India to bilaterally engage Taliban-ruled Kabul for development and security

Jun 03, 2022 11:25 AM IST

The decision to send an official delegation to Taliban ruled Kabul shows the pragmatism of the Modi government after the unchallenged Sunni-Pashtun force refused to play second fiddle to the Pakistani deep state.

By sending an official delegation to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan on Thursday, the Narendra Modi government has decided to bilaterally engage the Islamic Emirate for continued humanitarian assistance and infra-development after recognizing the bare facts on the ground in Afghanistan.

India's Afghan expert J P Singh with Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in Kabul on Thursday.
India's Afghan expert J P Singh with Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in Kabul on Thursday.

While the Indian delegation is expected to return tomorrow via Dubai, the events since August 15, 2021, take-over of Kabul by the Taliban have shown that the Sunni-Pashtun force has a mind of its own and is not beholden to their once mentors in Rawalpindi GHQ. The Taliban regime has indicated that it is focused only on Afghanistan and is committed not to interfering in third countries in the name of Sunni Islam or jihad.

Although India always had a back-channel open to the Taliban, the decision to send an official delegation led by Joint Secretary J P Singh, who has served both in Kabul and Islamabad, is a move done after a lot of homework and assessments at the highest levels.

First, despite the public posturing, the US and the West are engaging the Taliban regime with Germany and Japan, the latest to board the Kabul bandwagon. While countries like China, Russia, Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey and Central Asian Republics have full-fledged embassies operating in Kabul, other countries are also in line to have low-level presence in the Taliban ruled country. The Kabul airport is being operated with the help of UAE with Taliban not interested in giving the port to Qatar-Turkey combine.

Second, after the US forces were virtually chased out by the Taliban on August 15, 2021, even after ruling the country by proxy for 20 years, the Sunni-Pashtun force faces no political or military challenge from outside powers. There may be jostling within the Taliban leadership for power and pelf but there is global tiredness towards Afghanistan with no country willing to support a military challenge to the ruling regime either from within the country or from outside. This means that the Taliban are here to stay.

Third, India has a civilizational relationship with Afghanistan, which is not subject to any assessment or debate from any third country. Not so long ago, the US asked India to stay away from Afghanistan as its then ally Pakistan was totally opposed to New Delhi’s involvement in Kabul or Kandahar. The US at the behest of Pakistan conveyed its opposition to India opening consulates in Jalalabad, Mazar, Kandahar and Herat. The Indian Embassy in Kabul was opened after the exit of the Taliban in 2001 by the Vajpayee Government with then External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh personally going to Kabul. India has been for ages totally committed to the development of Afghanistan whether it was humanitarian assistance, infra-development, or medicine supply. Despite tremendous pressure, India has refrained from sending troops to Kabul as part of the coalition force.

Fourth, India is encouraged by the fact that the Sunni-Pashtun force is opposed to Pakistan treating Afghanistan as mere strategic depth for the Islamic Republic against India. The Taliban are totally opposed to fencing of Afghan-Pak border based on Durand Line as it unnaturally divides the Pashtun community between two countries. Just like the previous regimes, Afghan government have always been opposed to the Durand Line, a pathetic legacy of the British Raj. The Taliban has already conveyed that it has no interest in helping the Pakistani pipedream of Kashmir Valley with either weapons or foot soldiers. On the contrary, the Taliban has an umbilical cord with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, who in turn is targeting the Pakistan Army with presence in all provinces of the Islamic Republic.

Fifth, India has a strong people to people relationship bond with the Afghan public irrespective of who is in power. With its neighbourhood first policy, India will not let Afghan people down on humanitarian assistance and will continue to supply food, medicine, and infra-support to Kabul.

When the Narendra Modi government took over in 2014, the Taliban leadership conveyed through back-channel to India that New Delhi should not look towards Kabul from the prism of Pakistan. Without compromising on its policies and postures, the Taliban leadership, then based in Peshawar and Quetta, wanted to engage with India at that time but were pushed back strongly by the Pakistani deep state. With Taliban foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi openly engaging with the Indian senior official in Kabul on Thursday, the message to Islamabad and the global community is very clear. And India values the gold Holy Quran and Afghani Loban (fragrant resin) gifted to the Modi 1.0 interlocutors on behalf of top Taliban leadership in a third country.

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    Author of Indian Mujahideen: The Enemy Within (2011, Hachette) and Himalayan Face-off: Chinese Assertion and Indian Riposte (2014, Hachette). Awarded K Subrahmanyam Prize for Strategic Studies in 2015 by Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) and the 2011 Ben Gurion Prize by Israel.

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