Written by: Samiha Khan
As it becomes increasingly likely that the Taliban will gain a stronghold in Afghanistan, countries are scrambling to figure out how to proceed.
The Taliban’s return to power poses a significant threat to India, as the Pakistan-funded jihadi groups have a history of attacking India (Sonavane, 2021). As the international community grapples with the possibility of leaving the country in the hands of insurgents, New Delhi’s response has ranged from supporting peace talks, to supporting the government, and more recently, reaching out to the Taliban. On the other hand, while Russia and China have been engaged in talks with the groups for years, India has directed its support towards the Afghan government. However, as the rise of the Taliban seems inevitable, New Delhi has made efforts to reconcile with the Taliban. However, according to an official spokesperson, Suhail Shaheen, India must prove its neutrality and withdraw its support of the Afghan government.
Furthermore, the rise of the Taliban is a threat to the roughly $3 billion that India has invested in Afghanistan, investments made possible because of the relative stability brought by US-led troops. In November 2020, India announced over a hundred new projects worth around $80 million (Roche, 2020). If India wishes to ensure the sustainability of its investments, it would be wise to continue to push for partnerships with the Taliban and pledge support irrespective of who is in power.
There have been reports of backdoor contacts made between the Taliban and Indian officials, although these reports have been denied by the government (The Wire, 2021).
Although the Afghan government has expressed displeasure at the reports, they have to seek India’s support in their hour of need, with Farid Mumundzay, Afghanistan’s envoy to India, stating that his country is likely to seek military support from India in the event of a government collapse.
Despite India’s historic stance against the Taliban, it is important that they seek to build a partnership, especially now that the rise of the Taliban seems inevitable. There are a few reasons for this, the first of which is to protect its investments in the region. India should consider deepening its ties with other regional powers, such as Russia, to ensure that it is not alienated should the Taliban gain a stronghold. The billions it has spent on building roads, schools, universities, and hospitals would go to waste should they fail to engage with the Taliban.
The U.S. has also pushed for greater contact between the Taliban and India, urging India to play a greater role in the Afghan reconciliation process (Haidar, 2020). This makes sense, considering the effort that India has put into the development of the country but seems to be absent from international peace talks. India’s hesitation to engage with the Taliban can be attributed to its close ties with Pakistan, but it is important to note that the Kashmir dispute has been classified as an internal matter and the Taliban have clarified that they will not interfere. Establishing stranger communication with the group allows them to make sure groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad do not use Afghanistan as a base for launching attacks in Indian administered Kashmir.
The Taliban also has much to gain from a strategic relationship with India, not the least of which is international recognition of its legitimacy. They will also require significant support in rebuilding and development of the country, an area in which India can lend support in exchange for the Taliban’s continued support against threats to India.
Russia and China have over the years, strengthened the relationship between their respective countries and the Taliban. So much so that their involvement has been deemed as ‘critical’ to the Afghan peace process. Despite being staunch rivals, India and China have some mutual goals in Afghanistan, mainly opposing the growth of Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K). This could influence a degree of cooperation between the two countries. The idea is not farfetched as Modi suggested that Russia, India, and China can have trilateral collaboration in countering terrorism.
It would be naive to assume that India can or should take a ‘high ground’ and not engage with a group that has a long history of human rights violations. But it is important that India engages with the Taliban not only for its own strategic gains but to ensure that they have a seat at the table.
- Sonavanea, A. (2021). Decoding India’s Taliban Outreach. Retrieved 25 July 2021, from http://thediplomat.com/2021/07/decoding-indias-taliban-outreach
- Roche, E. (2021). India announces 100 projects worth $80 million in Afghanistan. Retrieved 25 July 2021, from http://livemint.com/news/india/india-announces-100-projects-worth-80-mn-in-afghanistan-11606270155782.html
- The Wire (2021). ‘Completely False’: India On Claims Of Jaishankar Meeting Taliban Leaders in Qatar. Retrieved 25 July 2021, from https://thewire.in/diplomacy/completely-false-india-on-claims-of-jaishankar-meeting-taliban-leaders-in-qatar
- Haidar, S. (2020). India should talk directly to Taliban, says U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Retrieved 25 July 2021, from https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/india-should-talk-to-directly-to-taliban-says-us-special-envoy-khalilzad/article31537138.ece
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