Delhi and complex geopolitics of Pashtun lands

  • IASbaba
  • May 26, 2020
  • 0
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Topic: General Studies 2,3:

  • India and its neighbourhood relations 
  • External Security threats to India

Delhi and complex geopolitics of Pashtun lands

Context: USA has called on India to open a political conversation with the Taliban. There was also a signal from the Taliban that it is eager for a productive relationship with India

Taliban- A brief history

  • Taliban – considered as Terror organisation in Indian Diplomatic circles- is a conservative religiously orthodox political organisation which uses violence as strategy to achieve its objectives
  • Taliban which was ousted from power by US in 2001 has been engaged in a civilian war against Afghanistan government (ally of US)
  • US troops stationed in Afghanistan since 2001 has been losing ground to Taliban and wants an exit from country.
  • The recent US-Taliban deal has emboldened Taliban and given it an international recognition and legitimacy

India and Taliban

  • India has historically sided with Northern Alliance- an opposition to Taliban.
  • Due to Taliban’s close nexus with Pakistan’s ISI, India is strategically opposed to it
  • Some argue that there is no reason for Delhi to join the international trend to embrace the Taliban, in the wake of US-Taliban deal
  • They argue that when the Taliban becomes a peaceful entity and joins the quest for a political settlement with Kabul,Delhi should have no objection to direct talks.

Should India have direct talks with Taliban?

  • The question of Delhi opening a dialogue with the Taliban is a tactical issue focused on when, how and on what terms.
  • But the Taliban remains an important sub-set of the larger and more strategic Pashtun question that holds the key to India’s enduring interest in Afghanistan

What is India’s interest in Afghanistan?

  • Promoting a peaceful, independent and a sovereign Afghanistan that is not a subaltern to the Pakistan army.
  • This ensures a safer regional environment and better prospects for Indian trade to Central Asia & Europe through Afghanistan

What is Pashtun issue in Afghanistan?

  • The Pashtuns constitute nearly 42 per cent of the population. 
  • The sizeable Afghan minorities include 27 per cent Tajiks, 9 per cent each of Hazaras and Uzbeks.
  • The Taliban, an essentially Pashtun formation, had brutally crushed the minorities during its brief rule in the late 1990s.
  • The core of stability in country is reconciling the interests of multiple ethnic groups in Afghanistan especially between Pashtuns and minorities
  • The problem of constructing internal balance in Afghanistan has been complicated by Pakistan’s meddling, which is driven by unreasonable fear and ambition.

Complicated relationship between Pakistan & Pashtuns – Opens a Strategic space for India

  • Pashtuns who are majority in Afghanistan (need their support for Pakistan’s influence) are however minority in Pakistan (clashes with Pakistan’s majority)
  • The Pashtun population is estimated to be around 15 million in Afghanistan and 35 million in Pakistan.
  • Although Pashtun separatism has long ceased to be a force in Pakistan, Islamabad finds the Pashtun question re-emerge in a different form.
  • Also, the Taliban has never endorsed the Durand Line as the legitimate border with Pakistan
  • A stronger Taliban will push Pashtun Nationalism across the border


  • Delhi can’t escape the complex geopolitics of the Pashtun lands.
  • That the Taliban wants to talk to India and Pakistan brands Pashtun leaders as Indian agents only underlines Delhi’s enduring salience in Afghanistan.
  • Also, those calling for direct engagement with the Taliban say that Delhi can’t ignore such an important force in Afghan politics

Connecting the dots:

  • Operation Enduring Freedom
  • Rise and decline of ISIS- Role of International Coalition

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