New Delhi regains toehold in Kabul a year after pulling out

Updated on Dec 04, 2022 05:50 AM IST

The feedback from the Indian side was one of several key factors that played a part in the Japanese government’s decision to resume limited diplomatic activity in Kabul on October 21, people familiar with the matter said.

New Delhi had re-established a diplomatic presence in Kabul in June 2022. (Ajay Aggarwal /HT PHOTO)
New Delhi had re-established a diplomatic presence in Kabul in June 2022. (Ajay Aggarwal /HT PHOTO)
By, New Delhi

When Japan was mulling the reopening of its embassy in Afghanistan this year, its diplomats reached out to their Indian counterparts for an assessment of the situation on the ground since New Delhi had re-established a diplomatic presence in Kabul in June 2022.

The feedback from the Indian side was one of several key factors that played a part in the Japanese government’s decision to resume limited diplomatic activity in Kabul on October 21, people familiar with the matter said.

The development was reflective of the way the Indian side has been able to regain a toehold in the Afghan capital a little more than a year after completely pulling its diplomats and other staff out of Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover of the country in mid-August 2021. That move was publicly questioned by foreign policy experts and former diplomats with expertise in Afghanistan.

India’s withdrawal from Kabul after the collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government enhanced fears that Pakistan, whose foreign policy and security establishments have always had a stated position of reducing India’s influence in Afghanistan and using that country as “strategic depth”, would have a free sway. Such fears were driven by close links between elements in the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani military, and then Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Faiz Hameed had visited Kabul in September 2021 to help in the formation of a new administration.

But a year later, the people cited above said, tensions between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani military have grown due to various factors, ranging from the Taliban’s refusal to accept the Durand Line as the international border, activities of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has some 4,000 fighters in Afghan territory, and border skirmishes that have killed several Pakistani personnel.

The Pakistani side had hoped the Afghan Taliban would influence the TTP to agree to a peace deal, but the Pakistani Taliban on November 28 called off a ceasefire finalised in June and said it would resume attacks across Pakistan. The first suicide attack by the TTP in Balochistan on November 30 targeted security personnel guarding polio workers and killed three people.

The TTP has claimed 267 attacks in Pakistan between September 2021 and April 2022, including 42 in January and 54 in April, according to The Khorasan Diary, a news and research organisation that studies terrorism. Islamabad-based Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) says there has been a 50% surge in terror attacks in Pakistan in the year since the Taliban took over Afghanistan.

Disputed sections of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border have witnessed several clashes and a Pakistani soldier was killed and two others were injured in an incident at the Spin Boldak-Chaman border crossing on November 13. Videos have emerged of Taliban fighters removing barbed-wire fencing at several places along the Durand Line.

India’s presence in Afghanistan, however, remains a sensitive issue, with a majority of the “technical team” deployed in Kabul being security personnel sent in to guard the small number of middle-ranking diplomats who are largely focused on ways to help the Afghan people grappling with humanitarian and economic crises.

During a meeting with visiting Indian officials in Kabul in June this year, Taliban acting “interior minister” Sirajuddin Haqqani claimed his group would take action in the event of any anti-India attack even if there was concrete information linking such an attack to Rawalpindi, two people familiar with the discussions said.

The people cited above said such claims were taken with a pinch of salt. They added the Indian side decided to return to Kabul only after a comprehensive assessment of security threats because having a presence on Afghan soil allows New Delhi to better track all the latest developments.

In a sign that India has no plans to establish diplomatic ties with the current set up in Kabul, the head of the Indian officials at the embassy is referred to as “HoT” (Head of Technical Team), though some Taliban functionaries in the urban development ministry sought to project him as the “chargés d’affaires” in media reports.

There are also currently no plans to restart development projects, largely because of the lack of official banking channels for routing funds and the absence of measures to track the use of funds, or to resume air corridors for trade as there is no insurance for international flights, the people said. The only flights between India and Afghanistan are charters largely operated by Kam Air.

Sameer Patil, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), emphasised the importance of even the limited Indian presence in Kabul but recalled India’s complicated history in dealing with the Taliban.

“India’s presence in Kabul is a recognition of the critical power dynamics evolving in the region, some of which are in India’s favour while others are not. Therefore, the Indian side should be careful in charting out its next steps vis-a-vis the Afghan Taliban and Afghanistan,” he said.

Get Latest India Newsalong with Latest Newsand Top Headlinesfrom India and around the world.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
My Offers
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Sunday, February 05, 2023
Start 15 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Register Free and get Exciting Deals