Calcutta Notebook

An alliance against Taliban

Bharat Jhunjhunwala

The defeat and withdrawal of United States (US) from Afghanistan opens an opportunity for India to rise and shine on the global scene. The US is in sunset mode. Its technological prowess is eroding. China has made its own fighter jets, nuclear arsenal, landed craft on the mars, made temperatures equal to those of the sun in its laboratories, and its apps like Zoom and Cam Scanner by far dominate the global app space. Indeed, the US still leads in a number of technologies like Artificial Intelligence and super-computers. But the lead is fast eroding. This erosion is seen in the loss of nerve leading to the withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan. This decline of the US, by default, is leading to the rise of China just as the small shrub rises into prominence when the big tree is cut. Reports indicate that China is befriending the Taliban. It is not clear though whether this friendship will endure given the hard Islamic orientation of the Taliban and the possibility of the friendship spilling over in mainland China.

One cannot ignore though that the US has been the harbinger of freedom. It released the slaves it had brought from Africa. It assisted Europe to rebuild after the Second World War. It even helped India and other colonies obtain independence from their colonial masters. Winston Churchill had met with US President Roosevelt during the Second World War seeking the latter’s support against Germany. One condition that Roosevelt placed was that England would give independence to its colonies. That contributed to India’s Independence. The US also provided India with free food grains during the droughts in the sixties under the PL-480 programme. But that was then.

The conduct of the US in the recent years, however, leaves much to be desired. The US’ commitment to democracy runs hollow given its support to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. For one thing the MIG fighter jets that were the mainstay of India’s air force were obtained from Russia while US provided F-16 jets to Pakistan. The US has routinely destabilised democratic countries in Latin America such as by securing the removal of Salvador Allende of Chile. The US pushed the formation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). One major aspect of the WTO is the global protection provided to Intellectual Property Rights. The Multinational Corpora-tion innovators now have a 20-year license to sell their patented products at high price. Companies like Pfizer have made huge profits during the Corona Pandemic. The US was against diluting the patents protection for vaccines even during such humanitarian crisis. The US has consistently refused to cut down its carbon emissions.

A recurring issue in foreign aid is whether the aid should be tied to the donor countries’ interests. Often the donor countries require the recipient to engage consultants or buy equipment from the donor country. The money given thus re-circulates in the donor’s economy. The USAID is notorious for such backward linkages. Thus, notwith-standing the noble contribution of the US towards the developing countries in the past, the present conduct leaves much to be desired.

India must chart its future course in Afghanistan in this backdrop. The Taliban are pitted against India as seen in their stoppage of trade with Indians. On the other hand, they seem to open to China. It is possible that a Taliban-China axis may emerge against India. It is even possible that Pakistan may fall to the Taliban. Then one would truly find India encircled by China.

The crucial question is whether India should make alliance with NATO or with China. Two possible scenarios can emerge. India-NATO may be pitted against Taliban-China; or India-China can be pitted against Taliban. The latter possibility will be more enduring because Taliban would be weaker without the support of China. The Taliban-China relation-ship is evolving and one doesn’t not know which way it may go. India’s effort must be to make a common front with China against Taliban rather than confront the Taliban-China combine.

A major hurdle in this direction is the border disputes India has with China. Neville Maxwell has given in detail in his book “India’s China War” how the 1962 war was precipitated by the misadventure of the then Defense Minister Krishna Menon. He had implemented the so-called “forward policy”. China had, in the main, in their words, “taught India a lesson”. One should take a lesson from Europe. Germany had occupied France during the Second World War. Yet the two countries are the mainstay of the European Union. No doubt India has settled the border disputes with Bangladesh. The Arab countries have de facto accepted the State of Israel. North- and South Korea have reached a truce. The list of settled border disputes goes on and on; just as the list of unsettled disputes. It is time for India and China to bury the hatchet and, if possible, make a joint front against Taliban--the bigger enemy standing on borders.

[Formerly Professor of Economics at IIM Bengaluru.]

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Vol. 54, No. 11, Sep 12 - 18, 2021