US-Taliban deal: Tough times ahead, end domestic polarisation to boost national security

In a significant development for Afghanistan, the US and Taliban have inked an agreement that is being seen as a precursor to peace in the war-ravaged country. The US has announced a troop withdrawal schedule in exchange for Taliban providing guarantees that Afghan soil won’t be used for terror attacks. Plus, things will now transition to intra-Afghan talks between Taliban and various Afghan stakeholders that would have to necessarily include the Afghan government. If all goes well, all foreign troops will pull out in 14 months.

Thus, the US-Taliban deal is actually a precursor agreement and the long road to Afghan peace begins now. It’s clear that Taliban will be part of Afghanistan’s future. The only question that remains is how much influence the radical group will come to wield. In such a scenario, it would be prudent on India’s part to cultivate ties with Taliban. However, New Delhi must have a fallback plan in case the current Taliban is anything like the old Taliban, and works in concert with Pakistan to support anti-Indian jihadi groups. It’s worth bearing in mind the deputy leader of Taliban is Sirajuddin Haqqani – a man with close ties to Pakistan’s ISI. After the US withdrawal, Islamabad could exert influence to direct extremists towards India.

On top of this the US withdrawal – particularly if it’s a precipitate one – will be perceived as a defeat of American power and could boost radical groups across South Asia. This is bound to worsen India’s external security environment. In the worst case scenario India could confront a China-Pakistan-Talibanist Afghanistan alliance. In view of this India must beef up defences along its borders, particularly in Kashmir.

This is also why having a religiously polarised domestic atmosphere is a major national security risk. The recent riots in Delhi have seriously scarred our social fabric. It needs to be quickly repaired and communal harmony restored so that enemies of this country can’t fish in troubled waters. Already there are reports that images from the Delhi riots are being used by the Islamic State terror group to call for retaliatory action. This can only be countered through boosting inter-community harmony, holding rioters accountable no matter what religion they belong to, addressing police apathy and acting against BJP leaders who incite violence through hate speech. Tough times are ahead and the country must come together.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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