US exit from Afghanistan

  • IASbaba
  • April 17, 2021
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  • GS-2: India and its neighborhood- relations. 
  • GS-2: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests

US exit from Afghanistan

Context: The announcement by President Joe Biden that the US will withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, has sent tremors through the region’s fault-lines.

What is the striking feature of Joe Biden’s withdrawal plan?

  • The Trump Administration made its troop withdrawal by May 1, 2021 conditional 
    • On Taliban taking steps to prevent al-Qaeda or any other group from sheltering in Afghanistan, and 
    • Taliban agreeing to a dialogue on power sharing with the Afghan government 
  • The Biden plan has no strings attached i.e. no conditions like above
  • There are about 2,500-3,500 US troops in Afghanistan at present, plus a NATO force of under 8,000. A co-ordinated withdrawal is expected to begin soon.

What will be the impact of this decision on various stakeholders?

  1. Afghanistan: Advantage Taliban & Instability
  • Biden’s announcement has removed all incentives for the Taliban to agree for a dialogue with the Afghan government
  • Blinken Proposal dead: The proposal by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in March 2021 is now almost certainly dead in the water. It included 
    • A 90-day ceasefire
    • Talks under the auspices of the UN for a consensus plan for Afghanistan among the US, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran and India
    • A meeting in Turkey between the Taliban and Afghan government towards an “inclusive” interim government
    • An agreement on the foundational principles of the future political order and for a permanent ceasefire.
  • The possibility of the Taliban being able to strike a peace deal with the Afghan government is low, as the Taliban believe that they can triumph militarily.
  • IS and other terrorist groups have gained a foothold in Afghanistan. Therefore, the consequences of a hasty and irresponsible withdrawal from Afghanistan could be dangerous not only for Afghanistan but also for the region and the world
  • There is deep apprehension of a return to the 1990s, although there is also a view that the Taliban too have changed over 25 years, and would not want to alienate the international community as they did when they ruled Afghanistan during 1996-01.
  • By announcing an unconditional pullout, the US has accepted Taliban’s main demand. Now the international community expects the Taliban to join the political process. There is no excuse to continue the war
  1. Pakistan: Friendly Power & Burden of Chaos
  • The Taliban are a creation of the Pakistani security establishment. After the US invasion of Afghanistan, they removed themselves to safe havens in Pakistan territory, and the Taliban High Council operated from Quetta in Balochistan. 
  • For Pakistan, the Taliban capture of Afghanistan would finally bring a friendly force in power in Kabul after 20 years and India (which had friendly relations with Afghani govt.) would be cut to size.
  • But a US withdrawal also means Pakistan will need to shoulder the entire burden of the chaos that experts predict. 
  • Civil war is not ruled out and with it, the flow of refugees into Pakistan once again, even as the country struggles with refugees from the first Afghan war.
  • The Taliban are not a monolith, and have recently shown streaks of independence from Pakistan. It has to guard against instability in Afghanistan from spilling over the border
  1. India: Time to be Wary
  • India was on the outer edges of the Trump drive to exit Afghanistan that culminated in the Doha Accord, and was a reluctant supporter of the “intra-Afghan talks” between the Taliban and Afghan government. 
  • When the Biden Administration came in, India was hopeful of a US reset.
  • The Blinken proposal gave India a role, by recognising it as a regional stakeholder, but this proposal seems to have no future.
  • Another concern would be India-focused militants such as Laskhar- e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohamed, which the Indian security establishment already believes to have relocated in large numbers to Afghanistan
  1. China: Uighurs and an ally in Pakistan
  • China would have much to lose from instability in Afghanistan as this could have an impact on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. 
  • A Taliban regime in Afghanistan might end up stirring unrest in the Xinjiang Autonomous region, home to the Uighur minority. 
  • Conversely, as an ally of Pakistan, it could see a bigger role for itself in Afghanistan.
  1. Russia: Full circle
  • The US exit is for Russia a full circle after its own defeat at the hands of US-backed Mujahideen and exit from Afghanistan three decades ago. 
  • In recent years, Russia has taken on the role of peacemaker in Afghanistan. 
  • Russia’s growing links with Pakistan could translate into a post-US role for Moscow in Afghanistan.
  1. Iran: Threat, Theological divide & Pragmatism
  • As a country that shares borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan, Iran perceives active security threats from both. And a Taliban regime in Kabul would only increase this threat perception. 
  • But Iran, with links to the Hazaras in Afghanistan, has of late played all sides. 
  • Despite the mutual hostility and the theological divide between the two, Iran opened channels to the Taliban a few years ago, and recently, even hosted a Taliban delegation at Tehran.

Connecting the dots:

  • China’s Belt & Road Initiative
  • P5+1 deal with Iran

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