How India can guard its interests should Kabul fall to the Taliban?

Source: Indian Express, The Hindu, Livemint

Relevance: Understanding India’s future role and policy in Afghanistan, in light of American exit.

Synopsis: Future course of action for India when it comes to recent events in Afghanistan.

Background

With US and NATO completing their pull-out from Bagram air base and other key locations, the Taliban are making huge advances across the country, capturing districts, seizing key border crossings, and encircling provincial capitals.

As the Taliban gains ground inside Afghanistan, it’s only a matter of time before they reach Kabul.

Taliban – back to old ways

Meanwhile, ground reports from the territories controlled by the Taliban say it is reimposing severe social restrictions, especially on women. It wants unmarried girls over 15 years old and widows below 45 years as wives for the Taliban fighters. International terrorist organizations appear to be playing an important role in Taliban’s military advances.

India’s concerns

For India and the Central Asian States, the worries are about the violence at the frontiers and the resultant refugee influx, extremism, and support to transnational groups such as al Qaeda, LeT, JeM, ETIM and IMU, as it happened earlier under Taliban rule.

Threat to India overblown

Fears and concerns of India regarding Taliban may be genuine but they are also overblown and exaggerated due to the following reasons:

  • International circumstances are different today: International politics is vastly different today from what it was in 1991 or even 2001. Hence, the return of Taliban does not pose the same kind of threat to India as they did in the 1990s.
  • Taliban’s hostility towards India was found to be driven more by the Pakistani agenda and less by any intrinsic animosity towards us. In recent times, their negative position towards New Delhi has been in response to India’s support for the Afghan government and, until recently, the refusal to talk to them.
  • Also, in today’s world Pakistan will find it increasingly difficult to exert same kind of control over Afghanistan’s security policies as it did in the past. Moreover, a surge of armed conflict across the Durand Line will result in destabilizing side-effects come that Pakistan experienced a generation ago.
India’s policy wrt Afghanistan
  • Legitimizing Taliban: India must hold on and not rush into any policy action that establishes the Taliban as a legitimate force
  • Influencing Pakistan’s security establishment: To ensure that Pakistan doesn’t indulge in leveraging Taliban against India, it must influence its security establishment esp. the Pakistani military chief of staff. And an effective way to influence Pakistan’s behavior is by talking to its sponsors. For this, India has a number of options to pursue. Washington, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have significant common interests with New Delhi on various issues, including terrorism.
  • Wait and watch: India can just sit back, observe what happens, and amplify the contradictions among the various powers that have stepped in.
    • For the Taliban, Uyghurs of China’s northwest Xinjiang province are co- religionists just across the border.
    • For many Pashtuns of Pakistan’s frontier region, the Pakistani army is an enemy that is oppressing their ethnic brethren across a colonial border they have never recognized.
    • The Russians, for their part, would not mind their Chinese allies getting a bloody nose.
    • The Chinese are unlikely to want to be the latest foreign power to enjoy the delights of Afghan politics.

Each of these fault lines presents New Delhi with options.

Also Read: India’s future afghan policy – Explained, pointwise

Way forward

India must be prepared to defend its interests at all costs. This, in turn, needs strategic patience that will help resist the temptation to normalise the Taliban. At the same time, Delhi must be prepared to discuss what are real and serious differences with key regional and international partners on the Taliban and the future of Afghanistan.

Terms to know:

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