In the last article, US WITHDRAWAL AND REGIONAL DYNAMICS, we discussed the possible consequences of the USA withdrawal in Afghanistan and the regions surrounding it. In this article, we will discuss what steps India has taken post-withdrawal, why it is not engaging with the Taliban. Further why it should engage with the Taliban along with Way Forward for India.
INDIA AND TALIBAN:
- India is engaging all stakeholders in Afghanistan, including some parts of the Taliban. As part of a “multi-track” strategy necessitated by the advance of the Taliban militants on the ground.
- According to the government’s latest assessment, the Taliban is attempting to acquire territory to the south and border posts of Afghanistan. It will accelerate its efforts to take major cities once the U.S. completes its pull-out of troops by the end of August.
- In particular, the sources cited recent reports from international news agencies and videos. These showed Taliban fighters being treated in Pakistani hospitals
- It is far from clear how much the U.S. will be willing to criticize Pakistan publicly. It is deeply engaged with its military and political leadership on pushing the Taliban towards some sort of a “face-saving” peace agreement before pulling out all its troops.
- India, unlike the other members, is the only continental Asian power in the Quad, shares a contested land border with China. Further, is vulnerable to the geopolitical changes in the Eurasian landmass.
- The U.S. may have retreated from Afghanistan as part of a grand strategy to take on China in maritime Asia. They need India’s involvement in this. India too might find it tempting to join the ranks. Especially after China’s aggression on the Line of Actual Control last year.
- However, the irony is that the American withdrawal and the vacuum it leaves in Afghanistan and continental Asia in general is being filled by China. Russia is reinforcing India’s identity as a continental Asian power.
- It has made huge investments and commitments ever since, which run into over $3 billion. Also, it cultivated strong economic and defense ties with the Afghan government
- At this point, talking to the Taliban looks inevitable. But India should not overlook the deep ties between Pakistan’s security establishment and the Haqqani Network. It is a major faction within the Taliban that’s driving the successful campaigns on the battlefield.
- The Afghan military has some 200,000 battle-hardened soldiers, including the highly trained special forces
WHY INDIA IS NOT ENGAGING WITH THE TALIBAN?
- If New Delhi chooses to engage the Taliban directly, it could make Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani.
- Decision-makers in New Delhi are also faced with the dilemma of who to talk to within the Taliban. Given that it is hardly a monolith.
- There is little clarity about what the Taliban’s real intentions are going forward. Moreover, what they would do after ascending to power in Kabul is uncertain.
- It would not be unreasonable to consider the possibility of Pakistan acting out against India in Kashmir. Given that India were to establish deeper links with the Taliban
WHY DOES INDIA NEED TO ENGAGE WITH THE TALIBAN?
- Whether we like it or not, the Taliban 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 it.
- Two, the Taliban today is looking for regional and global partners for recognition and legitimacy especially in the neighborhood.
- Even though the Taliban is widely considered to be propped up by Pakistan. Still it would be a mistake to think that the Taliban will continue to be Pakistan’s servile follower after gaining power in Kabul
- India needs to court all parties in Afghanistan, including the Taliban. If it wants to ensure the security of its civilian assets there.
- If India is not proactive in Afghanistan at least now, late as it is, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and China will emerge as the shapers of Afghanistan’s political and geopolitical destiny, which for sure will be detrimental to Indian interests there.
- Finally, opening up the congested north-western frontier is key to bringing India’s continental grand strategy on an even keel. A process New Delhi has already started.
- There is a convergence of interests between India and three key regional players — China, Russia and Iran — in seeing a political settlement in Afghanistan. These three countries have already opened public, direct talks with the Taliban.
- But these contacts are largely tactical. For China, whose restive Xinjiang province shares a border with Afghanistan. A jihadist-oriented Taliban regime would not serve its internal interests.
- Russia, which fears that instability would spill over into the former Soviet Republics, has already moved to secure its Central Asian perimeter.
- For the Shia theocratic Iran, a Sunni Deobandi Taliban with which it had almost gone to war in 1998, will continue to remain an ideological, sectarian and strategic challenge.
- India, under pressure from the U.S., slowed down on the Chabahar connectivity projects, which finally prompted Iran to drop India and go ahead. Building strategic ties with Iran, irrespective of the U.S.’s policy towards the Islamic Republic, is essential for India’s Afghan bets.
- Finally, India should talk with China, to find a political settlement and lasting stability in Afghanistan
1. India must also pursue opportunities to fulfil its role in the peace efforts in Afghanistan. Starting with efforts to bridge the Ghani-Abdullah divide, and bringing together other major leaders with whom India has built ties for decades.
2. India should take the diplomatic route to press for its inclusion in the “6+2+1” dialogue. Claim its legitimate role in the Afghan peace process.
3. India should leverage the United Nation’s call for a pause in conflicts during the Covid-19 pandemic to restart dialogue with Pakistan, which in turn is necessary for lasting peace in Afghanistan.
4. Also, India can learn from US-Taliban talks where two opposing parties came to the negotiating table for talks on Afghanistan’s future.
5. For India, given its abiding interest in Afghanistan’s success and traditional warmth for its people, making that leap should be a bit easier. Thus, India can consider the appointment of a special envoy and start Track II diplomacy with the Taliban.
Currently, India needs to maintain its strong links with the Afghan government, build and support its traditional Afghan allies. It can open lines of communication with the Taliban along with continuing the investment in infrastructural development of the region to have cordial relations.