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Association of Retired Senior IPS Officers (ARSIPSO)

This is with reference to my letter No. ARSIPSO/GS-BSD-4/2023 dated. 10/08/2023 on the 4th B.S. Das Memorial Lecture, which had to be rescheduled for unavoidable reasons.

The 4th B.S.Das Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Shri Anil Kumar Sinha, IAS (Retd.), on the subject Disaster Management: Creating Safer Communities, has now been rescheduled for October 14, 2023 as per the following:

Conference Room No. 2, India International Centre, Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi, October 14, 2023 (Saturday)

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American President Barack Obamas decision to withdraw almost one-third of the 1, 00,000 American troops from Afghanistan over the next eighteen months has raised concerns in many quarters. By substantial withdrawal of troops before the American Presidential election, Obama has narrowed down options for himself and his successors. The surge of troops last year did to some extent contain Taliban violence, but failed to turn the tide of war. The USA and its allies by now have held few rounds of talks with the interlocutors for Talibans in Europe and in the United Arab Emirates. It was earlier hoped that the surge would force the Talibans to a peace deal. But now the super power has decided to leave, the Talibans have a good reason not to agree to any peace formula. Reaching an accommodation with the Talibans will not now be easy. It is aptly said that the Americans have the watches but the Talibans have the time. The recent storming of the international hotel at Kabul, was Taliban riposte to the claim of the American President that the tide of war is receding.

Though America is pulling out troops, it has made huge investments in air bases in Afghanistan. The US Army is very likely to maintain its diminished presence in these bases and use them for operations against the Al Qaeda and the Talibans sheltered in Pakistan. They will be like launching pads for drone attacks and other forays. American Vice President, Joe Biden, had earlier favoured such a strategy.

To his political supporters, Obama will now say that he will concentrate on nation building, and to the generals who are not in favour of such heavy withdrawals, he can point out that he will end his first term with many more troops in Afghanistan than when he began it. However, America has reasons for war weariness. Since September 2011, it has spent some 1.3 trillion dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in which about 6,000 American soldiers died. Even Conservative Republicans keen on staying the course are expressing views that America should pay more attention to the problems at home than problems overseas. Many strategists, however, strongly feel that Obama took out too many troops too early. It is said that the middle ground may be often good politics, but is less comfortable in warfare.

The future remains misty and uncertain. There is every likelihood that with the withdrawal of American troops, the Karzai Government may not be able to hold its own and collapse. It has been agreed that American troops would stay to train the Afghan army and the police, but it is not certain if after 2014 NATO troops will be there as a deterrent to a likely outbreak of civil war. Unfortunately, President Karzais regime is seen as corrupt and propped by white foreigners and hence majority of the Pashtuns do not support it. But non-Pashtuns, northerners, are not going to welcome the return of the Taliban and are dead set against any deal-making by Karzai with the Taliban. Karzai, of late, has become a loud critic of the role of foreigners in Afghanistan and accused them of behaving like a rich guest who has invited us in a picnic. If the reconciliation programme is to succeed, it has to overcome opposition to such plans from Afghanistans non-Pashtuns. According to the realists including veteran diplomats, some painful compromises may have to be made. Direct election of provincial Governors may be introduced by which the South could be handed over to the Taliban and the North to the Uzbek, Hazara and Tazik warlords. It will indeed be a strategy of Divide and Go.

Chances of an organized withdrawal would be possible only if a political settlement is worked out with the regional powers consent. Interestingly, Afghanistan has become an international issue whenever an outside power has tried to achieve unilateral dominance. This has invariably prompted other parties to establish a countervailing influence. Regional powers such as China, India and Russia would be more threatened than the US by an Afghanistan hospitable to terrorism. For India, in particular, Afghanistan encouraging or even tolerating the centres of terrorism will pose major threats.

Withdrawal of America from the theatre of war will create a tricky situation for India. India so long has been hedging its policy options. There are strategists who are in favour of placing troops on the ground when USA and NATO draw down kinetic operations and shift more resources towards training of the Afghanistan national army. These security analysts are of the view that Indias important security concerns lie in Afghanistan and they demand serious attention including dispatching of troops. At the other extreme are those who feel that the benefits are not worth the risk and India should leave Afghanistan as and when international troops leave. There are also others who hold intermediate positions and support the view that Indias current policy is on track and should be sustained. But sending of troops to Afghanistan by India will not be easy. It will be a hard sell. In the present coalition-based national Government in India, sending of troop involves a robust national consensus, which is unlikely. Further increase of Indias influence and activities in Afghanistan would encourage Pakistans adventurism in India and elsewhere. Though the Afghans are generally well-disposed towards India and Indians, there are real limits to project Indias interests in Afghanistan. Pakistan has advantages of geography and many Pakistanis are related to the Afghans by blood and ethnic ties. This gives Pakistan myriad advantages in terms of cultivating assets and allies to be used against India. But for India Afghanistan encouraging or even tolerating centres of terrorism will pose major threats, and hence it has to work out its policy options very carefully.

The views and facts stated above are entirely the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of this Association in any manner.

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