The United States' withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover is forcing neighbours to reevaluate their strategic priorities when it comes to foreign affairs and national security policy.
In light of these events, what does the future hold for the Quad grouping of India, US, Australia and Japan? Does it even have a future?
But before answering that question, first let's look at what Quad is and its goals.
What is Quad?
The Quad, officially the ‘Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’, is a strategic forum between four nations, India, Australia, Japan and the United States, for exchanging strategic intelligence and conducting joint military exercises.
The grouping was first mooted by then Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in 2007. However, the idea couldn’t move ahead with Australia pulling out of it, apparently due to Chinese pressure.
It was in 2017 at the ASEAN summit in Manila that all four former members led by Shinzo Abe, Narendra Modi, Malcolm Turnbull, and Donald Trump agreed to revive the quadrilateral alliance.
What is its purpose?
Officially, the grouping was thought of as a space to cooperate for safeguarding joint security and other interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
However, observers say that the Quad is geared to counter China’s military and economic rise seen in recent decades.
Thus, China considers the Quad as an attempt to contain its ambitions and looks at the group as a possible “Asian NATO” of the future.
Quad's first meeting
On 12 March, 2021, heads of government of India, the US, Japan and Australia, Narendra Modi, Joe Biden, Yoshihide Suga and Scott Morrison, participated in the first Leaders’ Summit of the Quadrilateral Framework, virtually.
Soon after the meeting, India, Australia and Japan issued separate statements listing Indo-Pacific as the major area of the deliberations and resolved to expand cooperation to uphold a rules-based order and respect for international law in the strategically important region.
They agreed that a free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region serves the long-term interests of all countries in the region and of the world at large.
Quad members also announced plans to work together with the World Health Organisation to develop and distribute COVID-19 vaccines to one billion people in the Indo-Pacific region and said they would hold an in-person summit before the end of 2021.
US national security advisor Jake Sullivan described the vaccine programme as “a massive joint commitment today with Indian manufacturing, US technology, Japanese and American financing and Australian logistics capability”.
Japan and Australia evacuate from Afghanistan
Japan evacuated all personnel from its embassy in Kabul after the Taliban took over the country, setting up a temporary office in Istanbul to resume the embassy's operations.
Japan has been actively involved in Afghanistan's reconstruction, hosting meetings in 2002 and 2012 to discuss the development of the conflict-ravaged nation.
Since 2001, Japan has provided Afghanistan some $6.8 billion in reconstruction assistance as of November 2020. The Japanese government has also pledged additional support of $720 million for the period between 2021 and 2024.
Australia similarly evacuated its officials from Kabul and Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has signalled his government intends to resettle about 3,000 Afghan nationals through the existing humanitarian program this year.
Time to be wary for India
According to geopolitical experts, the Taliban takeover could be particularly testing for India, given the country's historically tense relations and border disputes with Pakistan and China, both are expected to play a crucial role in Afghanistan's future.
India is also worried about its investments and trade with Afghanistan.
Since 2001, India has invested more than $3 billion in Afghanistan. This includes investments in over 400 infrastructure projects across all provinces in the country.
Other than infrastructural investments, India in 2011 also signed the India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement which helped enhance trade and bilateral ties further.
As of 2019-20, the trade between the two nations was estimated to be over $1.5 billion, which mostly includes dried fruits and vegetable products.
However, the Taliban’s renewed control over Afghanistan has threatened the country's trade relations with India.
“India is especially worried because the last time the Taliban were in power, they sheltered pro-Pakistani militants,” the analysts have said. New Delhi is concerned that “an emboldened Pakistan will use this as an opportunity to hit India; doing so would raise the potential of a broader India-Pakistan conflict.”
China smells an opportunity
On Monday, the Chinese government said that it is ready to develop "friendly relations" with the Taliban as the insurgent group completed its military takeover of the South Asian nation.
"China respects the right of the Afghan people to independently determine their own destiny and is willing to continue to develop... friendly and cooperative relations with Afghanistan," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
Experts believe that Beijing will urge the Taliban to deny safe haven to Uyghur fighters and other groups that could destabilise Central Asia or harm Chinese interests in the region or at home.
In exchange, China will offer economic support and investment for Afghanistan’s reconstruction. Further, the Islamist group is looking to a future where international legitimacy and assistance would be key for it to accomplish the task of reconstruction in Afghanistan.
China has already said that it is happy to let the Afghan people sort out their internal matters and wants only to extend the help that they seek from it.
Furthermore, a stable and cooperative administration in Kabul would pave the way for an expansion of its Belt and Road Initiative into Afghanistan and through the Central Asian republics, analysts say.
New quad in the making?
In early July, the Biden administration announced that a new quadrilateral diplomatic platform was to be set up between the US, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan to enhance regional connectivity.
In a statement, the US state department had said, "The parties consider long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan critical to regional connectivity and agree that peace and regional connectivity are mutually reinforcing."
Recognising the historic opportunity to open flourishing interregional trade routes, the parties intend to cooperate to expand trade, build transit links, and strengthen business-to-business ties, it said.
The formation of the new quad group is important amid China's desire to extend its Belt Road Initiative to Afghanistan.
The BRI, a multi-billion-dollar initiative launched by Chinese president Xi Jinping when he came to power in 2013, aims to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes.
By virtue of its location, Afghanistan can provide China with a strategic base to spread its influence across the world.
However, it is to be seen if this Quad is more than just a proposal.
America, no longer big brother?
Analysts emphasise that the Afghanistan withdrawal will have adverse consequences for the United States, as many of its partners will believe it to be no longer credible.
The United States' decades-old role as a defender of democracies and freedoms is again in jeopardy, said Rory Stewart, who was Britain's minister for international development in the Conservative government of Theresa May. "The Western democracy that seemed to be the inspiration for the world, the beacon for the world, is turning its back," Stewart said.
Some German officials and lawmakers are also seething at Washington's failure to consult coalition partners on their Afghan pullout.
Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook, director of the German Council on Foreign Relations, was quoted saying, "The Biden administration came to office promising an open exchange, a transparent exchange with its allies. They said the transatlantic relationship would be pivotal. As it is, they're playing lip service to the transatlantic relationship and still believe European allies should fall into line with US priorities."
The United States' Arab allies, which have long counted on the US military to come to their aid in the event of an attack by Iran, also have faced questions over whether they will be able to rely on the United States.
With inputs from agencies