As of writing this post, it has been over 16 years since a US led coalition overthrew the Taliban Government in Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks- the deadliest act of terrorist violence in all of American history. The subsequent insurgency by the Taliban and its Jihadist allies against the Western backed democratic Government in Kabul has led to hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded, including tens of thousands of Civilians. The NATO led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission, and the subsequent Resolute Support Mission that replaced it from 2015 onwards, have suffered more than 3,400 dead and 22,000 wounded. Another 2000 Civilian Contractors have also died in the Conflict, with 15,000 more wounded.
Add to these figures the tens of thousands of the Afghan dead, and many more wounded that each of the two sides in this War, the Afghan Government (close to 22,000 dead) and the opposing Jihadist Factions (upwards of 40,000 dead according to some estimates) have suffered, on top of the horrific magnitude of civilian dead and wounded already mentioned, the catastrophic human cost of this War becomes very apparent.
The Afghan Conflict has also taken an immensely painful financial toll, specifically on its Chief financier, the United States, with estimates of the monetary cost of the War now running from 841 billion US dollars, to well into the trillions. Observers from across the political spectrum have labelled the entire War effort in Afghanistan a calamitous failure, calling it an incredibly costly strategic mistake at best, or a counterproductive geo-political blunder of epic proportions at worst. It’s tough to deny these critical conclusions considering that after nearly 16 years of ceaseless fighting, very little has been achieved on the ground: The Internationally recognised Government in Kabul continues to lose territory to a tireless and unrelenting Jihadist Insurgency, losing several thousand men each year to combat casualties in the process (and substantially greater numbers to desertion). To make matters worse, the notorious Islamic State has also succeeded in establishing a foothold in a region along the country’s border with Pakistan.
Taking all these grim facts into account, the proposal that I intend to present now will prima facie appear entirely irrational and perhaps, even delusional; I would like to make the case for a massive Indian military intervention in Afghanistan, spanning at the least several years, to back up the Kabul Government and pacify the country. I strongly believe in the urgent need for such strong action to secure India from grave geo-political, and might I add, civilisational threats, emanating from the dire state of affairs in Afghanistan.
Lessons of History
To truly comprehend why Afghanistan is so important to the future course of political and social events in the Indian sub-continent, we need to look back at the History of migration and conquest in the Indian sub-continent over the past several thousand years. I’ll begin my historical analysis from around the year 1900 BC, which roughly corresponds with the beginning of Indo-Aryan intrusions and settlement in the North western peripheries of the sub-continent. The initial base in that period for the first of the Indo-Aryans to establish themselves in South Asia was the region roughly corresponding with modern day southern Afghanistan and parts of north-western Pakistan, which are areas mostly inhabited by Iranic tribes of Pashtuns today.
It was from this base in the region of Gandhara that the Indo-Aryans went on to settle and conquer much of the rest of India, establishing the primacy of their religion and language over that of the Natives, i.e. the Dravidians and the Aboriginals. Even till as late as the early 11th Century, Gandhara was an Indo-Aryan/Indic kingdom, but alas fell with finality to the armies of Mahmud of Ghazni, marking the beginning of Islamic predominance in that region.
Just as Indo-Aryan tribes had utilised their base in modern day Afghanistan for their eventual conquest of much of the entirety of the Indian sub-continent, similarly, after the collapse of the Kabul Shahi dynasty, the Afghan region became a springboard for further Muslim invasions of other Indic lands, culminating in several centuries of often despotic Islamic rule across most of South Asia. Prior to the arrival of European Colonialists to Indian shores, the North-Western route from Afghanistan has been the most natural route utilised by foreign aggressors for invading/subjugating India proper. Apart from the Vedic Aryans and various groups of Muslims, the North-Western route was a also used by a number of other invading tribes/entities such as the Scythians, Huns, Greeks etc.
Keeping this historical context in mind, it boggles the mind how the Indian political establishment has purposely kept us away from any sort of significant political/military involvement in the Afghan theatre. The one route of conquest to which our whole Civilisation has been immensely vulnerable to throughout history cannot be neglected in such manner any longer, at least if we seek to avoid the fate that befell our forbears.
The Kashmir conflict is particularly ominous with regard to the likely ramifications of a victory for Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan. The worst years of separatist violence in the Vale of Kashmir and its environs, from the mid 90s to the early 2000s, coincide closely with the period of Islamist supremacy in Afghanistan; within two years of the downfall of the Taliban regime, there was the beginning of a precipitous decline in separatist violence within the State of Jammu and Kashmir, as the focus of Jihadist militancy in South Asia again shifted back to the battlefields of Afghanistan.
I strongly believe that as soon as Jihadist forces are able to overcome the Internationally recognised government in Kabul, they will not waste time before they move on to the next hotbed of extremism in the region, that is, the Kashmir Valley. It is only obvious that when tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of these hardened extremists are without work and purpose in Afghanistan, they will swiftly fill in to back extremist forces in countries nearby, effectively negating any progress that has been made in Kashmir so far.
On top of these immediate security considerations, there is also the question of International regard for Indian hard power at the International stage. As of now, apart from minor States neighbouring India, almost no one takes Indian military might seriously globally. This lack of recognition for our hard power translates to a rather weak bargaining position in most International forums, as well as the lack of momentum behind the goal of establishing the Indian State as a world power in a multi-polar world. If we continue to keep our heads in the sand in our own neighbourhood, we will never command the respect, or even loyalty, of our allies internationally.
The sure shot way of ensuring our security from geopolitical threats from the North West in the short term, and preserving the frontiers of our Civilisation in the long term is to take a more hands-on approach in Afghanistan. Afghan forces have proven time and again that they are not capable of stemming the tide of Jihadist violence in their country on their own. Thus, we must commit Indian troops and military resources on a scale that will not only allow the Afghan Government to maintain its current level of control, but also pacify the entire territory of Afghanistan and bring about an ultimate end to the Jihadist menace in that country.
Such an effort will require the deployment of tens of thousands of our men (if not more) and the incurring a few dozen billion US dollars at the very least, and could possibly last even decades. These may seem like daunting figures which it could be argued a relatively poor, developing country like ours cannot afford. However, neglecting Afghanistan while it descends into extremist violence and civil war once again will be a decision that will leave us with an apocalyptic cost to pay in the future, just as history has taught us so many times in the past.