Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

India must leverage its unique strengths in remaining engaged with Kabul

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Way forward for India on Afghanistan issue

Context

In the chaos that has followed the Taliban takeover of Kabul on August 15, India has been relatively silent.

India’s role in Afghanistan’s development

  • India’s role spanned three areas in Afghanistan:
  • In terms of infrastructure building and development assistance, encompassing all 34 provinces of the country.
  • In terms of building democracy, helping script the Constitution and hold elections.
  • In terms of educational investment, allowing thousands of young Afghans to study, be trained as professionals and soldiers, and become skilled in India.
  • India was the first country that Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership with.
  • India was the only country that undertook perilous but ambitious projects such Parliament, the Zaranj-Delaram Highway, and the Chabahar port project in Iran for transit trade.
  • India was by far the one country that polled consistently highly among countries that Afghan people trusted. 
  • What should India do now? India should not choose to simply walk away from such capital, regardless of the developments in Afghanistan, domestic political considerations in India and geopolitical sensitivities.

The marginalisation of India’s role in negotiations over Afghanistan

  • No other power from the west to the east has considered India’s interests while charting its course on Afghanistan.
  • India has found itself cut out of several quadrilateral arrangements: the main negotiations held by the “Troika plus” of the United States-Russia-China-Pakistan that pushed for a more “inclusive government” including the Taliban.
  • The alternative grouping of Russia-Iran-China-Pakistan that formed a “regional arc” that has today seen them retain their embassies in Kabul.
  • Neither India’s traditional strategic and defence partner, Russia, nor its fastest growing global strategic partner, the United States, thought it important to include India.
  • It is time to accept that India is in need of a new diplomatic strategy.

Way forward for India

1) Leveraging its position at the UN

  •  India needs to begin by rallying the United Nations, to exert its considerable influence in its own interest, and that of the Afghan “republic”, which is an idea that cannot be just abandoned.
  • Next, India must take a leading role in the debate over who will be nominated to the Afghan seat at the UN depending on the new regime in Afghanistan committing to international norms on human rights, women’s rights, minority rights and others.
  • As Chairman of the Taliban Sanctions Committee (or the 1988 Sanctions Committee), India must use its muscle to ensure terrorists such as Sirajuddin Haqqani must not be given any exemptions: on travel, recourse to funds or arms.

2) India’s engagement with Afghanistan

  • The question of whether India should convert its back-channel talks with the Taliban and with Pakistan in the past few months into something more substantive remains to be debated.
  • This becomes more important as India now faces a “threat umbrella” to its north, including Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism, Afghanistan’s new regime and China’s aggression at the Line of Actual Control.
  • A more broad-based and consultative process of engaging all political parties would be required.
  • While not directly dealing with the Taliban, India must ensure stronger communication with those who are dealing directly, including leaders such as former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, to ensure its interests.
  • As a part of its engagement, India must consider whether to revive its assistance to the resistance, which at present includes Ahmad Shah Massoud Jr., Amrullah Saleh, Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammad Noor.

3) Engagement with the Afghan people

  • The Government must embrace its greatest strength in Afghanistan — its relations with the Afghan people — and open its doors to those who wish to come here.
  • In particular, India must continue to facilitate medical visas for Afghan patients and extend the education visas for students who are already admitted to Indian colleges.

Conclusion

It is India’s soft power, strategic autonomy or non-alignment principles and selfless assistance to those in need, particularly in its neighbourhood, that has been the strongest chords to its unique voice in the world. The moment to make that voice heard on Afghanistan is now.

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