Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

India on the margins of Afghanistan diplomacy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Countries bordering Afghanistan.

Mains level: Paper 2- Peace process in Afghanistan and implications for India.

From economic, strategic to security, India has many interests in “future” Peaceful and Developed Afghanistan. But India was sidelined from the recently organised meeting on Afghanistan. This article analyses what went wrong in India’s foreign and security policy. Two factors are emphasised in the article- India’s reluctance to talk with the Taliban and the US’s desperation to get out of Afghanistan.

India’s Rigid policy toward Afghanistan

  • Recent developments in Afghanistan demand a flexible approach.
  • But India’s foreign and security planners have lacked flexibility in their approach.
  • Right approach should have included seeking to establish open connections with all its political groups, including with those perceived to be in Pakistan’s pocket.
  • Instead, they continued to rigidly cling to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani even as his influence diminished with each passing month.

India’s support to Mr Ghani

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Mr Ghani for winning the elections, in December 2019 when the Afghanistan election commission had only announced the preliminary results.
  • And most countries had maintained a discreet silence then.
  • When the final result came it was rejected by Mr Ghani’s main rival, Abdullah Abdullah.
  • The international community ultimately supported Mr Ghani.
  • But qualified it with an insistence that he enters into a real power-sharing agreement with Mr Abdullah.

India sidelined from meeting on Afghanistan

  • The United Nations Secretariat organised a meeting on Afghanistan where it invited the 6 current physical neighbours of Afghanistan—China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
  • In addition, invitations were extended to the United States, Russia and the Ghani government.
  • Obviously, Mr Ghani did not condition his participation on India’s inclusion.
  • The constructive role New Delhi has played in Afghanistan’s reconstruction since the Taliban were ousted from the country in 2001-2002 after 9/11 was neglected.

US going along with India’s absence

  • The role and action of the US proved that the U.S. acts to promote its interests in Afghanistan.
  •  It obviously expects that if in doing so Indian interests are exposed, India will protect them as best as it can.
  • U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation said that ‘India should talk directly to Taliban, discuss terror concerns directly’.
  • He noted that despite India’s contributions to Afghanistan’s economic development — and these are undeniably significant covering large parts of the country, and are popular — as well as its long history of contacts with that country, it does not have a place in international diplomacy on Afghanistan.
  • He also said that when it comes to international efforts, India yet does not have a role that it could.
  • He patronisingly added that the U.S. wants India to have a more active role in the peace process.

So, why India’s presence was not considered vital?

  • U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation thinks that by avoiding open contacts with the Taliban, India has reduced its role in international diplomatic efforts.
  • That the U.S. is currently crucially dependent on Pakistan for the successful implementation of its Taliban deal.
  • It is reminiscent of the time in the 1990s when, at Pakistan’s insistence, India was considered a problem and kept out of crucial global forums on Afghanistan.

Way forward

  • In such a situation, it is essential for India to maintain its strong links with the Afghan government, built and support its traditional Afghan allies.
  • But India should also established open lines of communication with the Taliban.
  • This is important because they are informally conveying that India should not consider them as Pakistan’s puppets and also because they have gained international recognition.
  • Contacts and discussions do not mean acceptance of their ways but its still a step forward.
  • India should act keeping in mind that there are no countries on the horizon which are really opposed to the Taliban acquiring a major place in the Afghanistan’s formal power structures.

In 2013, the UPSC asked a question related to developments in Afghanistan against the backdrop of the proposed withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force. Similarly, a question based on the latest development can be asked, for ex-“The return of Taliban after the US-Taliban deal in Afghanistan is fraught with major security implications for the countries in the region. Examine in the light of the fact that India is faced with a plethora of challenges and needs to safeguard its own strategic interests.”


India needs to take corrective diplomatic action even at this late stage, and even in the time of COVID-19. It must begin openly talking to the Taliban and with all political groups in the country. It must realise that its Afghan policy needs changes.

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