Since 2015, Daesh has also expanded its footprint under the nose of American troops.
India is still the most popular country for Afghans — as a friend that has offered substantial aid in education, infrastructure, and community projects, more than most developed countries. And yet, the stagnation in Indian policy appears regressive. Indian policy appears to have not changed under Prime Minister Narendra Modi while other powerful neighbours of Afghanistan — Russia, China and Iran — have recalibrated policy to boost the Pakistan-nurtured Taliban, and nudge it towards political settlement with Kabul, hoping that the resulting political consolidation in Afghanistan will be a hedge against the expanding Daesh (Islamic State), which Moscow, Beijing and Teheran fear. Taliban is inimical to Daesh.
While the regional political and security constructs are being finetuned, the US, still the world’s most influential power with military bases in Afghanistan, has come under suspicion in Afghan eyes. It ousted the Taliban from power in Kabul but benignly permitted its regrouping in next-door Pakistan with the ISI’s help, and not asked sharp enough questions of the Pakistanis. Since 2015, Daesh has also expanded its footprint under the nose of American troops. The use of the so-called “mother of all bombs”, the most powerful non-nuclear detonation device in the world, in eastern Afghanistan, ostensibly against Daesh positions, earlier this month, has not persuaded Afghans that this was a part of a genuine US fight against terrorist groups.
Daesh is still considered not strong enough to attract such retributive attention, while the Taliban have been treated with kid gloves over a dozen years. As such, protests erupted in Kabul against the use of the MOAB, which was locally viewed as contemptuous of Afghan sovereignty. High-voltage political preparation seems to be afoot in Afghanistan to challenge the Ashraf Ghani-Abdullah Abdullah government, which accepted the US detonation of the MOAB without demur, by political constituencies that have so far been favourably inclined toward India.
New Delhi, in Afghan eyes, as seen in media writings, is perceived as being quietist, and thus incapable of carrying influence in a situation of flux in the region’s strategic dynamics. More, its approach seems to Afghans an adjunct to Washington’s thinking. This became more apparent during last week’s visit to New Delhi by US national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
On Saturday, India strongly condemned the biggest terrorist attack against the Afghan military in Mazar-e-Sharif and spoke of the need to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure inside Pakistan. This is now par for the course. To be credible in a changing situation, Delhi needs to nuance its stand from Washington’s, and open communication channels with the Taliban with the goal of an Afghan political reconciliation and to help extricate the Taliban from Pakistan’s grip, distancing itself in this respect from the Chinese, Russian or Iranian stance.