of the advance of the Pakistani agenda when it comes to creating watershed arrangements for Afghanistan’s future governance, and this advance is likely to occur not just through the Taliban but also the US, if the past is any guide. The United States cannot divorce itself from Pakistan in playing a part in Afghanistan, for reasons of logistics as well as politics. The Ashraf Ghani government may well be on its last legs. The Narendra Modi government has been in touch with the Trump administration on Afghanistan. In its own interest it could guide the United States to prioritise the principal Afghan concern of ending US bombardments within Afghanistan as the enemy sits elsewhere. That will offer India a positive foothold to negotiate the political twists and turns in the coming days.