From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar
Mains level : Paper 2- Engaging the Taliban
With over a third of Afghanistan’s more than 400 districts under Taliban control, the talk-to-the-Taliban option is indeed the best of the many less than perfect options available to India.
India need a reset in its Afghanistan policy
- India has ‘temporarily’ closed its consulate in Kandahar.
- This follows the decision to suspend operations in the Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Herat.
- India’s decision to partially “withdraw” from Afghanistan shows that betting only on the government in Kabul was a big mistake,
- It also shows that India realises the threat the Taliban poses to Indian assets and presence in Afghanistan.
- To safeguard its civilian assets there as well as to stay relevant in the unfolding ‘great game’ in and around Afghanistan, India must fundamentally reset its Afghanistan policy.
- India must, in its own national interest, begin ‘open talks’ with the Taliban before it is too late.
- Open dialogue with the Taliban should no longer be a taboo; it is a strategic necessity.
Reason for avoiding open talks with Taliban
- There are at least five possible reasons why India appears to want to keep the Taliban engagement slow and behind closed doors.
- First, if India chooses to engage the Taliban directly, it could make Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, to look towards China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) for national security and personal political survival.
- Second, India is also faced with the dilemma of who to talk to within the Taliban given that it is hardly a monolith.
- Third, given the global opprobrium that Taliban faced in its earlier avatar and the lack of evidence about whether the outfit is a changed lot today, New Delhi might not want to court the Taliban so soon.
- Fourth, there is little clarity about what the Taliban’s real intentions are going forward and what they would do after ascending to power in Kabul.
- Fifth, it would not be totally unreasonable to consider the possibility of Pakistan acting out against India in Kashmir if India were to establish deeper links with the Taliban.
Reasons India should engage with the Taliban openly
- Wide international recognition: Whether we like it or not, the Taliban, is going to be part of the political scheme of things in Afghanistan, and unlike in 1996, a large number of players in the international community are going to recognise/negotiate/do business with the Taliban.
- Countering Pakistan: The Taliban today is looking for regional and global partners for recognition and legitimacy especially in the neighbourhood.
- So the less proactive the Indian engagement with the Taliban, the stronger Pakistan-Taliban relations would become.
- A worldly-wise and internationally-exposed Taliban 2.0 would develop its own agency and sovereign claims including perhaps calling into question the legitimacy of the Durand Line separating Pakistan and Afghanistan, something Pakistan was always concerned about. T
- The Taliban would want to hedge their bets on how far to listen to Pakistan.
- That is precisely when New Delhi should engage the Taliban.
- Security of civilian assets: India needs to court all parties in Afghanistan, including the Taliban if it wants to ensure its security of its civilian assets there.
- It makes neither strategic nor economic sense to withdraw from Afghanistan after spending over $3 billion, something the Government seems to be prepared to do
- Being a part of Afghanistan’s future course: If India is not proactive in Afghanistan at least now, late as it is, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and China will emerge as the shapers of Afghanistan’s political and geopolitical destiny, which for sure will be detrimental to Indian interests there.
- Continental grand strategy: Backchannel talks with Pakistan and a consequent ceasefire on the Line of Control, political dialogue with the mainstream Kashmiri leadership, secret parleys with Taliban all indicate that India is opening up its congested north-western frontier.
- Except for the strategic foray into the Indo-Pacific, India today is strategically boxed in the region and it must break out of it. Afghanistan could provide, if not immediately, India with such a way out.
Consider the question ” India’s Afghan policy is at a major crossroads; to safeguard its civilian assets there as well as to stay relevant in the unfolding ‘great game’ in and around Afghanistan, New Delhi must fundamentally reset its Afghanistan policy. Comment.”
In the end, India’s engagement with the Taliban may or may not achieve much, but non-engagement will definitely hurt Indian interests.
Back2Basics: Durand Line
- Durand Line, boundary established in the Hindu Kush in 1893 running through the tribal lands between Afghanistan and British India, marking their respective spheres of influence.
- In modern times it has marked the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
- The acceptance of this line—which was named for Sir Mortimer Durand, who induced ʿAbdor Raḥmān Khān, amir of Afghanistan, to agree to a boundary—may be said to have settled the Indo-Afghan frontier problem for the rest of the British period.