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  Opinion   Columnists  20 Dec 2023  Kamal Davar | Amidst global churn… India, US need a new road to Kabul

Kamal Davar | Amidst global churn… India, US need a new road to Kabul

The writer, a retired lieutenant-general, was founder of the Defence Intelligence Agency and deputy chief of the Integrated Defence Staff
Published : Dec 20, 2023, 12:06 am IST
Updated : Dec 20, 2023, 12:06 am IST

It was a matter of time before the Taliban government in Kabul would withdraw support to Kabul’s embassy in New Delhi

Taliban's spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid said the Taliban will stay in power for a long time - and for as long as God wants. AP/PTI(AP08_15_2023_000484B)
 Taliban's spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid said the Taliban will stay in power for a long time - and for as long as God wants. AP/PTI(AP08_15_2023_000484B)

A nation projects its diverse strategic interests by a plethora of measures in which carefully conceived diplomatic initiatives play a pre-eminent role. Diplomacy should take a holistic view of the challenges and opportunities confronting the nation, weigh the various options and then help formulate a nation's policies in the desired dose of realism, pragmatism and flexibility as required. In dealing with its strategically significant neighbour, Afghanistan, otherwise dubbed as "the graveyard of empires", New Delhi’s outreach towards Kabul will require a fresh appraisal considering newer ground realities emerging in that fratricidal violence-driven nation. As most hard-nosed diplomats and policy makers will acknowledge, a changing political landscape does require the shedding of old inhibitions, if they exist, in one’s relationship with nations that were considered inimical earlier.

For decades, Pakistan has been endeavouring, with dubious intent, to enhance its influence in neighbouring Afghanistan. Even while the United States and Nato and international forces were positioned there from late 2001 till August 2021, the wily Pakistanis were running with the hare and hunting with the hound. They deceitfully supported the extremist Taliban while also “officially” supporting the democratically elected governments of Hamid Karzai and later Ashraf Ghani. Pakistan paid lip service to the United States by allowing American and other allied forces stationed in Afghanistan, by permitting them the use of their airbases and passage through Pakistani territory into Afghanistan of their logistical convoys. This step enabled them to obtain US largesse in not only military aid but direly needed financial handouts for their collapsing economy.

After the shoddy and inglorious exit of US forces from Afghanistan in August 2021, Pakistan dreamt of exercising direct control and power in Afghanistan. However, soon enough, the fiercely independent Taliban managed to gauge the double-faced intent of Pakistan, and notably its sinister Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) network, and thus did not fall into their trap. Nevertheless, Pakistan still has a few proxies within the Taliban, including some smaller terrorist outfits it had supported earlier, and importantly, with the dreaded Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), which is discreetly enlarging its evil footprint in the region. However, Pakistan too has been at the receiving end of terrorist acts from the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which though a separate outfit from the Afghan Taliban, does maintain contacts with the latter. The Pakistanis have been subjected to frequent gruesome terror acts by the TTP on their border outposts, Army and police installations, Shia mosques and the like. One other contentious issue existing is that like the rest of the Afghans, the Taliban and the TTP do not recognise the Durand Line, which is the official border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, delineated in 1883 between then British government in India and the Emir of Afghanistan.

The ongoing policy enunciated by the Pakistani government to deport around 1.5 million Afghan refugees (those without official documents or visas) living in Pakistan for years has irked the Taliban government and will deepen the growing chasm between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Since the last decade or so, China has been earnestly endeavouring to enlarge its footprint in Afghanistan. It not only eyes Afghanistan’s billion dollars’ worth of mineral deposits, including copper mines, but also the proximity of China’s restive Xinjiang province to Afghanistan makes it a vital border state.  A friendly Afghanistan ensures that its territory is not used by Islamic terrorists to help their gravely suffering Uyghur brethren in Xinjiang.

In addition, with Beijing facing new security problems along the China- Pakistan Economic Corridor, it wants a new alignment of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative to now pass through Afghanistan and Iran.

Among Afghanistan’s neighbours, India occupies a pre-eminent and a respected place in Afghanistan owing to its well-established policy of non-interference in Kabul’s internal affairs and providing generous humanitarian and development aid to that nation. That Pakistan has been zealously endeavouring to harm India’s interests in Afghanistan for long has been the cornerstone of Pakistan’s Afghan policy, including the use of the religion card. The Taliban, however, have not fallen prey to these Pakistani machinations.

Just recently, Afghanistan’s almost-dormant embassy in New Delhi, which owed allegiance to successive elected governments, appears to have been wound up. It was a matter of time before the Taliban government in Kabul would withdraw support to Kabul’s embassy in New Delhi, and even the Indian government would have supported this step. However, the Afghan consulates in Mumbai and Hyderabad are still functioning. The fact now remains that though India has not yet formally recognised the Taliban regime, yet it has a functional diplomatic mission functioning in the Afghan capital.

Notwithstanding its continuing soft power forays in Afghanistan, India, like many other nations, has expressed dismay at the Taliban administration’s human rights record, especially their handling of both women and minorities. India, while opening up newer channels to Kabul, should be able to influence the Pashtuns and other tribes to shed their antiquated mindsets about women and allow them educational and employment opportunities. Overall, with some convergence in Indian and US interests in Afghanistan, it will be pragmatic for a joint strategy to be worked out between the two strategic partners, bearing in mind China’s diverse initiatives in the region. Thus, a fresher out-of-the-box approach by India, considering the newer ground realities, might be warranted. Equally, India must analyse the new geopolitical churning across the entire South Asian region and factor these in its foreign policy edifice.

Tags: afghan taliban, afghanistan, indian embassy in kabul