Afghanistan geo-strategically is extremely important country for India. To reach Central Asian Republics and counterbalancing the influence of China and Pakistan in North-West Frontier region, Afghanistan has very high strategic significance in India’s foreign policy. There are many interests that India needs to be protected. First of all, Central Asian republics are oil and mineral rich countries. Afghanistan is the gateway to access these countries and hence controls the land route which connects India with Central Asia. Another significant interest India has in Afghanistan is that India invested heavily in developmental and infrastructural projects.
India is building Afghan Parliament building, the Zaranj-Delaram Highway, and Afghanistan-India Friendship Dam (Salma Dam). In addition, India is building schools, hospitals and other water projects. Most importantly, India has high security interests. India has been the victim of state-sponsored terrorism emanating from Pakistan supported terrorist group operating in the region (e.g. Haqqani Group). Thus, setting up a friendly government in Afghanistan can help in tackling Pakistan supported terrorism. To protect its interests, India needs to act very cautiously. For years, India formally refused to recognize Taliban. Now, US recognized Taliban as a legitimate stakeholder in the future of Afghanistan through their peace deal signed earlier this year. Most importantly, other countries like Russia, China, and Iran have all built bridges with Taliban, each trying to secure its strategic and economic interests in a future Afghanistan in exchange for aid and legitimacy.
Therefore, it is now in India’s interest to change its position. Accordingly, Foreign Minister gave his blessings to intra-Afghan talks involving the elected government in Kabul and the Taliban on the condition that any dispensation that emerges from a peace dialogue must embrace a few red lines – “It should promote the values of human rights and democracy that can foster development. The interests of minorities, women and vulnerable must be ensured. The soil of Afghanistan should never be used for any anti India activities”. The evolution of India’s position is in sync with the evolution of the reality in Afghanistan. Present reality is that Taliban is no longer an untouchable force, and more importantly, it is controlling most of the rural territories in Afghanistan. U.S has already signed a deal with Taliban. Russia had organised the talks between two sides. European powers have also shown interest in sponsoring the talks between two sides.
Therefore, it is in India’s interest to understand the new strategic reality in Afghanistan and adapt to this reality as soon as possible. India has to be more flexible in dealing with this new reality because it has invested high resources in Afghanistan therefore, to accord legitimacy to Taliban will be in India’s interest. Without formally recognizing the Taliban, India’s investment in hospitals, schools, power projects, infrastructure cannot be successful. Thus, India’s economic, strategic, and security ties could be disrupted if the Taliban were to take over. The question India faces, like other stakeholder, is that how to end violence in Afghanistan without total capitulation to Taliban.
Biden Administration unleashed new plan consists of two proposals – a unity transition government between warring parties and a UN-led multilateral conference of envoys from India, China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and U.S. India has supported this UN-led process and accorded formal recognition to Taliban. Participating of India in this peace talk will strengthen Afghan Government which is negotiating from a very weak position. India should use its regional clout and its deep ties with US and Russia for striving, what Mr. Jaishankar called, “Double Peace”.
Unlike 1990s, the situation is quite different now. This time, Taliban can use their regional and global relationship for reducing its dependence on Pakistan, Taliban’s traditional benefactor. It will definitely give edge to Pakistan in Taliban led dispensation but this time Taliban have made clear that they want to balance those ties and relationship with others – including India. In May, Taliban even indicated that they might allow India to treat Kashmir as its “internal” matter, a shift from the Taliban’s past position.
New Delhi is yet to make deep breakthroughs in cultivating senior Taliban leaders as a buffer against Pakistani influence. India must work to strengthen constituencies with in Afghanistan that mirror the tremendous socio-political change. Afghanistan has witnessed over the past of decades access to education, freedom of expression, political mobilization, and exposure to outside world. India has been a part of this transformative journey for thousands of Afghans through its educational and training program.
India must strive to realize the full potential of Strategic Partnership Agreement signed in 2011. New Delhi should scale up its training for the Afghan security forces, sharing intelligence with the National Directorate of Security, and providing defense equipments to Afghanistan. The rapidly changing political dynamic in Afghanistan leaves little room for complacency, and the onus is on New Delhi to seize the opportunity and ensure its voice is effectively heard and its security concerns are addressed.
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