This is according to P. Stobdan, author of ‘The Afghan Conflict and India’.
Mangalore: P. Stobdan, author of “The Afghan Conflict and India” says the entire Afghan situation from the standpoint of Pakistan is about India. “This is a very serious development from an Indian strategic security point of view,” he says. He thinks that the Indian thinking about Afghanistan is a little bit misplaced, because of India’s Pakistan centric Afghan policy. Asked why India is not supporting the Northern Alliance this time as it traditionally supported the Northern Alliance during the 1990s, he says it is because of the logistics and “as we are unaware about the realignment of forces there”. He says that whether the Taliban wants to engage with India is heavily dependent on Pakistan. “Taliban promised in 1996 the International community that Taliban will not shelter the Al-Qaeda but then they justified their existence in Afghanistan in the name of Islam and Afghan tradition. Taliban is not a monolith. It has lot of factions the moderates, the hardliners etc. If one will agree, the others will not,” he says.
According to P. Stobdan, even the Indian State is behaving with a lot of responsibility towards the Taliban as so far it hasn’t made any statements that would annoy them. Asked whether India should engage with the Taliban, he says that “we should seriously engage and not get entangled with the Taliban”. “Right now, India is entangled and not really engaging with the Taliban,” he says. In his perspective, nobody is talking about India’s investments in Afghanistan, but are only talking about how many people India has managed to evacuate. He says this is important, but “cannot be the only sole purpose of our Afghan policy”.
He says the reason India’s relationship has strained with countries like China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka is because of what is happening domestically. According to him, India’s domestic developments get reflected in its foreign policy. He says: “Today our stature has gone up and we are considered to be an economically strong country in terms of power.” But he points out, “perception is different from power”. “In the past, we were perceived in a positive way, but were seen as not a very powerful country but now it’s just the opposite,” he says.
Asked whether India should improve its ties with Iran as it is considered to be the most important country in Afghanistan after the US and Pakistan, Stobdan says that he is not sure if it is possible. He says that India listened to the United States and stopped buying oil and gas from Iran when the latter was imposed with sanctions. He further adds that India’s relations with Iran should have improved under the new leadership of President Ebrahim Raisi.
Shanthie Mariet D’Souza, the founding professor of Kautilya School of Public Policy, says that the image of the United States as a global superpower has suffered internationally by the recent developments in Afghanistan. She says it is not the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan that dented its image, but the way in which the withdrawal happened as it was completely ill-conceived and caused trouble toa lot of Afghans. In addition to this, she says that within the United States there has been a lot of support for the withdrawal.
According to her, the recent developments in Afghanistan are a setback to India from an Indian strategic security point of view. She says it is just the matter of time how India’s engagement with Taliban will play out because at present India has very little options when it comes to its foreign policy in Afghanistan. “At the moment, along with Pakistan, China has been a beneficiary of the Taliban and we have seen this when China invited the Taliban delegation to their country even before the takeover could happen.”
Shanthie D’Souza agrees that Chabahar was a missed opportunity for India. She says that it was one option where India actually could have reduced Afghanistan’s dependency on Pakistan. “India missed an opportunity not just in Afghanistan, but also in Central Asia as investing in Chabahar could have helped it connect with Central Asian countries as well,” she says.
Asked whether India should engage with the Taliban, she says that given this is a worst-case scenario and there is no other option, India should engage with the Taliban so that at least it will be able to help Afghans who have worked with India. “India needs to engage with the Taliban in ways which are open to them at the moment because they’re showing very moderate and modern image of themselves and that will be only for a limited window,” she says.
According to her, the peace agreement in Doha in 2020 worked to the advantage of the Taliban as it was clear that America would be leaving Afghanistan very soon. She says, “Peace agreement was done externally by a power outside of Afghanistan, in Doha where the Afghan government wasn’t even involved.” In her perspective, the problem in legitimizing the rule of Taliban is that the group is not acceptable to most Afghans and is considered as a terrorist organization by the international community. She says that the United States rushed through the deal without preparing a ground for the political transition to occur as the country achieved its objective in Afghanistan in 2012 when Osama-bin-Laden was killed. “As far as India is concerned, the Taliban have made all the right statements saying they won’t interfere in Kashmir but over time, if things don’t work out in their favour, they might change their messaging or communication style which could turn anti-India,” she says.
Shakti Sinha, the Director of Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Policy Research and International Studies, MS University, Vadodara, says that whether India will recognize the Taliban-led government will depend only on certain circumstances. “The Taliban is targeted by the sanctions committee and that is why we can’t recognize them legally. But India should not to be the last country to recognize the Taliban as then we will not have any leverage left with them,” he says. He says that a lot of Taliban want to be independent of Pakistan and Pakistan would not like that. However, he feels Pakistan will do anything to disrupt any India-Taliban engagements.
He says the two vulnerable countries in Central Asian region are Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. “Both of them in the past had very strong Islamic movements. Russia has moved its forces into these two countries to prevent any deterioration of security there. In fact, the first round of US- Taliban was held in Samarkand of Uzbekistan. India should improve its ties with Tajikistan as with Uzbekistan, it already enjoys good relations, in order to look closely at what is happening in our neighborhood,” he says.
Shakti Sinha says that most of the leaders of the Northern Alliance are in Pakistan and the rest are in Turkey, Uzbekistan and other places. “Only Amrullah Saleh and Ahmed Massoud are present in Afghanistan.” He adds that India should not get into the business of encouraging violence nor supply arms orammunitions to them.
As India would be heading the three crucial committees in the United Nations Security Council including the Taliban sanctions, Counter-Terrorism and the Libyan sanctions committee by the end of this year, he says that India should use this opportunity to put pressure on forces that support the terrorists. He adds that terrorists are bad but the people who create or support these terrorists should not be getting away very easily.
According to him, China wants to legitimize Pakistan’s control of this area and threaten India. He says that China is not engaging with the Taliban fearing radicalization in the Xinjiang province nor for the minerals in Afghanistan. In his perspective, both Iran and Russia are engaging with the Taliban to embarrass the US army but in addition to that, they’re also wary of Islamic State of Khorasan coming up. “They want to control it and they think the only force that can control the Islamic State of Khorasan in Afghanistan is the Taliban,” he says.