New Delhi: India’s growing crisis in Kashmir and Afghanistan not only link these two conflicted places as never before but also reveals the complete absence of coordination among the ministry of external affairs, the ministry of defence and the armed forces, and the national security council to prepare a ameliorative roadmap for the country for these regions manifesting resurgent Islamism and separatism. Instead, you have Narendra Modi’s chest-thumping on a Kashmir tour about successes of “surgical strikes” and counterterrorism operations in the Valley which are as rudely detached from facts and the prevailing ground situation as they actively advertise the Bharatiya Janata Party’s crude fallback on hyper-nationalism for the coming general election. Meanwhile, the ministry of external affairs is making pathetic attempts to reverse an impending United States’ troops withdrawal from Afghanistan with its implication of a Taliban rise to power in Kabul and further attempting a common approach with China to protect interests of and investments made by the two regional powers in Afghanistan ignoring strategic hostilities that historically mar Sino-Indian relations. By the end of the Modi administration (should it not make a post-election comeback), India would face strategic and tactical deficits in Kashmir and Afghanistan of a scale and intensity not experienced prior.

In the last years of the last century when India had gained the upper hand of terrorism and insurgency in Kashmir, the Taliban had also coincidentally seized power in Afghanistan with the aid of Pakistan and the United States and commenced imposing its dark, bloody and medieval writ on the luckless civil war-torn country called the “graveyard of empires”. In near-neighbouring Kashmir, the impact of the Taliban rise was never directly felt, say, in the form of realistic threats of Taliban hordes invading the Valley facilitated by Pakistan’s deep state which did, however, train Kashmir-specific terror groups in camps established on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. While security forces perceived minimal threats from Taliban Afghanistan although they took standard precautions, even local Kashmiris were unmoved by developments in Afghanistan and rather conceived the new rulers as barbarians in their felt superiority as Sufis. The security forces’ emphasis on “winning hearts and minds” also considerably contributed to securing Kashmir from external threats.

All of the gains of the past years have been squandered by the Modi government’s muscular policy in Kashmir which has ominously tied down the army in interminable counter-terrorism operations leading to training disruptions for war and to unrelieved combat stress. Muscular policies have also thoroughly alienated the local population which has intervened to save insurgents from security dragnets on an unprecedented scale and at particular risk to civilian lives. Forces fight better without forever having to look over their shoulders and this small and precious comfort is no longer available in Kashmir. In this disastrous juncture, Donald Trump, for reasons that mostly suit US interests, has decided to end US military engagements in Afghanistan. With US departure, the Taliban, aided by Pakistan, and with little opposition put up by the Afghan national army, will overrun the country. In one stroke, the securities of all Afghanistan’s neighbours and near-neighbours will be affected, including India, Russia, China, the Central Asian republics, Pakistan and Iran. Iran has links with the Taliban and the Taliban need Iranian insurance for future US attacks. Russia and China are already allied against the United States in the Great Power rivalry and they would use Pakistan’s leverage with the Taliban to protect their national interests in Afghanistan. In any case, Russia can contain Taliban expansionism into the soft underbelly of the former Soviet empire with punitive military measures being a hardened transcontinental Major Power. The United States and Russia will act almost alike when their national interests are threatened by a Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Pakistan hopes to make Taliban Afghanistan into a puppet state in which enterprise it may or not succeed. That ambiguity presents no comfort to India because of all the countries in the region, only India is bereft of levers and other means to check threats from Taliban Afghanistan. Its investments worth $3 billion in Afghanistan were always risky and are certain to go up in flames once the Taliban seize Kabul.

Clueless as ever, India is attempting to delay a US pullout, which will nevertheless happen as soon as Washington cuts a facing-saving deal with the Taliban. Donald Trump wants American soldiers back home presumably before his re-election bid and the Taliban is by now adept at generating pressure for its benefit on political timetables. The press here has reported a second Indian bid for Sino-Indian joint action in Afghanistan whose success, however, is extremely remote given India-China hostilities on Pakistan, India’s NSG membership, the Belt and Road Initiative, the border dispute, China’s claims on Arunachal Pradesh, and the continuing political activities of the Dalai Lama and the growing international heft of the Tibetan community as victims of China’s political and religious persecutions. China has Pakistan to protect and advance its interests in Afghanistan and it has also rather perfected chequebook geopolitics. China will employ India as a tool in its trade war with the United States but it will not pull India’s chestnuts out of the Afghan fire. Indeed, China will seek to weaken India in Afghanistan in the overall scheme to limit strategic competition from India. And its ally in the scheme will be Pakistan.

The Narendra Modi government has left India weaker and without direction in Kashmir and consequently increased the Taliban threat from Afghanistan. Restoration of the status quo ante will take some years; and the sooner the first non-Modi administration applies itself to the daunting task, the better.