Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

India must bet on patience in Afghanistan


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Cities in Afghanistan

Mains level: Paper 2- Implications of Taliban control over Afghanistan


Notwithstanding the current triumphalism in Pakistan at “overthrowing” the US-backed order in Kabul and “pushing” India out of Afghanistan, India can afford to step back and signal that it can wait.

Uncertainties about the future

Two interconnected political negotiations unfolding are likely to determine Afghanistan’s immediate future.

1) Setting up political order

  • One is focused on building a new political order within Afghanistan.
  • More than a week after President Ghani fled Kabul, there is no government, let alone an inclusive and internationally acceptable one, in sight.
  • Before Pakistan can get the Taliban to share power with other groups, it has to facilitate an acceptable accommodation between different factions of the Taliban.
  • Then there is the problem of including the non-Taliban formations in the new government.

2) Gaining international recognition

  • The international community has set some broad conditions for the recognition of the Taliban-led government.
  • Besides an inclusive government at home, the world wants to see respect for human rights, especially women’s rights, ending support for international terrorism, and stopping opium production.
  • Pakistan will hope to get some of its traditional friends like China and Turkey or new partners like Russia to break the current international consensus.
  • Pakistan and the Taliban, however, know Chinese and Russian support is welcome but not enough.
  • They need an understanding of the US and its allies to gain political legitimacy as well as sustained international economic assistance.
  • The West, too, needs the Taliban to facilitate the evacuation of its citizens from Kabul and, sooner rather than later, deliver humanitarian assistance.

How India differs from Pakistan in its approach towards Afghanistan?

  • India has never been in strategic competition with Pakistan in Afghanistan. India’s lack of direct geographic access to Afghanistan has ensured that.
  • Both their strategies have roots in the 19th-century policies of the Raj.
  • Forward policy: The Pakistan Army’s quest for strategic depth in Afghanistan harks back to the “forward policy” school that sought to actively control the territories beyond the Indus.
  • The forward policy seeks political dominance over Afghanistan in the name of a “friendly government” in Kabul.
  • Masterly inactivity: India, in contrast, stayed with a rival school in the Raj that called for “masterly inactivity” — a prudent approach to the badlands beyond the Indus.
  • India’s strategy seeks to strengthen Kabul’s autonomy vis-à-vis Rawalpindi and facilitate Afghanistan’s economic modernisation.
  • The Afghan values that India supports — nationalism, sovereignty, and autonomy — will endure in Kabul, irrespective of the nature of the regime.

Consider the question “What are the implications of the return of Taliban in Afghanistan for India? What should be India’s approach in dealing with the Taliban controlled Afghanistan?” 


Strategic patience coupled with political empathy for Afghan people, and an active engagement will continue to keep India relevant in Kabul’s internal and external evolution.

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