Foreign Policy

A quick reaction force in India could prevent the worst of Taliban rule in Afghanistan

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The images coming out of Afghanistan are devastating. As someone who served in Afghanistan — watching Afghans clinging to planes, desperate to get out, the U.S. flag flying out of Kabul, and the Taliban holding a press conference from the president’s palace — is all heart wrenching. But none of this is as devastating as what will come if we let Afghanistan devolve even further into chaos.

The power vacuum in Afghanistan created by the Biden administration’s rushed and ill-planned withdrawal could have dangerous national security implications for years to come — unless we act now to mitigate the worst of this fallout. One way to do this is to station a quick reaction force in a country nearby that can respond to rising threats in Afghanistan. As I wrote previously, it is time for the United States and India to develop a stronger defense partnership and this is one way to do that.

Taliban rule in Afghanistan will be brutal — there is no question about it. There is no changing a regime that at its core is fundamentally evil. The human rights violations we are likely to see, especially against women and girls, will be a horrible consequence of the Biden administration’s actions. The worst of these atrocities might be avoided if we have a nearby base with a quick reaction force to put pressure on the Taliban.

This might also address other concerns like an intelligence blackout as well as the potential of outsized Chinese and Pakistani influence in the region. We can’t afford a complete intelligence blackout in Afghanistan. We know that the Taliban has maintained their relationship with al-Qaeda and cannot be trusted to keep Afghanistan from again becoming a haven for terrorist networks. We must find ways to keep our ear to the ground in Afghanistan and our eye on what’s happening in the region.

Having a base nearby is essential if the U.S. intends to effectively conduct intelligence missions as well as stage counterterrorism strikes. Over the horizon counterterrorism strategy requires a nearby base or we will be forced to use the same kind of long-range strikes we did back in October 2001 when B-52 bombers had to fly back and forth from the Indian Ocean to land-locked Afghanistan for over 420 hours straight. The longer it takes to travel to a target, the riskier the mission becomes. Instead, operating from a nearby country like India, the U.S. could use ground sensors for surveillance and long-range stealth drones, greatly decreasing the risk to U.S. assets and personnel.  

Concerns over Afghanistan are only heightened by the role we know Pakistan and China intend to play. Pakistan has had a close though complicated relationship with the Afghan Taliban for years. In fact, it was because of Pakistan’s support that the Taliban were able to seize power in Afghanistan in 1994. There is clear evidence that Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence has continued to covertly support the Taliban since Sept. 11. One former Pakistani senator recently accused his nation’s generals of fully supporting the Taliban and many in Pakistan are even publicly cheering for the Taliban.

We also know that Pakistan has been acting as a middleman between China and the Taliban and that both countries will likely recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government. If China and Pakistan fill the United States’ shoes as power broker in Afghanistan, we can be sure that unlike the U.S., they won’t worry about human rights or protecting religious minorities.

Putting troops in Northwest India or threatening to do so may put just enough pressure on Pakistan for them to stop supporting the Taliban. This may not deter China from bringing its Belt and Road Initiative to Afghanistan, but it will let both China and Pakistan know that they will be held accountable for their actions in Afghanistan.

Congressman Mark Green is a physician and combat veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. He interviewed Saddam Hussein for six hours on the night of his capture. He serves on the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Tags Afghanistan Afghanistan troop withdrawal China Mark Green Pakistan Taliban

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