Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Taliban and new realpolitik


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Enduring features of international politics


As the last American soldiers fly out of Kabul airport and the world adapts to the return of the Taliban, three uncomfortable but enduring features of international politics have come into sharp focus.

1) The normalisation of the Taliban by the International community

  • That victories on the battlefield have political consequences is one of the fundamental features of international politics.
  • There is no reason for India to be surprised at the rapid normalisation of the Taliban by the international community.
  • Whether it likes the new and victorious sovereign or not, a government has the obligation to secure its national interests — ranging from the protection of its citizens and property to maintaining the regional balance of power.
  • India is not immune to this essential principle of international relations and will find ways to protect its stakes in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

2) Future U.S. relations with the Taliban

  • The second enduring feature of world politics — that there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.
  • Convergence of interests: The US would want to explore if the Taliban can help secure long-term American interests in preventing a regrouping of international terror outfits like the al Qaeda and ISIS in Afghanistan.
  • The Taliban on the other hand would want American and Western support in rebuilding Afghanistan.
  • It is by no means clear if such a deal can be clinched, given the big risks it presents to both sides.
  • The US engagement with the Taliban to counter the ISIS-K has been met with derision across the world.
  • Critics say all these groups are part of the same school of terror, driven by similar religious zeal and nurtured in Pakistan’s sanctuaries.

3) Exploit the differences between adversaries: Way forward for India

  • The third feature of international politics is that differences even among the closest of friends are natural and always offer openings to adversaries.
  • For India, the main interest is in preventing Afghan soil from being used by anti-India terror groups.
  • At least a section of the Taliban is eager to continue political and commercial engagement with India.
  • This is part of a natural quest for a diversified set of international partnerships.
  • India would be right to wait patiently on the Taliban’s ability to deliver on these promises and stand up against the Pakistan army’s pressures to keep India out.
  • Exploit the contradictions: India should not rule out contradictions between Pakistan and the terror groups it has nurtured as well as among various jihadi organisations.
  • Despite its powerful appeal, religious ideology has failed to build durable political coalitions within and across nations.


Given this history, it is unwise for Delhi to paint the external challenges arising from the Afghan tumult as a single coherent force. The Panchatantra has a more sensible strategy to offer — try and divide your potential adversaries and strengthen your internal unity.

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