The Afghan Crisis and its Implications for India

Through this paper I would try to analyse the implication of the Taliban takeover on the relations between India and Afghanistan and its long-term implications on the militant takeover on the investments made by India in Afghanistan.

President Joe Biden declared in April 2021 that US troops will depart Afghanistan by September 2021. Despite ongoing peace discussions with the Afghan government, the Taliban increased attacks on Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) camps and outposts, and began swiftly seizing additional land. The US military expedited the pace of troop departure in May 2021. (, 2021)The US has completed about 95% of its departure by the end of July 2021, leaving only 650 troops to guard the US embassy in Kabul.

The Taliban maintained their onslaught in the summer of 2021, threatening government-controlled metropolitan areas and capturing many border crossings. The Taliban launched direct attacks on various cities in early August, including Kandahar in the south and Herat in the west. The Taliban took control of the capital of southern Nimruz Province on August 6, 2021 (2021), making it the first provincial capital to fall. Following it, provincial capitals began to fall one by one. Within days, the Taliban had taken control of over ten additional cities, including Mazar-i-Sharif in the north and Jalalabad in the east, leaving Kabul as the only major city under government control. Taliban forces stormed the Afghan capital on August 15, 2021, forcing Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to flee the nation and the Afghan government to collapse. The Taliban stated later that day that they had invaded the presidential palace, taken control of the city, and were setting up checkpoints to ensure security. (Karimi, 2021) The summer offensive marked the end of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan which was based in Kabul, and marked the end of the nearly 20-year-old Afghan War, which began following the US invasion of the country.

On August 15, President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, and the Taliban captured Kabul, the Afghan capital, without resistance; as a result, the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan fell, resulting in the de facto takeover of the country and the reinstatement of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Many nations, including the United States and its allies, Russia, and others, were caught off guard by the Taliban’s takeover. The Taliban’s triumph has far-reaching local and international consequences for human rights and the propagation of terrorism. Following the February 2020 US–Taliban agreement, the offensive included a continuation of the bottom-up succession of negotiated or paid Taliban surrenders from the village level upwards. Prior to May 2021, factors included the Taliban’s effective use of online social media, its strategic choice of attacking northern provinces, and the Taliban’s freedom of movement on major Afghan highways, ( U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2009) which came as a result of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) following the US-recommended strategy of sacrificing rural areas in favour of defending key urban centres. The decline in US support between February 2020 and April 2021, when the ANSF had been taught to rely on technical, proprietary software, and logistics support, particularly aerial support, that the ANSF had been trained to rely on, was one of the factors in the ANSF’s fall to the Taliban. Errors in US coalition training of the ANSF, as well as Afghan police extorting villagers and supporting themselves by inventing ghost soldiers and months of unpaid ANSF wages following the April 2021 handover in ANSF salary management to Afghan military administration, were all cited as factors. The ANSF’s failure was also attributed to cronyism in military appointments and President Ashraf Ghani’s inability to build a strong national consensus and persuade local warlords. (Baruah, 2021) Afghans are also more loyal to their traditional ethnic, tribal, and even family connections than to Kabul’s central authority, which the provincial Taliban leader successfully used to negotiate the surrender of numerous forces. The Taliban victory in Afghanistan sparked anxiety in the United States about American foreign policy on a magnitude not seen since the fall of Saigon in Vietnam.

Stand of Indian Government on the takeover

As a contiguous neighbour and strategic partner, India has a steadfast policy to support sovereign, democratic and peaceful Afghanistan, where the interest of all sections of Afghan society including women, children and minorities are protected. India supports all peace initiatives leading towards a lasting political settlement through an inclusive Afghan led, Afghan owned and Afghan controlled process which would lead to peace and stability in the region. External Affairs Minister participated in the inaugural session of the intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha held in September 2020. The Government is in touch with various stakeholders within and outside Afghanistan, including regional and international partners. (MEA, 2021)

As per Ministry of External Affairs since there is no clarity on who will be forming a government in Afghanistan India too like the other countries will be monitoring the situation on the ground and then only begin official talks. (MEA, 2021)

As far as evacuation of minorities is confirmed the Indian government has already evacuated Sikhs and Hindu minorities with the primary focus on Indian nationals. India has evacuated over 800 people from Afghanistan since August 15, 2021. (MEA, 2021)

Investments made by India in Afghanistan

When the Islamic fundamentalist organisation governed Afghanistan from 1996 and 2001, India backed the anti-Taliban insurgency. After the first Taliban administration fell apart in 2001, New Delhi saw an opportunity to expand its influence in the nation. The main aim of these investments was to gain the trust of the Afghan population, as per data from UNHCR as of July 2021, 15,467 Afghan nationals have applied for asylum in UNHCR India. While India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention or the 1967 Protocol on refugees India has provided Long Term Visas (LTV) to refugees from Afghanistan on the basis of goodwill since 1979 while permanent citizenship is off the cards.  In the light of the Taliban takeover a special e emergency X-misc visa as also been started by the Indian government and as per this special visa 4,557 people have been granted asylum.

The 2011 India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement recommitted Indian assistance to help Afghanistan rebuild its infrastructure and institutions, as well as provide education and technical assistance for capacity-building in a variety of areas, encourage investment in Afghanistan, and provide duty-free access to the Indian market. The value of bilateral commerce has risen to $1 billion. (News18, 2021)

India has already spent 20 years and 3 billion USD in developing various projects in Afghanistan. Some of these are:

1.SALMA DAM: Fighting has already erupted near the 42MW Salma Dam in Herat province, which is one of India’s high-profile projects. The Afghan-India Friendship Dam is a hydroelectric and irrigation project that was finished despite all obstacles and opened in 2016. The Taliban have launched strikes in adjacent areas in recent weeks, killing a number of security officers. The Taliban say that they now have control of the area around the dam. (JAVAID, 2021)

2.ZARANJ-DELARAM Motorway: The Border Roads Organisation’s 218-kilometer Zaranj-Delaram highway was another high-profile project. Zaranj is near to the Iranian border in Afghanistan. The $150 million highway follows the Khash Rud River to Delaram, northeast of Zaranj, where it joins a ring road that connects Kandahar in the south, Ghazni and Kabul in the east, Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, and Herat in the west. The highway is strategically important to New Delhi since it gives an alternate path into landlocked Afghanistan via Iran’s Chabahar port, which Pakistan denies India overland access for commerce with Afghanistan. The road was built with the help of about 300 Indian engineers and labourers, who worked alongside Afghans. During the construction, 11 Indians and 129 Afghans died, according to a Ministry of External Affairs report. Six of the Indians were killed in terrorist acts, while the other five were died in car accidents. India has also constructed a number of minor highways. (Kaul, 2009)

3.India spent $90 million to construct the Afghan Parliament in Kabul. (Hindustan Times, 2015) The structure was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015. Modi presented the structure as India’s gift to Afghanistan’s democracy. Former Prime Minister AB Vajpayee has a block in the structure named after him. (News18, 2021)

4.STOR PALACE: In 2016, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Modi reopened the rebuilt Stor Palace in Kabul, which was originally erected in the late 1800s and served as the site of the 1919 Rawalpindi Agreement, which led to Afghanistan’s independence. Until 1965, the building hosted the Afghan foreign minister’s and ministry’s offices. A tripartite agreement for its restoration was reached in 2009 by India, Afghanistan, and the Aga Khan Development Network. Between 2013 and 2016, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture finished the project. (Roche, 2016)

5.POWER INFRASTRUCTURE: Other Indian projects in Afghanistan include the rehabilitation of power infrastructure, such as the 220kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province, to Kabul, to increase energy supplies. Telecommunications infrastructure was also repaired in various areas by Indian contractors and personnel. (Baruah, 2021)

6.HEALTH INFRASTRUCTURE: India has rebuilt a children’s hospital in Kabul that it helped establish in 1972 and renamed the Indira Gandhi Institute for Child Health in 1985 after the conflict. Free consultation camps have been hosted by ‘Indian Medical Missions’ in a number of locations. The Jaipur Foot has been fitted to thousands of people who have lost limbs after walking on explosives left behind from the war. Badakhshan, Balkh, Kandahar, Khost, Kunar, Nangarhar, Nimruz, Nooristan, Paktia, and Paktika are among the border provinces where India has developed clinics. (Firstpost, 2021)

7.INDIA gave 400 buses and 200 minibuses for urban transit, 105 utility vehicles for municipalities, 285 military vehicles for the Afghan National Army, and 10 ambulances for public hospitals in five cities, according to the MEA. When Ariana, the Afghan national airline, was resuming operations, it received three Air India aircraft.

8.OTHER PROJECTS: India has provided school tables and benches, as well as solar panels in rural communities and the Sulabh toilet blocks in Kabul. With vocational training institutions, grants for Afghan students, mentorship programmes in the civil service, and training for physicians and others, New Delhi has also contributed to capacity building.

9.In November, it was revealed at the Geneva Conference that India and Afghanistan had reached an agreement for the construction of the Shatoot Dam in Kabul area, which would offer clean drinking water to 2 million people. It was also announced the initiation of more than a hundred $80 million community development initiatives.

10.India committed $1 million last year for another Aga Khan historical project, the repair of the Bala Hissar Fort, which dates back to the 6th century and is located south of Kabul. Bala Hissar grew to be a prominent Mughal fort, with sections of it restored by Jahangir and Shah Jahan using it as a home.  

Implications of the takeover on India

The deal brokered by between the Taliban and the United States is seen as a one-sided deal in India. The disengagement deal that has left Afghanistan at the mercy of both the Taliban and Pakistan. The fact that US lawmakers briefed on the pact’s more sensitive components have questioned if the Trump administration has effectively turned Afghanistan over to the Taliban have further added to Indian officials’ conviction that the arrangement is a surrender. This is the general consensus. Even some in India who have previously advocated talks with the Taliban are sceptical about the Doha agreement’s advantages. The deal is also seen as a repositioning of the stand by Indian officials.

Dealing directly with the Taliban is undoubtedly unpopular with Indian politicians and the general public, and with good cause. Following the hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft in 1999, this was the group who escorted terrorists into Pakistan. After all, the Taliban, backed by the Pakistani state, remained hostile to India during their reign of terror from 1996 to 2001. Similarly, due of the Taliban’s tight links to the ISI, Indian authorities saw little or no benefit in interacting directly with them. Furthermore, the Haqqani organisation, a prominent Taliban element, is adamantly anti-Indian. They have been doing the ISI’s bidding for a long time, aided by the Lashkar-e-Taiba. They are, without a question, Pakistan’s greatest chance of playing a big role in the future of an as-yet undefined Afghan state. With the Taliban still being dependent on Pakistan given their families still live there and the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI keeping close watch on Taliban and its leaders and by also providing them with intelligence reports and training dealing with the Taliban currently is difficult.

While 4 scenario lies in front of the Indian government:

  1. Ashraf Ghani and others are in some way able to broker a deal with Taliban due to external pressure or due to the promises made by Taliban in the Doha conference therefore bringing back political stability back in Afghanistan
  2. The second option would be to go much farther and provide military supplies to the ANDSF, including ammunition and air power, maybe through Iran. However, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen warned India with consequences if it did so in an interview with NDTV.
  3. After the talks held with Indian diplomat to Qatar Deepak Mittal and representative of Taliban Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanikzai.
  4. Finally, India might just wait and see till the conflict’s disarray exposes a victor, then consider its choices appropriately. This alternative appears to be the most practical, but it also excludes India from discussions on Afghanistan’s future at the “high table.” This was demonstrated this week when the Modi government accepted Qatar’s invitation to participate in “regional talks” with the Taliban in Doha, but the MEA delegation was left out of the opening session, which included the United States, China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and the United Kingdom, as well as the Troika-Plus talks of Russia, the United States, China, and Pakistan, and was instead included in the session with Germany, Norway, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Turkey.

After the address of Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar in UN it has been clear that India has 2 broad objectives in Afghanistan which are currently at stake. The first that the development work done by India in Afghanistan should be protected and second Taliban should therefore preserve the democratic constitutional framework and ensure the protection of rights of women, children and minorities. Also, India expects Taliban not to allow its land or be involved in any form of terrorism in all its form including cross border terrorism. On the Russian dialogue also attended by Indian delegation, India also offered humanitarian aid to Afghanistan beginning with 50,000 tonnes of wheat to be delivered via road. Also, with Taliban foreign ministry spokesperson Suhail Shaheen requesting India to complete the infrastructure projects in Afghanistan and guaranteeing them with protection and even going up to the extent by saying that the Kashmir issue is an internal matter of India and Taliban would not allow its territory to be used for terror related activity is the kind of assurance which is needed by India.

While the approach of India during the Doha negotiations can be criticised since the government has not held talks with Taliban and rather has avoided them and the various factions within Taliban. As perceived by many that with the withdrawal of troops by the United States the Taliban would once again become the part of formal governing in Afghanistan the approach of New Delhi to wait and analyse and furthermore shut down its embassy depriving itself from vital Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and with Pakistan and China moving in and trying to fill the void left by United States by recognising the Islamic Emirates the threat for India increases. Afghanistan is an essential node in New Delhi’s connectivity efforts to reach Central Asia, since the country was actively involved in the development of the Chabahar Port in Iran. Increased commerce between India and Afghanistan via Chabahar and the open-air fright corridor has occurred in recent years. As a result, the change of guard in Kabul may have an immediate impact on India’s commerce with the area.

Despite the Taliban’s victory, Afghanistan’s security situation remains uncertain, and the country might plunge into chaos. Pakistan has maintained close communication with the Taliban leadership. However, in comparison to the 1990s, the Taliban’s seizure of Kabul was relatively bloodless this time. The organisation is currently concentrating on gaining worldwide legitimacy for its administration. In this sense, the Taliban has repeatedly said that Afghanistan would not be utilised as a front in a future proxy war. In the past, however, discrepancies in the rebel group’s words and conduct have been highlighted. If the Taliban operates as a proxy for Pakistan and protects terrorist organisations, insecurity will endure in Afghanistan. In such a case, India and other regional players will be forced to intervene to bring the anarchy in Afghanistan under control. In addition, New Delhi will need to beef up security in Jammu and Kashmir.

In an ideal situation, India might continue to offer development aid provided the Taliban manage to administer Afghanistan on the basis of inclusion and compliance with international responsibilities. Over the years, India has built strong ties with the Afghan people as well as regional nations such as Iran, Uzbekistan, and Qatar, which will be critical in safeguarding India’s interests in Afghanistan. But the only strategy for now that India has is to wait and watch as to what happens in Afghanistan while Taliban cannot be trusted the government will have a difficult decision whether to go ahead in recognising the Taliban administration and resuming its diplomatic work or to continue with its long-term commitment with democracy.

Naman Anand
Naman Anand
Naman is an alumnus of Motilal Nehru College, University of Delhi. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Diplomacy, Law and Business from O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat.