India’s Importance for Taliban – How to Engage and Draw Benefits

border lines of India
India shares a small patch of borderline with Afghanistan in the disputed Gilgit Baltistan region of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan.

Over the past two decades, India has invested around $3 billion in Afghanistan’s infrastructure, capacity building, and more. Thousands of Afghan students have studied in Indian institutes and universities on Government of India scholarships and many times that number comes to India for medical treatment. India has provided Afghan women with training in skills development, accounting, and running small businesses. These efforts not only earned India enormous goodwill in Afghanistan but have also transformed Afghan lives.

This does not mean it recognizes the regime or that it supports its outlook or ideology. All it means is that India is willing to deal with the Taliban in ways it chooses to.  And in this, New Delhi must opt for initiatives that benefit the Afghan people.

India has maintained historically strong business and cultural links to Afghanistan, bolstered by a sizeable Indian resident community. Afghanistan has also served as a theater for Indo-Pakistani enmity. New Delhi fears most the Islamic radicalization of Afghanistan, especially were seen as Pakistan-sponsored. Important jihadi organizations in Pakistan have always viewed their offensive operations in Afghanistan and Kashmir as part of the same religious calling. Because of India’s thinly disguised endorsement of pro-Soviet regimes in Kabul during the 1980s, Pakistan was concerned by the possibility of being outflanked by its traditional adversary. This concern should have ended with the ascent to power of a mujahideen government in Kabul in 1992. But Afghanistan’s new rulers, anxious to free the country of Pakistan’s influence, soon sought out India as a counterweight to their former patron. This rapprochement promptly ended with the fall of Kabul in 1996 to the Pakistan-backed Taliban insurgency.

India has worked hard to win the confidence of the post-Taliban government in Kabul. New Delhi has contributed more than US$ 3 billion toward Afghan reconstruction—the sixth-largest contributor and the largest in the region—divided among infrastructure repair, humanitarian assistance, and institutional and human resource development. A wide spectrum of programs includes highway repair, communications, energy, health care, and capacity building in contributions to secondary education and the training of diplomats and bureaucrats. India financed the construction of a new parliament building at a cost of $50 million. Indian-donated Tata buses are a key part of Kabul’s public transportation.

Assistance to Afghanistan’s reconstruction advertises India’s claims to be a regional economic power, ready to assume regional responsibilities.

Syed Shah Fahad Hussain – AISSC’s Lead Strategist & Dy Dr.

Indian activities in Afghanistan regularly draw complaints from Pakistan. Few actions rankled the Pakistanis more than the opening of Indian consulates in several Afghan cities, where they seem designed mostly as listening posts to monitor Pakistani influences and activities. But Pakistan sees more sinister motives than simple intelligence gathering, accusing the Indians through its consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad of fostering an insurgency inside Pakistan’s Balochistan. Pakistan takes this especially seriously because the Chinese-built port at Gwadar stands at the southern boundary of the province. The port is central to Pakistan’s plans to create a new international route for sea traffic that could serve China, but also Afghanistan, and Central Asia. Meanwhile, India built an US$ 80 million road linking Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province with the Iranian port at Chabahar and provided a 300-man paramilitary force to ensure the security of Indian workers.

Until recently, a projected gas pipeline to carry Iranian gas through Pakistan to India stood a better chance of completion than the more problematic American-backed route from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan. But New Delhi’s ardor for Iranian gas began to cool following a March 2006 agreement with Washington on cooperation in India’s civilian nuclear power program. Although this may boost interest in the Afghan route, India cannot ignore gas-rich Iran as the prime long-term energy resource supplier for South Asia.

AISSC recommendations to the Taliban led government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to engage with India:

  • Taliban should form an exclusive committee that must include the members of the group as well as involves the representatives from other factions and communities from Afghanistan to lobby Indian polity and diplomats through its Doha office, to start off the dialog process.
  • Taliban has to address the three major concerns of India if the group wants to benefit from the Indo-Afghan relations. The three major concerns of India with the Taliban are:
    • An inclusive government without the involvement of Haqqanis but must include representations from all Afghan communities.
    • Strategic concerns about the country may turn into the breeding ground for terror groups backed by Pakistan which may later be used against India. Indian infrastructure investments which dot across the country may come under threat.
    • Security concerns before the re-opening of any diplomatic mission or commercial flights, the Taliban must ensure the safety and security of the staff, workers, or Indian travelers.
  • Taliban should come up with the proper foreign policy directives for dealing with India on a long-term basis understanding the geopolitical and socio-economic concerns of both countries.
  • Taliban should make room for discussions with Haqqanis for discussing the framework to start a dialog with India with assurances that the faction won’t operate against India or the Indian interests.
  • The government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan must maintain neutrality in dealing with the Indian side and encourage the government of India to become a facilitator in bringing the various political and warring sides in Afghanistan for dialog which includes the delegations from NRF, IRoAF, and off course from Taliban, this will create the environment of trust and positive in the region and would send the right message across about the Taliban’s sincerity towards establishing the political stability and security not only in Afghanistan but in the region.
  • With India ready to offer humanitarian aid in large volumes and in continuity for the assistance of the people of Afghanistan, the Taliban led government must engage aggressively with Pakistan to open its borders with India for allowing transit of the trucks loaded with aided cargos of wheat, medicines and other necessities meant for Afghanistan. The other alternative is to make secure India’s supplies through Iran by using the Chabahar port. This will make the diplomatic process smoother and strengthen further for establishing a long-term relationship between the two.
  • The government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan must make diplomatic engagements by distancing itself from the Kashmir issue which Pakistan hopes to drag the Taliban into. By distancing itself from the issue altogether the Taliban would send positive signals to the Indian government which may in return ease the tensions and concerns of India; Therefore, can open up new pathways for relationship buildup in areas like trade, commerce, tourism, humanitarian assistance, education, healthcare, etc…
  • Being the world’s largest democracy and largest aid provider to Afghanistan in the region, having relations with India would help the Taliban to gain access to the US-led donor community and soft loans more easily. It will make the path easier for the recognition of its government globally by engaging with a neutral but largest networked country.
  • The Taliban government should give prioritize its policies in facilitating its relationship buildup process with India as it will give more acceptance among its own people who trust India more than any other country and who want to get rid of any future interference from Pakistan in its internal matters. This will give an edge to the Taliban and create a balance in its policy-making process.
  • Taliban instead of asking the Indian government for scholarships to allow Afghan students to travel all the way to India can work with the Indian government to establish infrastructure within Afghanistan which can provide easy access to higher education from Indian institutions and universities through digital means.

Written by Hon’ Executive Board Member of AISSC – Syed Shah Fahad Hussain

AISSC reserves all rights for reprinting & republishing

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