Evaluating India’s options in Afghanistan

Source: The Hindu

Relevance: Future course of action for India vis-a-vis situation in Afghanistan

Synopsis: With the West done with Afghanistan, New Delhi needs to adopt a layered approach in finding a political solution. It has to work with Eurasian powers to protect its interests and stabilise Afghanistan.

Background
  • The U.S. is retreating from Afghanistan as part of a grand strategy to take on China in maritime Asia. It has failed to defeat the Taliban but has been successful in killing Osama Bin Laden and disrupting al-Qaeda networks.
  • The Taliban is currently gaining more and more territory, which raises a crucial question in front of India regarding its future engagement in Afghanistan.
Evolution of Indo – Afghan relations
  • Barring a brief period in the 1990s, India has historically enjoyed good ties with Afghanistan, which go back to the 1950 Treaty of Friendship. 
  • Indian interests and influence suffered when the Taliban, backed by Pakistan, captured Kabul in 1996. But India was back in action as soon as the Taliban were ousted from power after the U.S. invasion in 2001. 
  • India has made huge investments and commitments ever since, which run into over $3 billion. It has cultivated strong economic and defence ties with the Afghan government. 
  • Now, its again facing uncertainty in Afghanistan.
Also Read: India’s future Afghan policy – Explained
What can India do?
  • Talking with the Taliban: It would allow New Delhi to seek security guarantees from the insurgents in return for continued development assistance or other pledges. It will also explore the possibility of the Taliban’s autonomy from Pakistan.
    • 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.  
    • However there is no guarantee that India’s quest for engagement with the Taliban would produce a desirable outcome. 
  • Enhance support towards Afghan Government: New Delhi should also enhance aid to Afghanistan’s legitimate government and security forces as Taliban is quickly expanding its territories. 
    • India should urgently step up training Afghan forces and provide military hardware, intelligence and logistical and financial support. This would enable Kabul to continue its efforts to defend the cities. 
  • Regional Cooperation: It should work with other regional powers for long-term stability in the country. There is a convergence of interests between India and three key regional players in seeing a political settlement in Afghanistan. 
    • For China, whose Xinjiang province shares a border with Afghanistan, a jihadist-oriented Taliban regime would not serve its internal interests. India should talk with China, with the objective of finding a political settlement and lasting stability in Afghanistan.
    • Russia, which fears that instability would spill over into the former Soviet Republics, has already moved to secure its Central Asian perimeter. Russia has cultivated links with the Taliban in recent years. India would need Russia’s support in any form of direct engagement with the Taliban.
    • Iran: 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. Building strategic ties with Iran, irrespective of the U.S.’s policy towards the Islamic Republic, is essential for India’s Afghan bets. 

 

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