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“Indian envoy in Doha meets Taliban leader (Mr Stanikzai)” stated a headline (Haider, 2021), which seemed to be of significant importance at that time, in August 2021. Interestingly, Mr Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai -a centre point of the above-cited meeting- is an alumnus of Indian Military Academy, and some positive developments were expected.  

However, the situation in Afghanistan started unfolding at a very rapid pace, thereafter, throwing all predictions somewhat haywire. Many countries were thus forced to recalibrate their moves, to protect their own interests. India too has many interests linked with Afghanistan, which cover short term subjects like the safety of its nationals and safeguarding its investments and long-term goals related to energy, financial and military security, control of terrorism in Kashmir and keeping gateway open for trade with countries in the region, to name a few. Undoubtedly, post the lacklustre exist of the USA, Afghanistan has landed in turmoil with considerable uncertainty in the air. This uncertainty has cast a shadow on the safety of Indian nationals in Afghanistan as well as India’s long-term interests in the region. The Taliban has already formed a government, dominated by Pashtuns and Haqquanis- including some UN-sanctioned ministers, which could be detrimental to the interest of India. India would now need to find an effective way to deal with the new regime, even in a limited way, if that’s what would protect its interests, and a beginning had been made. Though Mr Stanikzai finds a place in the new Afghanistan government as Deputy Foreign Minister, whether that would be enough to protect India’s interests, only time will tell. India on its part now needs to do some out of the box thinking, for charting its further course of action. How and what aspect would certainly warrant an examination.

Accordingly, this article would briefly examine Indo-Afghan relations, the Taliban factor in Afghanistan, the importance of protecting India’s interests in Afghanistan, the impact of Pashtun/Haqqani dominated Afghanistan government on India’s interests, China-Pakistan Link, and the probable way forward.

Indo-Afghan Relations and Current Status

India and Afghanistan have generally enjoyed a strong relationship, based on historical and cultural links. The relationship which had strong governmental backing also had its foundations built on age-old contacts and exchanges between the people through multiple commonalities. These Indo-Afghan relations were further strengthened by the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) signed between the two countries in 2011. The SPA provided for India’s assistance to help rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure and institutions, education and technical assistance to enhance indigenous Afghan capacity in different areas, encouraging investment in Afghanistan’s natural resources, providing duty-free access to the Indian market for Afghanistan’s exports, support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, broad-based and inclusive process of peace and reconciliation, and advocating the need for a sustained and long-term commitment to Afghanistan by the international community.

Further, when Afghanistan was preparing for three parallel transitions- political, security and economic- in 2014, India offered its firm support and had made long-term commitments to the security and development of Afghanistan (MEA, 2015).  India stood with its commitments and had proven its credentials as Afghanistan’s reliable partner.

Though the above narrative may indicate strong Indo-Afghan ties, they were not always so. They have seen up and down phases and the Indo-Afghanistan relationship can be best described through the metaphor of a ‘see-saw’.  The see-saw angle would be discernible from the phases Indo-Afghanistan relations have gone through since the 1990s. It would be relevant to analyse these phases for better understanding.

First Phase: Taliban Reign (1996-2001)

The first phase was characterised by the rule of one of the most prominent Islamic, fundamentalist, insurgent organizations- the Taliban. Taliban at that time was perceived as the heart of resistance against the establishment of a democratic Afghan government. The Afghan Taliban emerged in the Afghan political landscape, after capturing major districts of Kandahar, Herat and Kabul, and thereafter declared Afghanistan as an Islamic emirate, ruled by Mullah Mohammed Omar – the commander of Afghan Taliban, which changed the international position of Afghanistan drastically.  Afghanistan’s ties with India at that time were almost zero, as the Taliban was a Pakistani-backed Islamic extremist militant group, which threatened the basic tenets of democracy and freedom for the people of Afghanistan and denied them any humanitarian rights. This became a hindrance to Afghanistan’s path to democracy and peace; something that the Indian government had hoped for after the Soviet withdrawal (Lindsey, 2021).

Second Phase: Karzai Government (2001-2014)

The second phase dawned post-U.S. toppling of the Taliban regime in 2001 and the installation of a new regime headed by Hamid Karzai. During this phase, there was a dramatic shift in Kabul’s India policy, which became quite pro-India. Military relations between the two nations also started gaining significance in 2007, with the deployment of a military team. This was followed by Afghanistan signing one of its first strategic agreements with India, in 2009, which included the acceptance of Afghanistan’s nearly six-year-old request for India to train Afghan security forces (Khalil, 2016). Afghanistan also expressed interest in the purchase of weapons and other military equipment, which included 150 battle tanks, 120 (105 mm) field guns, a large number of 82 mm mortars, one medium-lift transport aircraft (AN-32), two squadrons of medium-lift and attack helicopters and a large number of trucks. India also agreed to accept more than 1,400 Afghans for military training (Sawant, 2013).  

In addition to this, India began offering significant bilateral aid to Afghanistan. As of 2012, India had spent USD 1 billion in development funds, with a commitment to spend an additional USD1 billion in the years to come. This placed India among the top five bilateral donors to Afghanistan.

With a view to supporting the establishment of a democratic government in Afghanistan, it also provided extensive financial aid for the construction of the new Afghan parliament in 2005. The said building was inaugurated by the Prime Minister of India in December 2015, linking the site of Afghanistan’s nascent democracy to India and the Indian people. All of the above helped in promoting a thriving relationship during Karzai’s government with foreign aid and military-to-military diplomacy being at the forefront. It could be said that Karzai’s government, was instrumental in role reversal in Afghanistan’s India policy, where New Delhi and Kabul hit it off with an expansive and strong relationship (Sethi, 2020).

Third Phase: Ghani’s Presidency (2014-2019)

The last and contemporaneous phase of Afghan politics began in 2014, post-formation of the ‘National Unity Government’ under the Presidency of Ashraf Ghani. Ghani’s policy towards India comprised two stages, as mentioned in the succeeding paragraphs.   Unfortunately, in his pursuit of pleasing Pakistan, to stop insecurity and bring enduring peace to Afghanistan, Ghani compromised Kabul’s relationship with New Delhi for a few initial months after coming to power. This marked the first stage of his policy towards the newly elected Indian government. He did not visit India for 7 months and also declined the provision for heavy Indian weaponry which was much welcomed by the previous government. Ghani finally paid an official visit to India in 2015, way after visiting Pakistan, China and the US. This delay was undoubtedly interpreted as a reprioritization in Afghanistan’s foreign policy towards India. To exacerbate the matters further, Ghani during his visit to Beijing stated that he viewed India’s role in Afghanistan as an aid provider, but not in the sphere of security. This certainly came as a surprise to India as it marked a sharp contrast to the warmness toward India of his predecessor (Karzai), who considered India as a critical security partner.  

India, in return, refused to invest more in the trilateral transport infrastructure project in Chabahar, Iran due to the situation in Afghanistan. India also sent a low-profile delegation to the ‘Heart of Asia Conference’ in Beijing in 2014 and then to the ‘Regional Economic Cooperation Conference for Afghanistan’ (RECCA) 2015, in Kabul. These limited interactions between India and Afghanistan and a steady decline in their relations were the result of desperate efforts by Ghani’s government to mend ties with Pakistan.  However, in the second stage, things once again changed significantly in India’s favour, as Pakistan failed to keep its promise of taking concrete measures against the Taliban or bringing them to the negotiating table. As a result, Kabul tried to again reach out to New Delhi to put their bilateral relationship back on the strategic track. It, thus, repeatedly requested the Indian side to hold meetings of the Strategic Partnership Council under the Strategic Partnership Agreement.

Though India was understandably reluctant in the beginning, it did give in and held important meetings with officials from Afghanistan. This resulted in a revival of smooth relations between the two countries.  Ever since then, substantial discussions were held on cooperation and assistance in various sectors including health, education, agriculture, disaster management, power sector and electoral management. The relations got a further boost as an outcome of a meeting held in 2015, wherein both parties expressed a desire of working together, along with the international community, to combat and defeat the scourge of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Multiple incidents of terrorist activities such as the rise in insecurity within Afghani territories, the highest-ever number of civilian casualties, the fall of many Afghan districts into Taliban hands, and the attacks on Pathankot airbase and Uri army base in India became magnetic reasons for increased Indo-Afghan partnership against Pakistan’s vicious role behind such instances. The bilateral exchanges between Kabul and Delhi also increased since December 2015, wherein both governmental heads- President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi -met more than five times. For trade, both the countries made efforts for strengthening alternative routes, including the air cargo corridor, which was launched in June 2017, as well as the development of the Chabahar sea route connecting India, Iran and Afghanistan with Central Asian countries.

To enhance security cooperation, India delivered four Mi-25 (Mi-24D) helicopters and three HAL Cheetah light utility helicopters to the Afghan Air Force (AAF) in December 2016 and signed deals for the future supply of arms and ammunition. These developments helped in taking Indo-Afghan relations to greater heights and were welcomed by the people of India and Afghanistan (Milton, 2014, Sethi, 2020a).

Current Status (2019–)

Afghanistan always had an important place in India’s foreign policy. However, the Afghanistan relationship balance sheet has turned out to be a loss-making proposition, for India, more than once. On two occasions, in the last 40 years, when India thought it had a good going, betting its fortunes in Afghanistan, partnering with a superpower, it was left in the lurch as the powers decided to quit in a great hurry (Bhattacharya, 2021). As seen, the relationship between India and Afghanistan went downhill a second time, post-February 29, 2020, Doha US-Taliban Treaty, and subsequent US announcement of troops withdrawal from Afghanistan.  The US started planning to exit Afghanistan and finally, President Joe Biden regime complied with the August 31, 2021, deadline for withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan. It was anticipated that an all-inclusive government would take charge and work for the betterment of Afghanistan. But what really happened, no one could have predicted or made provisions for, was a sudden and swift collapse of the Republic of Afghanistan and its forces and the inversely proportional rise of the Taliban and equally quick rise in influence of Pakistan (ISI) and China.

As brought out earlier, this was the second instance in four decades that a superpower (this time the USA) quitting Afghanistan left India in a difficult position. The turmoil that followed the Taliban’s 15th August entry into Kabul, stunned the world and many countries were forced to reconsider their strategy, with regards to the relationship with a new regime in Afghanistan, to protect their interests and India was no exception.

However, for India, the stakes were (and are) quite different. It is not just a matter of safety of its people and investments, but it is a matter of geopolitics and stability of its immediate neighbourhood. As time elapsed, the Taliban’s intentions became more and more clear resulting in chaos, violence, and many killings, including US troops. The dynamics of the changing situation forced India into evaluating impacts on its strategic interests- in terms of loss of billions invested in infrastructure, uncertainty about the friendliness of new government in Kabul and implications of having an unstable country in the region. It was also, rightly, worried about nefarious designs of China and Pakistan in the region and its isolation from the meetings on Afghanistan both by the USA and Russia. It would be, therefore, important to examine implications for India, in relation to the current situation in Afghanistan (Gupta, 2021).

Implications for India and Possible Measures

The situation in Afghanistan has become quite complex and many parties/factors have got intermingled in complicating the situation for India, some of the important ones have been analysed in the succeeding paragraphs.

Pashtuns and India

It needs to be kept in mind that India’s refusal to publicly criticise, let alone denounce, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, while understandable in the light of the then prevalent geopolitical situation and India’s gratitude for Soviet support during the 1971 war, resulted alienating India, in the eyes of its traditional friends in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns. It also provided Pakistan greater scope to curry favour with Afghanistan’s largest and traditionally dominant ethnic group. Thus, it will take a great deal of creative thinking and imaginative refashioning of New Delhi’s policy towards Afghanistan, for India to recover lost ground vis-à-vis the Pashtuns (Ayoob, 2019).

Haqquanis and India

For India, the Haqqani Network, a tribal clan-led criminal enterprise that has considerable influence in Afghanistan, has been a matter of concern, as it poses both direct as well as indirect threats to its interests. These threats emerge from the group’s close relationship with the ISI, the Taliban and Al Qaeda, all three entities with a strong anti-India orientation. The Haqqani Network, which has a strong foothold in Pakistan, has been of concern to India, as the ISI has many times used it to carry out terrorist attacks on select targets in Afghanistan- US assets and Indian embassy and construction companies-to reinforce its primacy with the Taliban and other terrorist groups. It is important to note that Sirajuddin Haqqani, an influential Taliban leader, is wanted for several attacks on the Indian embassy and consulates in Afghanistan. It is believed that in a suicide bombing in 2008, in which Indian diplomats were among 58 people killed, and the attack on Kabul’s Gurdwara Har Rai Saheb in 2020, in which 25 people were killed, the Haqqani network had collaborated with the Islamic State- Khorasan-IS-K (Wilson, 2012, Haider, 2021)

Taliban -Pakistan- China Angle

Given the above complexities, India’s concerns related to the new Afghanistan regime stand fully justified. To exacerbate the problem further, Pakistan’s and China’s efforts of supporting and befriending the new Talibani regime have added to India’s woes.  Examination of each of the above aspects would be important for reaching a nuanced conclusion.

Talibani Regime

India’s hopes that the new government in Afghanistan would have more friendly faces in it seem to have been dashed. As per reports Taliban has appointed Mohammad Hasan Akhund, a close aide to the group’s late founder Mullah Omar, as head of Afghanistan’s new caretaker government, weeks after it took control of the country in a rapid offensive. Abdul Ghani Baradar, the head of the Taliban’s political office, will be the deputy leader while Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of the founder of the Haqqani Network, has been named as interior minister. Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar, has been named as defence minister, and Hedayatullah Badri as the acting minister of finance. Amir Khan Muttaqi, a Taliban negotiator in Doha, has been named as the foreign minister. In some solace to India, Abbas Stanikzi- part of the Taliban political team and the Taliban official who met the Indian Ambassador in Doha- has been appointed as Deputy Foreign Minister of Afghanistan. On the whole, the Taliban cabinet is an all-male cabinet and is stacked with Pashtuns, veterans of their hard-line rule from the 1990s and many members under sanction by the UN.  Thus, how far Stanikzai would be able to influence Indo-Afghanistan relations remains to be seen. With such an unpredictable situation on hand, India rightfully fears that despite its public assurances, the new Taliban government may foster safe havens for anti-Indian terrorist organizations and other groups that could create havoc in Kashmir- a Union Territory of India. This fear emerges from the fact that earlier (when in power) the Taliban had given a free rein to a host of anti-Indian terrorist organizations within Afghanistan, most notably Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (Aljazeera, 2021, Gannon, 2021).

Pakistan Angle

Pakistan- Taliban closeness factor has always been a matter of worry for India.  Pakistan’s influence in shaping the new government in Afghanistan has also been widely acknowledged (Kugelman,2021). India thus fears that with the connivance of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which has long been involved in the Kashmir insurgency, the Pakistan-backed militant groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, both of which have a presence in Afghanistan, would gain influence and carry out attacks on Indian targets in

Afghanistan or even in India proper. Strong possibility  for slippage of weapons left behind by the US, especially small arms, sniper rifles, mines, night vision glasses, communication equipment, bulletproof jackets, tech to create even more sophisticated IEDs, VBIEDs, Magnetically Attached IEDs (MAIEDs), weaponised drones, superior tunnelling tactics used in Afghanistan and other jihadist theatres, suicide bombings etc. into the hands of terrorists operating in the Valley through Pakistan, also exists and it could further destabilize  the security environment (Frayer, 2021)

Further, even though Islamabad has publically acknowledged India’s stabilising role in Afghanistan, that stance merits scepticism given Pakistan’s traditional support to terrorist organisations.  Pakistan perceives that India might increase its influence in Afghanistan through its assistance programs and has been both overtly and covertly working to counter such efforts. It is feared that could result in renewed insecurity as Afghanistan struggles to emerge from conflict, potentially negating the benefits of the support. Another issue of concern that is getting growing attention from strategic thinkers and policymakers pertains to the question of Durand Line and its impact on the ongoing peace process of Afghanistan.  With recent controversy between Afghanistan and Pakistan over the fencing of the Durand Line, it is becoming a major bone of contention between the two countries and going to inflate in future, which could have implications for India too (Mohapatra, 2021, Threlkeld and Easterly Grace, 2021).

The China Factor

China has multifarious interests in the regions like the Uyghur Issue, CPEC, Afghanistan’s participation in BRI and keeping India on tenterhooks to name a few. Thus, China will make all-out efforts to woo the Taliban. China’s apparent willingness to work with the Taliban could significantly add to the woes of Indian security planners. Though Beijing publicly criticized the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw the bulk of its security forces, arguing it could lead to regional instability, it’s this public posture that may be disingenuous. China on one hand publically supports Afghanistan forming an open, inclusive, broadly-based government upholding moderate and prudent domestic and foreign policies and living on good terms with the neighbouring countries. But in reality, it doesn’t hesitate from dealing with Taliban leadership and offers all possible assistance.

 China has already hosted the Taliban leadership in Beijing, and there is evidence that it is already finding ways to work with the Taliban. It has plans to extend its Belt and Road Initiative into Afghanistan and even before the takeover was in the process of constructing a passage to link Afghanistan to Pakistan through the Wakhan Corridor. To add to these woes Beijing’s ability to expand its political and diplomatic footprint in Afghanistan, with the return of a Taliban regime could be disastrous for India- Afghanistan relationship.

In turn Taliban, through its spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid, has expressed the Taliban’s desire to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), after the visit of the Talibani delegation to China. The militant group has also declared China as one of its ‘staunchest allies’, indicating the Taliban’s growing closeness with Beijing.

Another factor for worry is that China intractably remains hostile towards India and is closely allied with its adversary Pakistan. With its deep pockets, China will actively work to limit any Indian influence in a Taliban-run Afghanistan; the Taliban’s own reservations about India will only help facilitate Beijing’s ability to keep New Delhi at bay (Ganguly, 2021). In addition to the above, India has been affected by other global factors also, a brief analysis of which would be relevant here.

Global Factors

It’s a matter of fact that many states across the region (besides Pakistan and China) have stakes in Afghanistan.  Amongst them, Iran, Russia and the Arab Gulf States are likely to feel compelled to increase their involvement with conditions in Afghanistan deteriorating. Despite growing competition among great powers and their regional partners, the majority of the countries have thus far supported the installation of an open, inclusive, broadly-based government upholding moderate and prudent domestic and foreign policies in Afghanistan all under the Doha Process. However, with hardliners now dominating the power centre, this fluid situation could complicate diplomatic efforts and risk greater instability in Afghanistan. As a result, Afghan elites, local power brokers, and Taliban leaders could forum-shop among international parties for support, confusing the negotiating process and fuelling more division. If violence intensifies, regional third parties may get tempted to become more involved militarily and financially should they face high numbers of Afghan refugees or see the potential for Afghanistan-based terrorists. Considering that the Taliban had invited only some select countries Viz.  China, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Qatar to attend the government formation ceremony in Afghanistan, what it would mean in the long run is uncertain even now.

Another important factor pertains to the attitude of the USA and Russia towards India, in relation to Afghanistan. Despite knowing that few countries in the region have as much at stake in Afghanistan’s future as India, its fifth-largest aid donor and one of the most effective, the United States kept India at arm’s length from most political negotiations over Afghanistan, owing to Pakistan’s strenuous objections. Even Russia kept India at bay, during the Troika Plus talks among China, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States. Kept out of these forums, India now finds many of its critical investments in human and physical infrastructure in Afghanistan in jeopardy, with the Taliban taking control in Afghanistan (Chaudhuri and Shende, 2020, Threlkeld and Easterly, 2021a, Davydov et al, 2021). India certainly needs to holistically analyse all the above issues and recalibrate its response with a view to protecting its own interests.

India’s Actions

New Delhi for the moment however seems to be optimistic about not losing everything as regards a long-nurtured relationship with Afghanistan. India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, in his address in Parliament, has gone on record to say that India’s investment was in the friendship of Afghan people and that he was sure that it would get the full value of its investment in Afghanistan (Gupta, 2021a).

India has been making various efforts to protect its interests in Afghanistan. Many important issues like its investments, safety, security, and early return of Indian nationals stranded in Afghanistan, were bothering India. Agreeing for a Taliban requested a meeting between the HE Ambassador of Qatar (Mt Deepak Mittal) and Mr Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, (prominent Taliban leader), seemed to be a well thought out effort towards that end.

The above efforts seem to have yielded limited success, with the announcement of the formation of Government in Afghanistan under the leadership of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar with Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of late Taliban co-founder Mullah Omar, and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, being part of the government (HT, 2021). Re-establishment of cordial relations with Afghanistan, under the new regime, would not be an easy task for India.

India needs to be cautious about future developments, as Pakistan’s influence on the Taliban government in Afghanistan is evident. It is a matter of fact that Pakistan intelligence Chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed had travelled to Kabul, leading a delegation of Pakistani officials, purportedly at the invitation of the Taliban to discuss the future of the two countries (ANI, 2021). It is for anyone to guess what may happen in future.

But waiting till the picture becomes clearer, would be too big a risk for India. It has been opined that India might consider appointing a special envoy dedicated to Afghan reconciliation.  The Special Envoy could be a serving senior diplomat in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) or a retired ambassador with experience in Afghanistan-as an ideal choice.  Such an appointment of an envoy would make sure that India’s views are heard at every meeting and conference on reconciliation. The special envoy could also look to enter into discussions with Taliban representatives or former representatives who have not been disowned by the movement as backup support However if such Special Envoy is appointed, MEA needs to ensure wholehearted support to the envoy for him to be successful in his mandate (Chaudhuri and Shende, 2020a, Kumaraswamy, 2021). India with its optimism has not given up on its efforts to ease the problems of the Afghani people and maintain a cordial relationship with the Afghan government. India has, therefore, be constantly in touch with Pakistan, seeking permission to send humanitarian aid like food and medicines to Afghanistan, through Pakistan. After protracted deliberations, Pakistan finally gave its nod for Indian aid material to transit to Afghanistan through its area and first consignment- approximately 1.6 Tons of medicines has reached Afghanistan a few days ago. Talibani government in Afghanistan has been appreciative of this aid and has publicly thanked India for its humanitarian gesture (ANI, 2021). India needs to continue its efforts to establish cordial, even if informal, relationships with the Talibani government, to protect its own economic, energy and security interests. Cordial relations with the Taliban government would also help in blunting the edge of combined Chian-Pakistan efforts to undermine India’s interests in Afghanistan.

In addition to the above, continued pursuance of subjects related to peace and stability in Afghanistan with Russia, at Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and Indo-China-Russia (RIC) forum would also be important. It is hoped that MEA under the dynamic leadership of Dr Jaishankar would find a suitable way for overcoming the current uncertainties and put Indo-Afghanistan relations back on track.

Conclusion and Recommendations

India and Afghanistan had by far enjoyed a good relationship, though it went through rough patches too. The post-Russian withdrawal was the first traumatic period and the story is being repeated post-USA withdrawal.  India has always stepped forward to help Afghanistan be it Infrastructure development, Military training, defence hardware or aid during the corona pandemic. However, India has landed in an unenviable situation post-USA withdrawal. The situation is quite uncertain with various factions speaking in different tones. Though the Taliban has declared the formation of the new government, how things will actually pan out is still uncertain. In addition, China’s and Pakistan’s efforts to woo the Taliban are a matter of worry for India. India has too much at stake in Afghanistan on Economic, Security and strategic fronts. India is evaluating various options. It has opened the dialogue with the Taliban through a meeting between India’s Ambassador in Qatar and Mr Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, a senior Taliban leader, who may be an important part of the new regime. But how things would unfold on the ground needs to be seen.

There is no doubt that India needs to keep all its options open, dynamically review the situation on the ground and adjust its responses to safeguard its own interests. Following recommendations are made for consideration: –

  •  India should seriously consider nominating an envoy, expert in Afghanistan situation, to maintain the dialogue and to present India’s views in relevant forums.
  • India should actively engage with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) Afghanistan Contact Group, established in 2017. This would help in conveying India’s views as well as facilitate some degree of cooperation even with China.
  • India also needs to engage deeply with Russia on this matter. India’s association with Russia may allow it to leverage the strong ties between the two countries. As known Russia’s approach has been to support the negotiations in Doha and also open a direct and official line of contact with the Taliban. This may help India in protecting its interests in Afghanistan.
  • Iran has good ties with both India and Taliban. To make the best use Iran’s strengths India should strengthen its strategic ties with Iran.
  • India should keep its lines of communication with USA open on this matter.

Despite the limited nature of cooperation on Afghanistan, there are three common aims and areas of interest between India and the United States: the desire for stability in Afghanistan, the need to identify the IS-K as the enemy, and the need to ensure that Afghanistan should not be used as a launchpad by international terrorists. These common goals could help in building a common narrative for stability in the region.

In summary, one could say that to deal with the disturbing instability that is evident and also to remain ‘engaged in Afghanistan in the future,’ India may need to do some out of the box thinking to build ‘new equations’. This will warrant India to be actively involved and to be seen to be actively involved, in a wider set of international and national conversations. Finally, Henry Kissinger’s lasting words would sum up the situation well: “The analyst can choose which problem he wishes to study, whereas the statesman’s problems are imposed on him.”

Jai Hind. 

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18.       Mohapatra Dr. Nalin Kumar (February 26, 2021), The geopolitics of Durand Line and the question of Pakistan-Occupied-Pashtunistan, Economic Times, On Line, Retrieved From:  https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/the-geopolitics-of-durand-line-and-the-question-of-pakistan-occupied-pashtunistan/articleshow/81228970.cms?from=mdr

19.       Threlkeld Elizabeth and Easterly Grace (August , 2021), Afghanistan-Pakistan Ties and Future Stability in Afghanistan, United States Institute of Peace, On Line, Retrieved From: https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/2021-08/pw_175-afghanistan_pakistan_ties_and_future_stability_in_afghanistan.pdf, Accessed on 15 Dec 2021)

20.       Ganguly Sumit (August 17, 2021), What the Taliban Takeover Means for India : Kabul’s swift collapse leaves New Delhi with significant security concerns, Foreign Policy Weekly, On Line, Retrieved From: https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/08/17/afghanistan-taliban-takeover-india-security-terrorism/, Accessed on 16 Sep 2021 21.       Chaudhuri Rudra and Shende Shreyas (June 02, 2020), Dealing With the Taliban: India’s Strategy in Afghanistan After U.S. Withdrawal, Carnegie, On Line, Retrieved From: https://carnegieindia.org/2020/06/02/dealing-with-taliban- india-s-strategy-in-afghanistan-after-u.s.-withdrawal-pub-81951, Accessed on 02 Sep 2021

22.       Threlkeld Elizabeth and Easterly Grace (August, 2021a), Afghanistan-Pakistan Ties and Future Stability in Afghanistan, United States Institute of Peace, On Line, Retrieved From: https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/2021-08/pw_175-afghanistan_pakistan_ties_and_future_stability_in_afghanistan.pdf, Accessed on 15 Dec 2021)

23.       Davydov A, Kugelman M, Kupriyanov A, Sood R (April 13, 2021), 2021: Afghanistan’s Year of Reckoning ( Issue Brief), orfonline, Retrieved From: https://www.orfonline.org/research/2021-afghanistans-year-of-reckoning/, Accessed on 17 Sep 2021

24.       Gupta Shishir (August 26, 2021a), India’s only investment in Afghanistan is on its people, will get full-value in return: Jaishankar, The Hindustan Times, On Line, Retrieved From: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/indias-only-investment-in-afghanistan-is-on-its-people-will-get-full-value-in-return-jaishankar-101629975634988.html, Accessed on 04 Sep 2021

25.       The Hindustan Times (September 04, 2021), Baradar likely to head Afghanistan’s new Taliban govt, HT Online, Retrieved From: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/baradar-likely-to-head-afghanistan-s-new-taliban-govt-101630693042648.html, Accessed on 15 Sep 2021 26.       ANI (September 04, 2021), With Taliban close to forming govt, Pak intelligence chief reaches Kabul, The Hindustan

Times, On Line, Retrieved From: https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/with-taliban-close-to-forming-govt-pak-intelligence-chief-reaches-kabul-101630743105230.html, Accessed on 15 Sep 2021

27.       Chaudhuri Rudra and Shende Shreyas (June 02, 2020a), Dealing With the Taliban: India’s Strategy in Afghanistan After U.S. Withdrawal, Carnegie, On Line, Retrieved From: https://carnegieindia.org/2020/06/02/dealing-with-taliban-india-s-strategy-in-afghanistan-after-u.s.-withdrawal-pub-81951, Accessed on 02 Sep 2021

28.       Kumaraswamy PR (August 26, 2021), Taliban challenges the Indian policy, New Indian Express, On Line, Retrieved From: https://www.newindianexpress.com/opinions/2021/sep/03/taliban-challenges-the-indian-policy-2353489.html, Accessed on 16 Sep and 15 Dec  2021

29.       ANI (December 12, 2021), Taliban thanks New Delhi for aid, says India-Afghanistan ties ‘very vital, Business Standard, On-Line, Retrieved From: https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/taliban-thanks-new-delhi-for-aid-says-india-afghanistan-ties-very-vital-121121200400_1.html, Accessed on 15 Dec 2021

Title image courtesy: Zee News

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies

Cmde S L Deshmukh

By Cmde S L Deshmukh

Commodore SL Deshmukh, NM (Retd), has served Indian Navy for 32 years, is a Mechanical Engineer is specialised in both Marine & Aviation domains. He also holds a Masters in Defence Studies and a Post-Graduate in Management. He has served onboard aircraft carriers and is specialised on fighter aircraft and ASW helicopters. He held many operational and administrative appointments including Principal Director at Naval HQ, Commodore Superintendent at Naval Aircraft Yard, Director, Naval Institute of Aeronautical Technology and Project Director of a major Naval Aviation Project. He is alumni of Defence Services Staff College Wellington. He was with Tata Group for 5 years and is currently working with SUN Group‘s Aerospace & Defence vertical as Senior Vice President. He is also the Life Member of Aeronautical Society of India.