- International Relations: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
- With the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan in process, New Delhi has decided to ramp down its civilian presence in the war-torn country, bracing for a full-blown civil war.
- Evacuation: India has ‘temporarily’ closed its consulate in Kandahar and evacuated its diplomats and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel stationed there.
- It has also suspended operations in the Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Herat.
Major challenges for India in the present geo-political scenario of Afghanistan
- To safeguard its civilian assets there
- To stay relevant in the unfolding ‘great game’ in and around Afghanistan
- To abandon its half-hearted, half-embarrassed, ideologically hesitant meandering outreach towards the Taliban.
Steps taken by India to normalize its relation with the Taliban
- Moscow conference, 2018: organized by Russia, which was attended by Taliban, members of the Afghan High Peace Council, and other countries from the region. India also sent a ‘non-official delegation’ of two retired diplomats to Moscow.
- Intra-Afghan negotiations in north-western frontier: was attended by India’s Foreign minister in September 2020.
India’s rationale for a half-hearted indirect approach towards Taliban
- Five possible reasons for this:
- To maintain trust with the present Afghan government: direct talk with the Taliban may push the present Afghan government towards China and SCO for national security and political survival.
- Lack of direct communication with the Taliban on the ground: India’s communication with the Taliban is through Doha-based Taliban negotiators who are believed to be close to Pakistan.
- Poor track record of Taliban 1.0: hence, India does not want to openly associate with the Taliban.
- Lack of clarity about the real intentions of the Taliban when it comes to power in Kabul.
- Possibility of Pakistan acting out against India in Kashmir if India were to establish deeper links with the Taliban.
Rationale for more active, open dialogue with Taliban
- Securing national interests: India should gradually start establishing communication mechanisms with the Taliban to ensure its long-term interest in Afghanistan.
- Taliban today has control over more than one-third of the Afghanistan districts.
- Strategic necessity rather than a taboo: As Taliban, one way or another, is going to be part of the political scheme of things in Afghanistan.
- Unlike in 1996, a large number of players in the international community are going to recognize/negotiate/do business with the Taliban.
- To counter Pakistan’s influence on the Taliban: the less proactive the Indian engagement with the Taliban, the stronger Pakistan-Taliban relations would become.
- Letting the Pakistani deep state exclusively deal with the Taliban is an inherently bad idea.
- Taliban 2.0 would want to hedge its interests against Pakistan: Taliban may prefer to ensure its own sovereignty and even question the legitimacy of the Durand Line separating Pakistan and Afghanistan, something Pakistan was always concerned about.
- That is precisely when New Delhi should engage the Taliban.
- To ensure the security of civilian and economic assets in Afghanistan: as many Indian civilians live in Afghanistan and around $3billion dollars has been invested in Afghanistan by India.
- Open up the congested north-western frontier of India: Backchannel talks with Pakistan, political dialogue with the mainstream Kashmiri leadership, secret parleys with Taliban all indicate that New Delhi is working on this.
- This is important to realize India’s continental grand strategy.
- Basic statecraft requires that we follow a close interaction with the Taliban as making peace with the fait accompli is not always a bad thing especially in the absence of better alternatives.