News / Views

India’s options

22nd Aug 2021 | Ershad Mahmud
Unlike Pakistan, China, Iran and Russia; India decided to shut its embassy in Kabul and evacuate the diplomatic staff. Interestingly, the Taliban escorted the Indian convoy to the airport.

In fact, the fall of Kabul has entirely changed the dynamics of the geo-strategic and geo-political scenarios, setting off a domino effect. Therefore, international as well as regional players are passionately weighing policy options to deal with Taliban-run Afghanistan and its subsequent consequences.

More or less, all major countries including Afghanistan’s neighbors have already established contacts with the Taliban except for India which supported the successive anti-Taliban Afghan governments through thick and thin, and provided them significant financial assistance to build infrastructure and political institutions during the last two decades. Previously, India extended full diplomatic, political and financial support to the Northern Alliance – a group of Afghan anti-Taliban warlords during the Taliban rule. Recently, Indian diplomats tried hard to derail the US-Taliban peace deal and also created hurdles in the way of intra-Afghan dialogue by using their political and diplomatic influence in Kabul.

Conversely, Pakistan and China enjoy cordial relations with the Taliban leadership. In the last month, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had a meeting with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar – the co-founder of the Taliban movement. This shows Beijing’s interest in Afghanistan and its enthusiasm in engaging with the Taliban’s leadership.

A number of the Indian commentators and politicians are still in a state of shock and not willing to accept that a friendly Afghanistan no longer exists. In New Delhi, the Taliban takeover is considered a source of colossal damage to India as it has lost the physical foothold in the Afghan soil, its massive political influence in Kabul and also the decade-old network of intelligence services and capability to operate inside Pakistan.

It seems that developing a normal relationship with the Taliban will be a gigantic task for India keeping in view its decade-long hostile approach towards them. The Taliban’s long-held apprehensions about India and its proximity with the anti-Taliban elements form another bottleneck that will not allow India to play any significant role in Afghanistan in the near future.

India’s worry is understandable; its two neighbors and adversaries not only have close ties with the current Afghan authorities but are also gradually moving to further cement them in the days to come. China has always been keen to include Afghanistan in its Belt and Road Initiative, but the Afghan government was not willing to become a partner in this project due to the US and Indian opposition. Pakistan is also desperate to extend its economic outreach to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan through Afghanistan. China and Pakistan are already working on a project to connect CPEC to Tajikistan through the Wakhan Corridor.

In this context, both Pakistan and China have convincing reasons to work closely with the Taliban and contribute to limiting the Indian influence over the Kabul regime. Incidentally, Washington’s unconditional support for New Delhi in Afghanistan is no longer available which reduces Delhi’s prospects to quickly regain its political clout there.

Both China and Pakistan have witnessed several terrorist attacks on their construction workers associated with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in recent years. For instance, 13-Chinese construction workers were killed in the last month, attributed to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan as well as the Indian and the Afghan secret agencies. In April this year, the Chinese ambassador narrowly escaped a car bomb explosion outside his hotel in Quetta planted by the TTP.

Similarly, Balochistan has invariably been targeted from Afghanistan and a well-planned insurgency was also nurtured, funded and fueled from the neighboring provinces of Afghanistan, which wreaked havoc in Balochistan and to some extent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s former tribal areas. Pakistani and Chinese authorities often consider these attacks a joint venture of the Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies. Therefore, keeping India out of Afghanistan seems a common security challenge for China and Pakistan.

Indian social media influencers are constantly arguing that a full-scaled militancy in the Indian-held Kashmir can be resumed soon, and Afghanistan will provide a base to the Kashmir-centric armed outfits. This apprehension holds no water as the present Taliban leadership is much more seasoned than the previous ones and quite careful about its global image. The Kashmiri people and particularly the youth may possibly get inspired by the Taliban’s victory as in the 1990s, the Soviets’ departure from Afghanistan emboldened the indigenous Kashmiri youth to pitch a resistance against their occupation.

However, there is zero probability of the establishment of a connection between the Taliban and Kashmiri militant groups in the prevailing geo-strategic settings. The current Kashmiri militants are, more or less, homegrown and a byproduct of the tenacious state repression and heavy-handedness. Pakistan has banned several extremist groups and jailed their top leaders. The current civil-military leadership of Pakistan has offered an olive branch to India with toned-down rhetoric and made a palpable shift in its policy, aiming to resolve all outstanding issues, particularly the Jammu and Kashmir dispute through dialogue and peaceful measures but India’s response was neither matching nor encouraging.

The hawkish elements in the Indian establishment might try to put together an anti-Taliban force, aimed to wage a war against the Taliban regime. A group of anti-Taliban leaders are already gathering in the Panjshir Valley under the leadership of former Vice President Amrullah Saleh. If India supports these elements, it may further destabilize the entire region. India has to take a back seat in the current circumstances, allowing other regional players to help the Taliban in establishing an inclusive and stable government. A peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan is in the best interest of this region and the rest of the world alike.


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The writer is a freelance contributor. He can be reached at ershad.mahmud@gmail.com

Ershad Mahmud



ershad.mahmud
@ErshadMahmud
0300-513 23 75
ershad.mahmud@gmail.com

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