The Narendra Modi government has not yet commented on events in Afghanistan. A day after Taliban militia took over the Afghanistan Presidential Palace in Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. On Monday, top security, Cabinet, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) officials to be in a series of briefings about the situation in Afghanistan and plans for the future.
BRINGING HOME INDIAN NATIONALS
On Sunday, an Air India flight was able to fly out carrying 129 passengers from Kabul to Delhi. However, since then, the chaos at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport has meant commercial flights are unable to ply. For the moment Kabul airspace closed. Thousands of desperate Afghans seeking to leave the country. The tarmac overrun by people blocking the airplanes from taking off or landing.
India to use its military C-17s to bring back diplomats, security personnel and the remaining Indian nationals from Kabul. However, this is contingent on the road to Kabul airport, manned by Taliban, access into the airport. Secured by the U.S.-led NATO forces, and permission to land flights. According to officials, this remains the government’s 1st priority.
HELPING AFGHANS WHO WANT TO LEAVE
Hundreds of Afghan nationals, many of them allied to the previous Ghani government are seeking to leave the country. They have applied for visas from the Indian Embassy in Kabul. Among them are those with links to India, who have studied or trained here, or with families in India. Even those who could face reprisal attacks from Taliban militia.
While the MEA made a statement on its commitment to facilitate members of the Hindu and Sikh minorities in Afghanistan. No stated policy announced on whether it will welcome all Afghans, as India has done on previous occasions. If the government does accept them, then arrangements for what could be thousands of refugees need to be made.
RECOGNISING TALIBAN REGIME
After talks comprising 12 countries including India, U.N. representatives and Afghan representatives with the Taliban in Doha. A 9-point statement, made it clear that they will “not recognize any government in Afghanistan that is imposed through the use of military force”. Given the situation, where President Ghani left the country, Afghan National Defense and Security Forces put up no resistance. Thus, Taliban fighters walked into Kabul, took control of the Presidential Palace without any bloodshed.
The question now is whether countries like India, U.S., U.K., China, Pakistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Germany, Norway, and Qatar, will consider recognition to the Taliban regime.
The decision is particularly difficult for India. As closely allied to the Afghan government, helped build democratic and constitutional processes there. Consider the treatment of women and minorities as integral to those processes. Recognizing a Taliban regime, giving it global legitimacy will be a difficult step for India.
Other questions the government will face are at the U.N. — India is President of the U.N. Security Council this month and must take decisions on whether to convene meetings on Afghanistan’s future, including possible sanctions.
DEALING WITH THE TALIBAN REGIME
Regardless of whether or not India recognizes the Taliban as the legitimate ruler in Afghanistan. The government will have to open channels of communication to engage the Taliban.
In the past few months, security officials and diplomats have made initial, furtive contact with the Taliban in Doha. The MEA said it is engaging “various stakeholders” in Afghanistan. Those links will have to be broadened in order to ensure the safety of Indians and the Embassy in Kabul. However, also logistical requirements, like using Afghan airspace, transit trade, and humanitarian assistance etc. in the future.
Government officials have said that they would not like a repeat of the situation during the IC-814 hijacking. Then India had no ability to contact the Taliban at all.
PROJECTS ACROSS THE COUNTRY
Speaking at the Afghanistan Conference in Geneva in November 2020. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said “no part of Afghanistan today is untouched by the 400-plus projects that India has undertaken in all 34 of Afghanistan’s provinces”. The fate of these projects is now up in the air.
- SALMA DAM: Already, there has been fighting in the area where one of India’s high-visibility projects is located — the 42MW Salma Dam in Herat province. Inaugurated in 2016, the Afghan-India Friendship Dam. The hydropower and irrigation project, completed against many odds in the past few weeks. The Taliban have mounted attacks in nearby places, killing several security personnel.
- ZARANJ-DELARAM HIGHWAY: the 218-km Zaranj-Delaram highway built by the Border Roads Organization. The $150-million highway goes along the Khash Rud River to Delaram to the northeast of Zaranj. It connects to a ring road that links Kandahar in the south, Ghazni and Kabul in the east, Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, and Herat in the west. The highway is of strategic importance to New Delhi. As it provides an alternative route into landlocked Afghanistan through Iran’s Chabahar port.
- PARLIAMENT: The Afghan Parliament in Kabul built by India at $90 million. Opened in 2015; Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the building. Modi described the building as India’s tribute to democracy in Afghanistan. A block in the building named after former PM AB Vajpayee.
- STOR PALACE: In 2016, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the restored Stor Palace in Kabul, originally built in the late 19th century, and which was the setting for the 1919 Rawalpindi Agreement by which Afghanistan became an independent country.
The larger questions that the government faces are about how its strategic options in Afghanistan will change given the Taliban’s proximity to Pakistan’s establishment and the concerns that anti-India terror groups could occupy space in Afghanistan to carry out terror attacks against India.
India’s influence with the new government likely to be curtailed as Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban remains strong. Also, the government will have to reconsider whether to now engage Pakistan directly as well. Other strategic issues involving future connectivity, which India had sought to do via Chabahar port in Iran, must also be considered in the longer term.
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