- GS-2: India and its neighborhood- relations.
- GS-2: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests
India must directly engage with Taliban 2.0
In News: With the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan in process, India’s Afghan policy is at a major crossroads; to safeguard its civilian assets there as well as to stay relevant in the unfolding ‘great game’ in and around Afghanistan,
What has been the recent actions of India in Afghanistan?
- India has ‘temporarily’ closed its consulate in Kandahar and evacuated its diplomats and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel stationed there.
- This follows the suspension of operations in the Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Herat. India has only its Embassy in Kabul and the consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif.
- In other words, New Delhi has decided to ramp down its civilian presence in the war-torn country, bracing for a full-blown civil war.
What does India’s decision to partially “withdraw” from Afghanistan indicate?
- It shows that betting only on the government in Kabul was a big mistake.
- It also shows that India realises the threat Taliban poses to Indian assets and presence in Afghanistan.
Has India’s Policy towards Taliban changed in the recent past?
- India has been steadily abandoning its strict policy towards the Taliban over the past few years.
- In 2018, India sent a ‘non-official delegation’ of two retired diplomats to Moscow for a conference that had Taliban & other regional countries
- In Sep 2020, India’s External Affairs Minister (EAM) joined the inaugural session of the intra-Afghan (Taliban & Afghan government) negotiations in Doha
- Latest reports indicated that India has started reaching out to the Taliban through back channel Diplomacy, which was indirectly confirmed by EAM
- Overall, we can say that India’s approach to Taliban has been half-hearted, half-embarrassed and ideologically-hesitant
What are the reasons that has kept India’s engagement with Taliban Slow & Half-hearted?
- Doesn’t want to upset Afghan Government:
- If New Delhi chooses to engage the Taliban directly, it could make Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, thus far India’s trusted partner, uneasy.
- This could potentially nudge him to look towards China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) for national security and personal political survival.
- Dilemma of whom to Talk to in Taliban
- New Delhi faces difficulty as to whom to talk to within the Taliban given that it is hardly a monolith.
- New Delhi may have little access to the fighters on the ground in Afghanistan. So, the only option might be the Doha-based Taliban negotiators.
- Moral Principles cautioning against the rush to engage
- Taliban faced global criticism, including from India, in its earlier avatar for its conservative & anti-Democratic Policies.
- Due to lack of evidence about whether Taliban is a changed outfit today, New Delhi might not want to court the Taliban so soon.
- More so, there is little clarity about what the Taliban’s real intentions are going forward and what they would do after ascending to power in Kabul.
- Pakistan Factor
- There is this possibility of Pakistan acting out more aggressively against India in Kashmir if India were to establish deeper links with the Taliban.
Why India should engage with the Taliban more proactively and openly?
- Accepting the reality: Taliban, one way or another, is going to be part of the political power in Afghanistan, and most of the international community are going to recognise/negotiate/do business with the Taliban. Non-engagement with Taliban might lead to India being left out in the country.
- Pakistan Factor: So the less proactive the Indian engagement with the Taliban, the stronger Pakistan-Taliban relations would become, which is against India’s interest in the region.
- Political Need of Taliban: Taliban today is looking for regional and global partners for recognition and legitimacy especially in the neighbourhood. Also, to balance its neighbour Pakistan, Taliban might be looking for India as its strategic partner.
- To ensure security of India’s civilian assets: It makes neither strategic nor economic sense to withdraw from Afghanistan after spending over $3 billion by India in developmental aid. Therefore, India needs to engage with Taliban to ensure security of its civilian assets.
- To shape regional destiny: If India is not proactive in Afghanistan at least now, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and China will emerge as the shapers of Afghanistan’s political and geopolitical destiny, which for sure will be detrimental to Indian interests there.
- Opening up the congested north-western frontier: Backchannel talks and consequent ceasefire with Pakistan, political dialogue with the mainstream Kashmiri leadership, secret parleys with Taliban all indicate that New Delhi is opening up its congested north-western frontier. Proactive engagement of the Taliban will provide this effort with more strategic heft.
- Engagement is not endorsement: Open engagement of the Taliban is neither tolerating nor accepting the condemnable atrocities committed by the Taliban.
- In the end, India’s engagement with the Taliban may or may not achieve much, but non-engagement will definitely hurt Indian interests
- So New Delhi must forget the demons of IC-814 (the December 1999 hijacking) from its collective memory and engage with the Taliban 2.0 — there is no need to be secretive or embarrassed about it.
Connecting the dots :
- March 2020: Donald Trump’s Doha Agreement