When he assumes charge as US President two days from now, it is not quite clear yet if Joe Biden can change tracks in significant ways from Donald Trump’s policy of a complete withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan by May this year, but this is a matter that cannot but deeply concern the government of President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul. Among the regional powers, India is on the same wavelength as the Ghani government. It is to be hoped that the incoming Biden administration begins to seriously invest in counter-terrorism in the Afghanistan theatre.
This is in view of the monstrous proportions terrorist violence has assumed all through 2020 after the Trump administration signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February last year under which the US troops have been withdrawn almost entirely. In the last quarter of 2020, more than 500 civilians were killed in the country and more than 1,000 injured. There have been targeted assassinations of prominent politicians, social workers and journalists. Vice-president Amrullah Saleh, well known for his opposition to Pakistan’s policy of promoting extremism and terrorism in Pakistan, barely escaped death. Places of worship and educational institutions have been bombed. Only last week, a plot to assassinate highly placed US diplomatic officials in Kabul is thought to have been mounted.
It is in this backdrop that national security advisor Ajit Doval was in Kabul last week. If the Taliban assume real control in Kabul as a result of the peace deal, whatever the appearances, we may expect a full-fledged renewal of terrorism-related pressure on India from the Pakistan side. On January 13, after Mr Doval called on President Ghani, the Afghanistan president’s office said in a media release, “Both sides discussed counter-terrorism cooperation and efforts for building regional consensus on supporting peace in Afghanistan.” The statement also quoted Dr Ghani as saying that “Afghanistan and India in joint efforts with Nato and the United States will be able to succeed in the fight against terrorism”.
As a leading regional player invested in peace in Afghanistan, it redounds on India to persuade the new government in Washington to re-establish the focus on counter-terrorism, and to coordinate peace-oriented moves with Kabul and like-minded regional players.