India’s outreach to the Taliban coincides with what appears to be a softening of the Taliban’s stance toward the US, its main source of contention. The leader of the Afghan Taliban, Sheikh Hibatullah Akhundzada, made the remark at a religious gathering just a week after giving a variety of cautions to the US against “interfering” in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. Kabul wants good relations with Washington, he claimed. He added that the Taliban in Afghanistan would not permit its territory to be used against its “neighbours,” which undoubtedly included India.
The eccentric Akhundzada had previously attacked the United States with harsh language. He had reportedly said, “We will not stray from Islam or Sharia, even if you use the atomic bomb against us.” Naturally, the Taliban is starting to realise that, for the sake of their people, whose suffering has increased significantly in less than a year, their isolation from the rest of the world must stop. The Taliban may not agree to lifting restrictions on personal freedom and allowing women to attend school, but it has recognised that without fulfilling some of the “conditions,” in whatever form, the Taliban system cannot benefit Afghans.
In light of this, a recent mission from India led by a Joint Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs visited Kabul, purportedly to discuss humanitarian supplies from India, but in reality probably to test the waters for reestablishing some sort of diplomatic ties! To monitor the flow of Indian aid in the upcoming months, a “technical” team of Indian officials has remained in Kabul. Additionally, it has been serving as a counsellor by granting Afghan visas.
It may be necessary to keep up the appearance of a permanent “technical” team of Indians until New Delhi formally recognises the Taliban government in Afghanistan on a diplomatic level. It appears that day is still quite far off. However, this does not imply that India and Afghanistan will adhere to a no-contact policy. In Afghanistan, India has significant stakes and strategic interests. The historical and cultural ties between the two nations are extremely old. Despite Pakistan’s best attempts, people-to-people connections between India and Afghanistan have remained positive during the Taliban regime in the 1990s and since August of last year.
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India’s strategic interests in Afghanistan-
A persistent diplomatic vacuum endangers India’s interests and could diminish the long-standing affection for India among ordinary Afghans.
India is the fifth-biggest donor (to Afghanistan) in the world and has been the greatest donor to Afghanistan among the countries in the area, contributing roughly $3 billion. The country has provided a variety of aid, including improving infrastructure and sending teams of medical professionals and food. It has given Kabul a brand-new parliament building, but paradoxically, it will seem out of place in a nation that doesn’t believe in democracy.
Indian doctors have been treating Afghan patients. Numerous Afghan students have enrolled in Indian universities and colleges. Afghan cadets have been accepted regularly by the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun. India has been one of the major humanitarian aid donors to Afghanistan under the Taliban administration. The main reason why trade between the two nations has not flourished is Pakistan’s obstinacy in refusing to allow Indian commodities to Afghanistan access to its land route. This level of pettiness is a clear outcome of Islamabad’s strategy of unrelenting enmity toward New Delhi.
Pakistan’s Taliban connection-
However, India cannot allow Pakistan to obstruct its efforts to improve relations with Afghanistan. The more Pakistan tries to sabotage the people-to-people links between India and Afghanistan, the longer India officially remains away from Kabul. In the past, Pakistan has successfully profited from cultivating the Taliban by hiring mercenaries for its proxy conflict with India. However, the situation for Pakistan does not appear to be as favourable as it was in the 1980s or 1990s. The Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan have tense relations.
Within the Taliban, there is a Pakistan-hating faction. Because of this, while acting as a facilitator for TTP-Pak negotiations, Pakistan has been unable to persuade Kabul to drive out the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from its territory. While Pakistan may still have some influence over the Afghan Taliban, it is obviously insufficient for Pakistan or the ISI to direct large numbers of Taliban cadres to embark on homicidal missions into India.
There were many dire predictions that India had suffered a significant strategic setback and would have no part or say in Afghanistan for a very long time when the Taliban took control in August 2021. However, it was quite obvious at the time that India will eventually return to the game. The explanation was straightforward: In contrast to the 1990s, when Pakistan effectively controlled Afghanistan, the globe in the 2020s was considerably different from that of the 1990s. Even though Pakistan continues to play a crucial role, its power and ability to influence the Taliban are simply less than they were 25 years ago.
Pakistan wasn’t as bankrupt in the 1990s as it is now. This implied that Pakistan may aid the Taliban economically and monetarily in addition to providing security assistance. Pakistan is currently struggling to survive and lacks the financial resources to provide the Taliban with any significant help. In terms of diplomacy, Pakistan was much more significant in world events in the 1990s than it is now. Without worrying about the rest of the world, it was free to grant the Taliban rule full diplomatic recognition on its own. It convinced Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to recognise the Taliban by using its influence in the Middle East.
Pakistan is currently pleading with other nations to recognise the Emirate so that it can do the same since it lacks the diplomatic space to do so on its own. The Taliban are keeping a careful eye on this and are beginning to see the drawbacks of relying too heavily on Pakistan. Midway through the 1990s, there was no TTP wreaking havoc inside Pakistan; Al-Qaeda was a young organisation; and ISIS was not imminent. Currently, the TTP provides a very real threat to Pakistan, Al Qaeda is also involved, and the local ISIS branch, the ISKP, poses a major threat to both the Taliban and Pakistan. In other words, Pakistan’s own economic, diplomatic, and security issues limit its capacity to influence the Taliban.
Chinese interests in Afghanistan-
It was anticipated that the Taliban’s return to Kabul would enable China to control Afghanistan’s mineral resources and inundate the nation with inexpensive Chinese goods. Pro-Indian attitudes among ordinary Afghans have not been diminished by Chinese involvement, but a protracted absence might. Pakistan and China, along with the rest of the world, have both refused to recognise the Taliban government. Strangely, both nations are at the forefront of the effort to quickly recognise the Taliban. The calls have gone unanswered.
If China and Pakistan recognise the Taliban government before the rest of the world, there could be severe repercussions for all of humanity. India does not need to rush into recognising the Taliban. The timing will depend on strategic and geopolitical factors. Our country may continue to work with Kabul in the meantime, not as a Western country “preaching,” but rather as a friendly South Asian nation with close relations to the Afghan people.