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- India has sent a multi-member team of senior diplomats to Afghanistan for the first time since the Indian Embassy in Kabul was evacuated in August 2021 following the arrival of the Taliban at the Afghan capital.
More on the news:
- During discussions with the Indian delegation, the Taliban urged India to reopen its embassy in Kabul.
- Post 15th of August, 2021, in the light of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, it was decided to bring back all India-based personnel. However, local staff continued to function and ensure proper maintenance and upkeep of premises there.
- The Afghanistan government is committed to providing a secure environment for its normal functioning.
- India, however, said the ongoing visit is solely focused on ensuring proper delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people and did not amount to granting diplomatic recognition to the Taliban regime in Kabul.
- The Taliban has been hosting several international delegations from countries like Pakistan, the U.A.E., Iran, and others, but this is the first visit from the Indian side.
- The visit acquires significance as India has refused to recognise the Taliban administration in Afghanistan and has urged the international community to go slow in recognising the Taliban.
- As part of its cautious approach to the Taliban, India has been supportive of the humanitarian requirements of the Afghan people, and has been sending medicines and food to Kabul since earlier this year.
- The Indian delegation’s visit is the culmination of quiet engagement with the Taliban, which started soon after it provided indirect help in the evacuation of Indian officials from Kabul in 2021.
- India has sent 20,000 metric tonnes of wheat, 13 tonnes of medicines, 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and winter clothing to Afghanistan.
Challenges for India:
- Recognising the Taliban regime:
- Recently talks comprising 12 countries including India, U.N. representatives and Afghan representatives with the Taliban in Doha, a nine-point statement issued made it clear that they will “not recognise any government in Afghanistan that is imposed through the use of military force”.
- Recognising Taliban is particularly difficult for India, which was closely allied to the Afghan government, and helped build democratic and constitutional processes there, and sees the treatment of women and minorities as integral to those processes.
- Dealing with the Taliban regime:
- Regardless of whether or not India recognises 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, and 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 to start with, but also logistical requirements, like using Afghan airspace, transit trade, humanitarian assistance etc in the future.
- Government officials have often said that they would not like a repeat of the situation during the IC-814 hijacking, when India had no ability to contact the Taliban at all.
- India reaching out to the Taliban signals acknowledgement from the Indian side that the Taliban would play a critical role in Afghanistan in the coming years.
- India has three critical areas in dealing with the Taliban.
- protecting its investments, which run into billions of rupees, in Afghanistan
- preventing a future Taliban regime from being a pawn of Rawalpindi;
- making sure that the Pakistan-backed anti-India terrorist groups do not get support from the Taliban.
- Strategic choices with Afghanistan:
- how its strategic options in Afghanistan will change given the Taliban’s proximity to Pakistan’s establishment
- India’s influence with the new government is likely to be considerably curtailed, as Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban remains strong, and the government will have to reconsider whether to now engage Pakistan directly as well
- Concerns that anti-India terror groups could occupy space in Afghanistan to carry out terror attacks against India
- 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. Trade through Afghanistan under a Taliban regime would be routed through Karachi and Gwadar, and the Indian investment in the Chabahar port, meant to circumvent Pakistan, may become unviable.
- The Taliban’s control will also mean a bigger hand for the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies to influence outcomes for the country.
- For New Delhi, already countering hostilities at the LAC with China and the LoC with Pakistan, an unfriendly government in Kabul can only complicate its strategic options.
- The Indian-built projects, including the already built Zaranj-Delaram Highway and Salma Dam, are already under Taliban control, and a cloud hangs over those under construction, including check-dams, schools and urban projects.
- Threat of radicalisation: the threat of growing radicalisation and space for pan-Islamic terror groups in India’s neighbourhood.
- New Regional Geopolitical Developments: There can be new regional geopolitical alignments (such as China-Pakistan-Taliban) which may go against the interests of India.
- Impact on Afghanistan: there is the worry for India of the impact on Afghanistan itself, given the Taliban’s past record in power, of an erosion in women’s and minority rights, the overturning of a democratic system and the imposition of the Taliban’s brutal form of justice. A Taliban regime in Kabul will have fewer international partners, and receive far less financial assistance, the impact of which will be felt most keenly by Afghanistan’s most vulnerable.
Why is Afghanistan important for India?
- Security: A stable Afghanistan is crucial for regional and domestic security and stability for India.
- Connectivity: The most important role of Afghanistan is always considered as India’s gateway to Central Asia.
- Energy ambitions: Peaceful Afghan is essential to address the energy needs of India.
- Regional Balance of Power: Afghanistan is tied to India’s vision of being a regional leader and a great power, coupled with its competition with China over resources and its need to counter Pakistani influence.
- Natural Resources: The country is home to resource deposits worth one trillion dollars, according to the US Geological Survey.
- India’s development initiatives:
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- Broader Diplomatic Engagement: India should consider appointing a special envoy dedicated to Afghanistan. The envoy can ensure that Indian views are expressed at every meeting, and broaden engagement with the Taliban.
- Decoupling of Taliban-Pakistan: The Taliban is bound to seek a measure of autonomy from Pakistan. India will have to wait a while before the current issues between India and the Taliban can be overcome.
- Balancing the Opportunities in Afghanistan: Structuring the internal balance of power within Afghanistan has always been hard. However, for a patient, open-minded and active India, there will be no dearth of balancing opportunities in Afghanistan.
- Leverage Indian Infrastructural Developments: Indian USD 3 billion assistance to Afghanistan is in concrete projects that serve its population and have earned it their goodwill that will endure.
- Continued Training and Investments:
- India should provide more military training to Afghan security forces and invest in longer-term capacity-building programs.
- It should actively support and invest in the National Directorate of Security
- Finally, given the continued levels of violence and the impact of the coronavirus on the Afghan economy, India should expand its development assistance.