Stray Thoughts Relating to Developments in Afghanistan; India’s Policies Relating thereto and Implications for India
Amb Satish Chandra, Vice Chairman, VIF

Despite increasing evidence that Taliban 2.0 is little different from Taliban 1.0 in terms of its being no more than a bunch of terrorists aided and abetted by Pakistan, a horde of apologists have arisen in its favour in many parts of the world. This is, perhaps, only to be expected as most countries with the exception of India have been in talks with it and have not been averse to its being allowed to assume control of Afghanistan. Having committed the original sin of so to speak supping with the devil it takes courage to express mea culpa and to break with it. Accordingly, a totally false narrative is now being developed which seeks to paint the Taliban in the most favourable light possible and calls for economic assistance to be accorded to it. Not only is a shroud sought to be cast on the human rights atrocities being committed by the Taliban but it is simultaneously being painted as ten feet tall by asserting that it defeated the USA. The latter is a palpable falsehood as there was no fighting at all betwixt the two and the USA left Afghanistan of its own volition due to domestic considerations. The narrative further goes on to suggest that the Taliban is more popular than the USA in Afghanistan due to the cruelties perpetrated by the latter in that country. This again is totally incorrect.

As an Indian I am not overly perturbed at Afghanistan falling to the Taliban. While this will have serious security implications for us as discussed later it also has many upsides notably:

  1. Reduction in Pakistan’s leverage on the USA with the latter’s withdrawal from Afghanistan;
  2. Fuller exposure of the close Pakistan-Taliban nexus with the former having to carry the can for the latter’s misdeeds particularly in the realm of human rights and terrorism;
  3. A Taliban governed Afghanistan will be politico, military and economic resource drain on its primary supporters such as Pakistan.
  4. Since a Talibanised Afghanistan is likely to be a breeding ground of terrorism no country including its current patrons will escape unscathed in the medium to long term. Indeed, another 9/11 cannot be ruled out. Thus the nature of the beast contains the seed of its own destruction much like Taliban 1.0.
  5. Attacks by the maniacal Taliban on some of the infrastructure so assiduously built by India will only result in discrediting the former in the eyes of the Afghan people.
Indian priorities in Afghanistan may be listed as:
  1. Extricating its nationals and all others of interest from Afghanistan;
  2. Ensuring that Afghanistan does not export terrorism against us or allow itself to be used against us;
  3. Promoting the emergence of an inclusive and friendly Afghanistan which acts independently and is not a Pakistani puppet.

As to India’s role in Afghanistan we should acknowledge that for the last several decades we have not been a critical player and it is unlikely that we will be so in the short or medium term. However, as a result of our age old friendly ties with the Afghan people and the considerable developmental activities undertaken by India in all parts of Afghanistan we are, perhaps, the most well regarded country by its people. We can capitalize on this in our future endeavours in that country and ignoring us by any new dispensation will come at a price in terms of how it is viewed by the local populace.

India’s policy ever since the Taliban captured Afghanistan cannot be faulted and has, in fact, been adept. We have been wise in withdrawing all our diplomats from harms’ way in Afghanistan. While not criticizing the Taliban directly, we have not recognized it and have been single mindedly focussed on extricating our nationals. Once this exercise is completed and a Taliban government is established we will have to make more definitive moves. These must be conditioned on the nature of the Taliban government as well as indicators about its policies vis a vis India and the extent to which these are influenced by Pakistan. Some of these indicators will no doubt be derived by interactions with its leaders. Recognition should only be accorded if we are convinced that the Taliban government will not act against Indian interests. Mere verbal assertions of the sort that we have received from Pakistan in the past should not be relied upon. We should look for cast iron guarantees. In case these are not forthcoming recognition should not be accorded. India should be in no hurry in the matter. A patient waiting game will benefit us as a Taliban dominated set up in Afghanistan will be plagued with difficulties which can be use opportunistically by us.

As long as we are undecided on whether or not to recognize the Taliban we should do what we have been doing notably eschewing an open and direct criticism of it while voicing concerns about the human rights situation in Afghanistan as well as apprehensions of it becoming a hot bed of terrorism which poses a threat the world over. However, our media, NGO’s should be encouraged to openly and vigorously raise these issues and to directly criticise the Taliban. Our position in the UN sanction committee should be based on the merits of the case even if means riling the Taliban.

As to the resistance movement we should have no hesitation in supporting it clandestinely with plausible deniability. Economic assistance to Afghanistan should only be accorded if we recognize the Taliban and if we reopen our mission. In the absence of this meaningful assistance would serve no purpose. In the unlikely event that we are convinced that the Taliban will play ball with India we can consider making known that should it do so we will be open to its interpretation of the Durand Line rather than that of Pakistan and of much of the international community.

The long term security implications for India in the event that Taliban 2.0 is replica of Taliban 1.0 are serious but not insurmountable. These would take the form not only of efforts at enhancing terrorism in Kashmir but also in other parts of India. These would be executed under ISI guidance and with its support. One may also expect an increase in the quantum of narcotics traffic in India both for local use and export. Perhaps, more serious than all this is the extent that the Taliban take over in Afghanistan emboldens local fundamentalist elements to take to terrorism against India. In these circumstances, we need to urgently strengthen our anti terrorism grid with greater use of the latest technologies. While fortress India is no doubt strong we must never forget that we have been taken by surprise repeatedly over the decades. Thus constant improvement in our systems and constant vigilance is the need of the hour.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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