Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

Kabul, Kashmir and the return of realpolitik

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Return of Taliban in Afghanistan and implications for India-Pakistan relations

Context

In a rather unfriendly neighbourhood, New Delhi’s attempts at forming a regional consensus to stabilise Afghanistan, albeit wise and timely, will only achieve limited success thanks to the China-Pakistan coalition and its interests at play in and over Afghanistan.

Role played by China and Pakistan in Afghanistan and its implications for India

  • China’s long-term vision for Afghanistan revolves around the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project of which Afghanistan has been a part since May 2016.
  • The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is also viewed as a key component within the larger Chinese BRI project and Afghanistan could eventually become part of CPEC if and when the Taliban regime stabilises itself in the country.
  • Role of Pakistan in keeping India away from Afghanistan: While Pakistan lobbies the international community to help prevent Afghanistan slide into further turmoil, it is determined to keep India as far away from Kabul as possible.
  • Pakistan has always been deeply suspicious of growing India-Afghanistan relations no matter who was/is in charge in Kabul.
  • Implications for India: It is likely that the more India gets close to the Taliban, the more the Pakistani side will increase the ‘attacks’ in Jammu and Kashmir.
  • By maintaining ties with the Taliban and convening the regional security meeting in New Delhi, India has indicated that this is an acceptable risk.
  • Regional Security Dialogue: The recently-held Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan was an important initiative to help Afghanistan stabilise, the reality is that the two countries that are key to stabilising Afghanistan — China and Pakistan — decided to stay away from it.
  • Scope for other powers: Russia or the Central Asian states have neither the ability nor the desire to pursue a role in Afghanistan autonomous from the larger Chinese or Pakistani designs there.

The dilemma facing the international community

  • Taliban and Pakistan refer to the U.S.-led coalition as ‘colonisers’ who just vacated the Afghan territory; and in the same breath, they seek assistance from those very ‘former colonisers’.
  • But perhaps what might bother the West the most is that if they stabilise the country, they would still be called former colonisers, and Pakistan and China will benefit out of it geopolitically, making it, in that sense, a thankless job for the West.
  • So the question before the western leaders is how to offer structured incentives to the Taliban, and when.

The dilemma facing India

  • To engage the Taliban or not: The first one was to decide whether to engage the Taliban or not.
  • The successive governments in Afghanistan, including the current Taliban regime, have sought relations with India which has upset Pakistan.
  • The Taliban want India to engage and help the country stabilise, but Pakistan resents that.
  • Catch-22 situation for India: If the Taliban regime is stabilised in Kabul without India’s assistance to the country, the more it is likely to do Pakistan’s bidding vis-à-vis India.
  • On the other hand, the more India helps the Taliban-led Afghanistan, the more Pakistan will up the ante in Kashmir.
  • This is a catch-22 situation that India finds itself in.
  • And yet, India has little choice but to engage the Taliban.

How Taliban victory led to change in Pakistan’s Kashmir policy

  • The earlier Pakistani willingness to be conciliatory towards India on Kashmir before and in the run-up to the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021 seems to have disappeared for now.
  • This is at least partly due to the Pakistani triumphalism about the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
  • Since then, violence data show that the backchannel understanding is withering away with violence in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) spiking along all three indicators albeit gradually.
  • Sentiments from across the border also indicate that the earlier Pakistani stand that it would accept the Indian decision to withdraw the special status to Kashmir in lieu of New Delhi restoring Statehood to Kashmir and allowing political activity in the State has now change.
  • It now demands that India fully reverts to the pre-August 5, 2019 position on Kashmir.

Way forward

  • No possibility of cooperation with China and Pak: Any possibility of India-Pakistan cooperation in Afghanistan would be very hard to achieve.
  • Beijing will play along; so will Iran and the Central Asian countries, for the most part.
  • Coordinate with other powers: For India, the options are to coordinate its Afghan policy with Moscow, Washington and the various western capitals while steadfastly engaging the Taliban.

Consider the question “Return of Taliban in Afghanistan and consequential geopolitical changes in the region are bound to have implications for India-Pakistan relation. Comment.” 

Conclusion

India’s advances to court the Taliban and attempts to evolve a regional consensus on Afghanistan might deteriorate India-Pakistan relations and pose challenges for India in Kashmir.

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