Troops from India and its regional rival China appear to be preparing for potential consequences from a possible U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan stemming from peace negotiations between the Taliban and the United States, some news outlets revealed this week.
Afghanistan shares a border with China and Kashmir, a region claimed by Pakistan, its ally China, and their regional foe India. Given that India claims ownership of the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir that sits along the Afghan border, New Delhi argues that it, too, shares a border with the country.
The Washington Post reported on Monday:
For at least three years, Chinese troops have quietly monitored this choke point in Tajikistan [along the Afghanistan border] just beyond China’s western frontier. …While veiled in secrecy, the outpost of about two dozen buildings and lookout towers illustrates how the footprint of Chinese power has been expanding alongside the country’s swelling economic reach.
At a moment when the United States might consider a pact that would pull American troops out of Afghanistan, China appears to be tiptoeing into a volatile region critical to its security and its continental ambitions.
Already, the retreat of old powers and arrival of the new are on display in Tajikistan, a tiny, impoverished country that served as a gateway into Afghanistan for U.S. units in the early phases of the 2001 invasion.
Some analysts – including Gen. John Campbell, the former top commander of U.S.-NATO troops in Afghanistan – have warned that once the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan, other regional powers, including China, may move in to fill the vacuum.
The Pentagon has acknowledged that the Chinese military is operating inside Afghanistan, urging Beijing in early 2018 to work with Washington against terrorists in the country where Chinese jihadis are known to maintain a presence. Early this year the U.S. military cautioned against China’s operations in Afghanistan, noting that Beijing is seeking to expand its influence in Afghanistan.
As part of intensified peace-seeking efforts in recent months, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has come out in support of the Afghan governments offer to the Taliban of official recognition as a legitimate political group, effectively granting the Pakistan-allied terrorist group the opportunity to return to power to the dismay of India.
Soon after U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, the Americans removed the Taliban regime from power.
Like China, India backs Kabul-led and owned peace negotiations with the Taliban. However, the country has expressed concern that an increase in the Taliban’s influence would be a boost for its regional foe Pakistan and could negatively impact the already deteriorating security situation in the restive Kashmir area.
In the wake of the most recent deadly confrontation between Pakistan-linked terrorists in Kashmir and the Indian military, the Indian army indicated on Tuesday “that it is fully prepared to deal with any fallout of the American military pullout and negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan on the security situation in Kashmir,” the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) reported Tuesday.
Asked about the potential consequences of a U.S. military pullout from Afghanistan and its negotiations with the Taliban, Indian Lt. Gen, K.J.S. Dhillon, the commander of troops in India-held Kashmir, told reporters, “We are fully prepared for any fallout of American pullout from Afghanistan. Anybody who enters Kashmir with a gun will be eliminated.”
Both China and India have expressed support for the ongoing Afghan peace negotiations involving the Trump administration, which has made the reconciliation between the Taliban and Kabul the primary goal of its strategy to end the more than 17-year-old war.
Despite insistence from the United States, India, and China that peace talks are Kabul-owned and led, the Taliban refuses to allow the Afghan government to participate in the talks, dismissing it as an American “puppet.”
Both India and China have also warned against an abrupt U.S. withdrawal.
“They [U.S.] have been in Afghanistan for 17 years. If they are leaving the country, they should try to leave in a gradual and a responsible way,” Lijian Zhao, deputy Chinese ambassador in Islamabad, declared late last year, according to Voice of America (VOA).
“If a civil war broke out after the U.S. withdrawal, the first countries affected will be Pakistan, will be China, and it will be the immediate neighbors. So, we have to sit together with the parties concerned so that we start a peace process,” he added.
A precipitous withdrawal could spell disaster for India’s relationship with the Afghan government and its control over Kashmir, several analysts argue.
K Rajendra Kumar, a former police chief in the region, told the Press Trust of India (PTI) late last year:
Now USA is exiting Afghanistan. It has its implications in Kashmir. It is a matter of time that we will be feeling its implications in the Valley. After the US withdrawal, the terrorist organizations would feel pumped up, emboldened.
He indicated that “seeing America’s withdrawal as a ‘sign of victory’, terrorist outfits can feel that New Delhi can also be defeated, so there is an urgent need for India to adopt a ‘clear-cut roadmap’ to deal with terrorism in Kashmir.”
The terrorist who carried out the recent deadly attack in Kashmir that has threatened to trigger clashes between India and Pakistan said he was inspired to become a suicide bomber by the Taliban’s victory over the United States, referring to the U.S. possibly pulling out of Afghanistan as part of a peace deal.
U.S. officials have conceded that a military victory is not possible in Afghanistan.
Although U.S. President Donald Trump has indicated he would be willing to withdraw forces from Afghanistan as part of a peace pact, the Pentagon has said it has not received any orders to begin pulling out from the country.
Last month, ongoing peace negotiations between the Taliban and the U.S. resulted in a tentative framework agreement, which mainly revolves around a ceasefire and the United States withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan within 18 months in exchange for Taliban assurances that the country will not harbor international terrorists seeking to attack America.