Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Regional powers and the Afghanistan question


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SCO members

Mains level : Paper 2- Afghanistan after the US withdrawal


A regional conclave of foreign ministers taking place in Dushanbe this week under the banner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) should give us a sense of the unfolding regional dynamic on Afghanistan.

SCO addressing challenges in Afghanistan

  • Geography, membership and capabilities make the SCO an important forum to address the post-American challenges in Afghanistan.
  • The SCO was launched 20 years ago by China and Russia to promote inner Asia stability. 
  • The current members of the SCO are China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and India.
  • The SCO has four observer states — Iran, Afghanistan, Mongolia and Belarus.
  • The idea of a regional solution to Afghanistan has always had much political appeal.
  • But divergent regional strategic perspectives limit the prospects for a sustainable consensus on Afghanistan.

Implications of the US exit for the region

  • The quiet satisfaction in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and Rawalpindi at the US’s exit from Afghanistan, however, is tinged by worries about the long-term implications of Washington’s retreat
  • Regional players have to cope with the consequences of the US withdrawal and the resurgence of the Taliban.
  • Neither Moscow nor Beijing would want to see Afghanistan becoming the hub of international terror again under the Taliban.
  • For China, potential Taliban support to the Xinjiang separatist groups is a major concern.
  • Iran can’t ignore the Sunni extremism of the Taliban and its oppressive record in dealing with the Shia, and Persian-speaking minorities.
  • Pakistan worries about the danger of the conflict spilling over to the east of the Durand Line, and hostile groups gaining sanctuaries in Afghanistan.

Three factors that drive India’s Afghan policy

  • The US exit means a new constraint on Delhi’s ability to operate inside Afghanistan.
  • There is also the danger that Afghanistan under the Taliban could also begin to nurture anti-India terror groups.
  • If India remains active but patient, many opportunities could open up in the new Afghan phase.
  • Three structural conditions will continue to shape India’s Afghan policy.
  • One is India’s lack of direct physical access to Afghanistan.
  • This underlines the importance of India having effective regional partners.
  • Second, it remains to be seen if Pakistan’s partnership with China and the extension of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor into Afghanistan can address Pakistan’s inability to construct a stable and legitimate order in Afghanistan.
  • Third, the contradiction between the interests of Afghanistan and Pakistan is an enduring one.
  • While many in Pakistan would like to turn Afghanistan into a protectorate, Afghans deeply value their independence.
  • All Afghan sovereigns, including the Taliban, will inevitably look for partners to balance Pakistan.

Way forward for India

  • India must actively contribute to the SCO deliberations on Afghanistan, but must temper its hopes for a collective regional solution.
  • At the same time, Delhi should focus on intensifying its engagement with various Afghan groups, including the Taliban, and finding effective regional partners to secure its interests in a changing Afghanistan.


India should pursue the regional solution to Afghanistan challenge after the US exit while increasing the engagement with the various players in Afghanistan including the Taliban.

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