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Rakesh Neelakandan asked: What are the strategic implications for India if Western forces leave Afghanistan?

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  • Vishal Chandra replies: Western forces are not going to completely withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014. Although both the US and the NATO may announce the end of combat mission and withdraw much of their conventional forces by 2014-15, they are likely to maintain some military presence even as they move into a more supportive role. The US Administration has alluded to the possibility of maintaining a strong presence of Special Forces, and continued special operations against militant/insurgent groups, in years beyond 2014. The nature and level of future Western engagement in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region would, however, depend on the strategic partnership agreement currently being negotiated by Washington and Kabul. NATO is likely to remain involved in training and funding the Afghan army and police for years beyond 2014.

    In the long run, much would depend on how effective the training and mentoring process of the Afghan army and police is; and on the level of international aid and support for the development of institutions and critical infrastructure in Afghanistan. As of now, the prospect of Taliban and other Pakistan-backed Afghan militant groups taking over Kabul or simply overrunning the country seems remote. Despite growing uncertainty over the Western mission, it is still early to be commenting on the likely situation in the region or the implications for India in the next few years. One would have to wait and see how the US deals with Pakistan as Western forces draw down, and how politics within Afghanistan evolves in the run up to the next presidential and parliamentary elections due in 2014-15.