Biden, Afghanistan and Relations with India

The US departure from Afghanistan will hasten its fall into Chinese hands.
Keywords: Afghanistan | Biden | USA | Taliban | Pakistan | Military | Conflict | Modi | ISI | China | Kashmir | Terrorism | FONOP | South Asia   
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Image Courtesy: Gulf News

It is up to every nation to pursue its interests; as has been said famously, there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests. India must accept this reality. The US will pursue its own interests, as defined by the current administration, although the question remains whether its short-term tactics will be counterproductive for long-term strategy. 

President Biden was elected, he and his staff believe, on a wave of anti-Trump sentiment. Therefore they intend to undo or overturn everything Trump did. It’s only natural: in his turn, Trump had undone everything Obama had done. This happens in Kerala too: each time the government changes, it throws out everything the previous crew had done, whether it was good, bad or indifferent. The ironic thing is, Trump did want to exit Afghanistan, so Biden should want to stay on, but he’s rushing for the exit.

If it were only that level of egotism, it would not be worrisome. But Biden-raj has reverted to the Democratic modus operandi (exemplified by Obama-raj) with a vengeance: it stands in awe of China (and all other bullies, especially those in uniform), while it has nothing but contempt for well-behaved and useful friends and allies. In particular, America’s Deep State has an unfathomable fondness for Pakistan’s smooth-talking, Armani-clad generals.

The generals know what they are doing. The NYTimes reported that in 2014, Hamid Gul, the godfather of the ISI, said: “When history is written, it will be stated that the ISI defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan with the help of America. Then there will be another sentence. The ISI, with the help of America, defeated America”. Exactly. The only update is that “ISI, with the help of China, defeated America.”

Unfortunately, this inflates China’s ego, too. They are now 3-0 vs the Americans. They fought them to a standstill in Korea, their former Vietnamese allies won, and now their Pakistani clients have, too. Xi Jinping definitely views it this way, and as was seen in their recent Alaska encounter, the Chinese now treat the Americans as a Ming emperor might have treated a lowly vassal state, with contempt and derision.

Why the American Deep State feels so beholden to Pakistan and the ISI is not obvious. They apparently harbored some notions about the old Great Game that the British used to play to fend off Russian ambitions about a warm-water port in the Arabian Sea. There was also some grand plan (the TAPI pipeline) to bring Turkmen gas via Afghanistan to Pakistan and India, although the geoeconomic rationale for this is not evident: India will not buy into it, and it has to traverse territory full of hostile rebels and insurgents.

Perhaps the US wanted to have a foothold to keep an eye on China, which is one reason why they have consistently supported Pakistan’s mythology about an independent and viable Kashmir. They should reconsider, with China’s tentacles all over Pakistan, and Gwadar port now a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) is the crown jewel of the BRI. The US is a laughing stock in Pakistan. Running with the hare and hunting with the hounds has worked well for the ISI. 

The US departure from Afghanistan will hasten its fall into Chinese hands; there is much mineral wealth to be plundered there. The Taliban will rise up, and these ISI proxies (someone once said memorably that the Taliban are merely ISI in beards and baggy pants) will ensure that fundamentalist jihad will be the order of the day in both Pak and Afghan. It’s a tar-baby,  the US cannot just waltz out of there, and I predict there will be a U-turn. Obama tried several times to declare victory and run like hell. I suspect Bush and Clinton did too, I don’t remember. Biden will be forced to recant.

Worryingly for India, jihadi triumphalism will be directed towards India. Terrorism may become rampant in India: Al Qaeda and ISIS have both promised this.

Apart from this, the picture of the US as an unreliable ally will get more entrenched. As it is, it looks like Biden is retreating from Trump’s Indo-Pacific rhetoric and the Quad. It is worth noting how, despite his much-lauded ‘pivot’ to Asia, Obama did explicitly accept that China would be in charge of ‘South Asia’, something that is simply unacceptable to India. 

There is a trio of sinister events: one, the pointless provocation of a FONOP (freedom of navigation) operation in India’s exclusive economic zone in the Lakshadweep; two, the sheer cussedness of the embargo on vaccine raw materials (despite all the theatrics of a Quad vaccine initiative); three, the haranguing on climate change by John Kerry. 

There are other irritants too: the S-400 issue, the continuous meddling by lunatic-fringe Democrats ilke Pramila Jayapal in India’s internal affairs such as CAA and Article 370 and the coordinated slurs about India’s democracy and government put out by the pliant US media and Deep State fronts such as Freedom House and the US Council on International Religious Freedom (which has just repeated that India is a country of particular concern). 

All this brings us back to the bad old days of Clinton and Obama, when bullying India and putting it in its place was a regular chore for Madeleine Albright, Robin Raphel and Hillary Clinton. Then there was Biden sabotaging India’s cryogenic rockets in 1992. To go back further, we had the Nixon-Kissinger duo, and the USS Enterprise steaming into the Bay of Bengal at the height of the 1971 war for Bangladesh. 

It was evident to America-watchers that a Biden presidency, especially with Kamala Harris and her loud niece Meena in the fray, would not be pleasant for India. Time to grit one’s teeth and ride out the next four years. The first 100 days have been bad. Things are likely to get much worse, alas. 

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Rajeev Srinivasan

Rajeev Srinivasan

Rajeev Srinivasan is a management consultant and columnist. He focuses on strategy and innovation and has taught at several IIMs. He is an alumnus of IIT Madras and the Stanford Business School.

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