New Delhi is no more hesitant to form a relationship with the Taliban, though they had been declaring them as a proxy of the establishment of Pakistan’s military. As the Afghan peace process continues to glide with all its convolutions, India is coming forward to resolve their previous dispute with the Taliban.
New Delhi always kept a low profile in Afghanistan, always being concerned for military training and infrastructure for the Afghan government by emphasizing on development projects. Now with the US lead reaching to its end, India has been roaming around to grab the major pace by showing hints of direct talk with the Taliban, formerly considered to be a proxy of Pakistan in the eyes of New Delhi.
In the years the 90s and 2000s, India along with Russia and Iran favored the Northern Alliance to secure its interest, as it was the main competitor against the Taliban. From the security point of view, India was anxious that the Taliban’s relations with the military groups like Jaish e Mohammad and Harkat ul Ansar will pave the way for armed struggle in the Indian occupied Kashmir. Hence, years passed, this enmity towards the Taliban started taking an edge.
How did India and the Taliban Came Close?
India’s main reason to build up a relationship with the Taliban is only connected to geographical changes in the area. Throughout the years, the Taliban’s diligence as a broker of power in Afghanistan solidified its significance against contending interests, including India. According to some analysts, India facilitated secret negotiations with the group’s factions in 2006, but because of Pakistan’s relation with the Taliban, they could not sustain.
However, arguments on Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban remained the hot topic among the policy circle of India, narrated by Vikram Sood, the ex-director of India’s spy agency, the Research and Analysts Wing (RAW). The talks with the Taliban turned out to be fuel in the fire at the beginning of 2020, when the US signed a peace deal with the Taliban and committed to pulling back their troops in the year 2021, January. Yet, due to the increasing geopolitical complexities, it is still undecided if it will be fulfilled or not. This deal provided India a powerful thrust to take the place of the US in Afghanistan and specifically build relations with the Taliban.
There are multiple reasons behind it: firstly, the most powerful military force that was against the US withdrawal, and owing to the anticipated stronghold of the Taliban in the future, India is militarily, economically and politically forced for these relations to continue its presence in Afghanistan. India’s presence matter for its reach in the Central Asian energy markets and other broader trade projects in this regard.
Secondly, due to the political legitimacy provided by the talks of the Afghan government and the US government with the Taliban, India will not be hesitant anymore for these relations as it was in the past.
Third, India may want to embed itself to offset Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan.
Lastly, India is quite aware of the escalating influence of China in Afghanistan. China had cut out India on many crucial discussions in the region like China-Afghanistan-Pakistan trilateral talks in the year 2015, and again this year.
Against this drawback, there were some recent events that highlighted that India and the Taliban have eased some of their hostility. Such as, in April 2020, the Taliban became clear with their words quoting that they have no concerns to interfere in India’s internal issues such as Kashmir. In the light of this clarity by the Taliban, India too halted its bitterness against the group and shifted its signal in approach when S. Jaishankar, the external minister addressed the Doha peace talks where the Taliban were participating as a party. In addition to this, Mr. Abdullah Abdullah, the Chairman of HCNR in Afghanistan, said on 10th October “Afghan leadership won’t have concerns if India engages with Taliban.” The relationship isn’t officially declared yet, but if India had not acknowledged the Taliban’s importance in the talks, their participation in that session may not have happened.
Implications: Ideology, Security, and Politics
Even though there is much to figure out, it is compulsive that apart from having a right-wing Hindu party in the hold; India is not behind to engage with an Islamist militant organization that was once named as a terrorist group. This is quite obvious that India’s Foreign policy in the region, and globally, is a realist and pragmatic and not based on any ideological grounds.
This pragmatism is further asserted by the expected security implication of this move. Owing to the Taliban’s declaration of isolating themselves from Al Qaeda, India has built a ray of hope that the Taliban will also handle the Haqqani group, which has attacked Indian interests in Afghanistan.
Whether Al Qaida will refuse from pursuing the agenda in Kashmir is still a question mark. The group renamed its magazine Nawai Afghan Jihad (Voice of the Afghan Jihad), to Nawai Ghazwa-e-Hind (Voice of the Conquest of India) in the early part of 2020. The group declared that they were successful in Afghanistan that they were now turning the moves towards the next big target (India) due to its persecution of Muslim minorities in the country. This could be alarming for India.
Afghanistan is important for India due to several reasons, access to energy markets in Central Asian Republics, a stable region, and balancing Pakistan’s influence in the region. For these reasons, India has moved forward to appease the multiple governments of Afghanistan. Its support to Afghan includes establishing cultural links, building up various infrastructure projects, and providing huge monetary aids.
Provisionally, the Indian struggle in Afghanistan, and its new relationship with the Taliban, may likewise urge to build their relations with Russia and Iran who are also shaking hands with the Taliban, to neutralize Pakistan and China’s influence in the region. Amazingly, relations of India with UAE and KSA have become powerful over time and one of the reasons was the converging position of the Taliban. UAE and KSA turned their backs on the Taliban recently, however they had long been supporting the Taliban.
All in All, South Asia is experiencing a revolution in the foreign policy of India towards Afghanistan. The manifestation of this relationship is contingent to multiple geographical factors, such as US elections (the spokesperson of the Taliban lately expressed their hopes for the reelection of Trump’s government as his interest match with that of the Taliban’s – however they denied later), Pakistan – Taliban relations, Taliban’s relations with Al Qaeda and China’s elevating interest in Afghanistan.