Shanthie Mariet D’Souza writes: A balancing act — In re-establishing Indian presence in Afghanistan, timing and tact are crucial

Source: The post is based on an article “A balancing act in re-establishing Indian presence in Afghanistan, timing, and tact are crucial” published in the Indian Express on 5th July 2022.

Syllabus: GS2 – International Relations; Bilateral Relations

Relevance: India-Afghanistan Relations

News: Recently, India has re-established its diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, after a strategic retreat from Kabul following the Taliban takeover in August 2021.

India’s engagement with Afghanistan Since Taliban Takeover

Even after the closure of its consulates and embassy, India has never abandoned Afghanistan.

India has continued to express concerns about the humanitarian crisis in the country and it has built regional consensus about the threat of terrorism

It has voiced its support for an inclusive government, and it has also provided aid and assistance to the people of Afghanistan. This has been in accordance to the Agreement on Strategic Partnership (ASP) 2011.

Recent efforts of India

(1) India sent a small technical team to Kabul to deal with the humanitarian crisis following the earthquake in Paktika and Khost provinces.

(2) India handed over relief materials for earthquake victims, to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) in Kabul.

(2) In addition, India has also reopened its embassy in Afghanistan.

Significance: It is a signal that New Delhi is back to retrieve its lost leverage in Afghanistan since Taliban takeover.

The moves have the potency of securing many of India’s strategic interests in the long-term strategy.

Why has India changed its stand?

(1) There is a realisation that the Taliban regime is there to stay and would not be dislodged from power at least in the near-medium term. Therefore, India decided to build a working relationship.

(2) There is a belief that India should not complete detach, rather, it should engage to secure India’s huge strategic interests in Afghanistan. India should win over the moderates in Taliban and dilute the agenda of the hardliners. It should do business with the Islamic Emirate of the Taliban instead of turning it anti-India as was done in 1996 when India shut its embassy for five long years.

(3) New Delhi should not wait for an elusive international consensus to engage with Taliban. The Western world is preoccupied with the Ukraine war. Further, Indian adversaries may use this time for their advantage and to restart proxy warfare.

Way Forward

The Afghanistan earthquake provides a reason for India to revisit its 11-month-old policy. Its if important for both sides to engage.

The Taliban has followed up with two back-to-back statements on strengthening its defence relationship with New Delhi. It has also offered to give back jobs to the former members of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) who were trained in India.

However, while smoothening relationship with Taliban, India needs to tread cautiously. India should keep the people of Afghanistan and not the current regime, at the centre of its declared Afghan policy. It means, the legitimacy and acceptance of the Taliban by the Afghan people should be the fulcrum of any such engagement.

For Taliban

Taliban should strive towards an inclusive government and frame a comprehensive long-term policy to engage with all the stakeholders to ensure that peace and stability return to Afghanistan.

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