Authors: Avinav Singh Khatri and Vedant Choudhary
An important, albeit now suppressed, international security concern is the exodus of the US from Afghanistan and, consequently Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan. The Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in 2021 after fighting a twenty-year insurgency. Further, the Biden administration’s abrupt declaration ordering a pull-out from Afghanistan without furnishing a definitive political solution led to much instability in the nation. The chaos in Afghanistan has led to a large influx of migrants, escalated regional proxy warfare, and a significant deterioration in its foreign ties, posing regional security challenges.
Taliban’s reign in Afghanistan poses a catastrophic humanitarian crisis. Afghanistan is on the verge of a slow collapse. Moreover, it is only joint international action that can improve the living conditions in Afghanistan. The Afghan people are amid one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Given this, the United Nations has issued a 4.4-billion-dollar financial appeal for Afghanistan, making it the world’s largest-ever single-country humanitarian appeal, highlighting the scale of the situation.
This piece analyzes two crucial impacts of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. First, the impacts of the Taliban’s takeover over the Taliban, India, and regional power dynamics. Second, we study India’s Afghanistan policy and how it differed from its previous engagement with the Taliban in 1996-2001. Finally, we suggest how India can best handle the Afghanistan regime change.
Impact of Taliban’s Takeover of Afghanistan
The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan has repercussions for all neighboring states. As a result of the chaos in Afghanistan, there has been a tremendous influx of refugees, an intensification of regional proxy wars, a deterioration of their foreign relations, and regional security risks. India is Afghanistan. India has contributed to Afghanistan’s prosperity and stable governance as the country’s fifth-largest aid donor and most effective partner. Considering the takeover by the Taliban, it is evident that New Delhi is concerned.
Since August 2021, the unfolding of events in Afghanistan has prompted India to adopt a balanced and pragmatic stance toward the country. This has allowed India to participate in regional debates over Afghanistan, contrary to previous beliefs that India had lost all influence in Afghanistan after the Taliban took power. India has not indicated that it will recognize the Taliban government, citing national security concerns. Furthermore, New Delhi has readjusted its Afghanistan strategy by engaging in informal dialogue with the leadership, tackling security risks arising from Afghanistan, and conducting people-to-people engagements. Amidst connectivity limitations and lacking a fully operational embassy in Kabul, it supplied immediate humanitarian aid. Despite their ideological disagreements, India aims to expand its interactions with the Taliban in the near term by capitalizing on the Taliban’s developing disputes with Pakistan.
India has solidified its position as a significant development partner of Afghanistan and garnered the Afghans’ goodwill. It does not depict a tightly defined strategic aim with its investment in Afghanistan; instead, it seeks to contribute effectively to creating a growth-friendly climate for Afghans. This strategy centered on the people is a fundamental advantage India has over other regional states concerning Afghanistan. Moreover, due to its geographical proximity, economic strength, military capacity, and extensive diplomatic network, India is a vital and tangible component in the Taliban’s pursuit of internal and global legitimacy. To display greater autonomy, the Taliban have engaged in activities that undermine Pakistan’s aim to maintain unchallenged control over Afghanistan’s affairs. In reality, the Taliban have openly expressed their displeasure with Pakistan’s efforts to hinder their development and relations with India.
While in Taliban’s previous regime, India distanced itself from the outfit. However, the approach this time is significantly different; India is ready to engage with the Taliban. However, at the same time, India refuses to provide recognition to the Taliban in any manner. It is also to be noted that India is not concerned with the Taliban regime but with its ties with terror outfits and Pakistan.
India’s current approach, while serving the purpose, is walking on a knife edge in many ways. India cannot choose to engage with Afghanistan but also, at the same time, refuse to grant recognition to the Taliban regime. The same is bound to raise questions. Further, in the face of growing pressure to make its stand clear, India would be forced to grant recognition to the Taliban. In this way, New Delhi would be playing into the hands of the Taliban, and India would have to grant recognition to the Taliban, in its desired conditions, with India having very little bargaining power. Therefore, it would be better if New Delhi recognized the Taliban regime before such pressure mounted on it.
India’s different response from 1996-2001
There is a marked difference between India’s current approach to the regime (Taliban), currently when compared to 1996-2001, when the terror outfit took over Afghanistan for the first time. In brief, it can be explained in Sareen’s words, “Engage, do not Endorse.” Sareen argues that Modi’s approach to the Taliban differs from the Vajpayee policy (1996-2001) in as much that the former seeks to engage with Taliban, while the latter was wary of the same.
However, Sareen is also quick to point out that engagement by no means indicates that India accepts or endorses the Taliban regime.
The following are the reasons for India’s current approach.
First, India learned from the IC-814 hijacking incident (1999) the importance of having open and active communication channels. Flight IC-814, en route from Tribhuvan International Airport to Indira Gandhi International Airport, was hijacked, flown to several locations, and finally landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Kandahar fell within the regions controlled by the Taliban. In the hijacking, India had no option but to negotiate with the Taliban regime. The same placed India at a severe disadvantage. India, would not want to place itself in such a position again. For this, India must ensure that an active communication channel and diplomacy are open concerning Afghanistan.
Second, since 2001, India has invested significantly in the socio-economic development of Afghanistan. The same has led to very cordial relations between the two nations. The same can be understood from the many interactions between the leaders of the nations. Another decision by India that brought the Indian and Afghani populations to close was the declaration of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee International Cricket Stadium in Lucknow as the home ground of the Afghani Cricket team. The same was a necessary step, given that teams of other nations were wary of playing with Afghanistan on the home ground due to security concerns and inadequate facilities. Through such economic support by India, the Afghani populace continues to expect support from India in times of hardship.