International Relations

Future of Afghanistan & SAARC

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In the last few weeks, Afghanistan has turned from being state-aided and supported by the United States of America to a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The Taliban took control of Afghanistan on 15th August 2021. Since then a state of panic has swept across the country. Many people have been desperately trying to leave the country due to which there has been chaos at the Kabul Airport. Approximately 20 people have been killed in this chaos. In addition to that, the fear that revolves around the people of Afghanistan is how the Taliban is going to rule the country. The last time when they ruled the country in 1996, they imposed a strict version of Sharia law under which women were barred from studying or working, and were only allowed to step out from their homes when accompanied by a male companion. If the Taliban rules with a different ideology this time, respecting the human rights of women as it has promised, it could be some sort of relief for the Afghan people. But this is not the fundamental crisis, the major crisis that awaits Afghanistan, as many experts have foreseen is a humanitarian crisis.

With the departure of the US and its NATO allies and no official government in Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan are left with nothing but uncertainty. The next few weeks in Afghanistan will be critical for its future.

However, the impacts of the crisis are not only restricted to Afghanistan and can be a cause of concern for the other countries as well.

Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan and its impact on the Neighboring Countries.

India

India had great relations with the outgoing Afghanistan government under Ashraf Ghani. In the last 20 years, India made a US$ 3 bn investment for the development of Afghanistan. It built roads, dams, power lines, a new Afghan parliament and worked to improve the educational services in Afghanistan. The future of these Indian investments in Afghanistan looks uncertain at present. But in addition to these economic setbacks, the major concern for India will be the Taliban’s support for the insurgent Terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic state. Also, there are concerns that Afghanistan can become a base for terrorist groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba to launch attacks in Kashmir and other parts of the country.

Pakistan

A Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and the withdrawal of US troops from the country is exactly what Pakistan would have wanted. But it’s still not a complete victory for Pakistan. The problem that Pakistan still faces is the resurgence of the Pakistani Taliban also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban. This network of Islamist and sectarian organizations aims to overthrow Pakistan’s government. In recent times, the Pakistani Taliban has ramped up violence against political opponents and Pakistani security forces, while also targeting Chinese interests in Pakistan as it did through a deadly July 2021 bomb attack that killed at least 13 people including 9 Chinese nationals. With the Taliban in control of Afghanistan, there can be an increase in such incidents in Pakistan, which is a grave security concern for Pakistan. 

Bangladesh

Bangladesh is already in a midst of the re-emergence of radical Islamic nationalism in the country, the existence of which dates back to the early 2010s with the Awami League government’s execution of Jamaat-e-Islami’s Islamist leaders. These executions created a backlash among various Islamist groups which perceive Islam to be in danger. Also, an organization such as Hefajat-e-Islam have been actively fighting against the secular nationalism. This has provided terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS with a way through which they can radicalize and influence the youth of Bangladesh and also re-connect with other local terrorist organizations. Now the Taliban’s increasing power in Afghanistan can instill new energy into these radical Islamist groups and can be a cause of concern for the Bangladeshi authorities.

Sri Lanka

A similar situation can confront Sri Lanka. Since 2009 Sri Lanka has experienced tensions between its Muslim and Buddhist communities. This has caused a lot of chaos and violence in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government’s response to these violent incidents has been closing 1000 Islamic schools, banning burqas, introducing a temporary cremation policy for Muslims. These steps have furthered problems and have given away to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State to increase their local recruitments from the region. The Taliban rule in Afghanistan which provides terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda a platform to grow can increase the influence of these organizations in the region which could be detrimental to the internal security of Sri Lanka.

Maldives

Similarly in the Maldives, the propagation of fundamentalist propaganda by authoritative leaders Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Abdulla Yameen has given rise to fundamentalist and anti-democratic sentiments in the country. The recent terrorist attack against former president Mohamed Nasheed is further evidence of the thriving fundamentalism in the Maldives. The formation of a Taliban-ruled government in Afghanistan can further augment this problem.

Since these countries are an integral part of the South Asia Region, the detrimental impact on the security of these countries would directly affect the peace and tranquillity of the whole south Asian region. To tackle the problem of the increase in terrorism in the region, the countries would have to look at it collectively.

Revival of SAARC – A Possible solution

In 1985, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established to foster mutual trust, understanding, and appreciation for one another’s problems. Afghanistan was admitted to the organization in 2007. The last SAARC summit was held in 2014 in Kathmandu; since then, the organization has been largely inactive, with the India-Pakistan war playing a significant role. Prime Minister Narendra Modi attempted to revive the organization by hosting an emergency conference during the pandemic during which an Emergency Covid assistance fund for SAARC was established, but no further initiative has been done by either country since then.

In the third SAARC summit in 1987, a regional convention on Suppression of Terrorism was adopted, this initiative was further updated with the signing of an additional protocol in 2004. These initiatives have shown the potential of the organization to group together to promote regional peace, stability, and prosperity in the region but many countries have remained skeptical of its implementation.

But as the threat to regional security increases with the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the importance of SAARC also increases, as it remains the only organization capable of bringing together South Asian countries. REVIVE THE SAARC is one method to address the issue of regional security by working together to develop a counter-terrorism framework that will ensure the region’s security. However, given the current state of affairs in Kashmir, this would necessitate India and Pakistan to put aside their disagreements and cooperating, which would be difficult but not impossible.

Looking at the situation positively, I believe it is one of the finest ways to revitalize the SAARC, as every country in the South Asian region is concerned following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

-By Shivam Tiwari

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