Indian Diplomacy in Modern Afghanistan: Way Forward


India never accepted the Taliban as a potent political force. New Delhi should start engagement at any level and it is totally against its policy and objectives to be linked with such a group who believes in utter public violence and contrast to democratic values as well as norms. In the context, decades of violence and insurgency waged by the Taliban against a democratic and inclusive government had convinced India that their only source of coming to power is military/ coercive, not liked by any country, but those who are indirectly part and parcel of the outfit. From a number of countries who extended massive support and aid from the beginning are China, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, although none of these accept openly that they extend help to the Taliban. Despite foreign assistance in the first regime, it got diplomatic support from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, while most other nations, including the United Nations, recognised the government of Islamic State of Afghanistan. After the fall of the Taliban Government at the end of 2001, the composition of its supporters also changed and during the period from 2005 to 2015 a handsome amount of help came from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China and Qatar as well as from private donors from Saudi Arabia. Even in the second regime of Taliban beginning in August 2021, there was not much change of content and forms. People of the world witnessed their atrocities in the course of fighting the war as well as afterwards. The people of Afghanistan are bound to face and lead a life, full of restrictions and limitations.

Earlier Indian policy

In the 1990s and thereafter, India recognised the Afghan Government headed by President Mohammad Najibullah and forces of Northern Alliance to contain the rise and growth of Taliban in the region mainly because they have/ had close relations and ties with terror groups operating in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir and in several places in the country. In an important development in December 1999, Indian Airlines Flight 814 was hijacked and flown to Kandahar while it was en route from Kathmandu to Delhi. In Kandahar, the Taliban stationed their militias near the plane to protect it from Indian Special Forces, in addition to stalling negotiations between hijackers and India for several days. Days later, the New York Times, in a report, disclosed that there were credible links between the hijackers and the Taliban. This attitude of Taliban towards India prompted New Delhi to increase its efforts to help Massoud by providing him a war depot in Tajikistan and a wide range of high-altitude warfare equipment, helicopter technicians, medical services, and tactical advice which totalled US$ 70 million to check/ control the power and influence of the Taliban. As a result of the huge help and frequent construction in different fields, India, by 2001, became the largest regional donor of Afghanistan and from there onwards, a continued fear of terror attacks hanged on India as also revealed by Pakistan in the wake of the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup that a terror attempt to disrupt the play had been foiled, while in another incident a terror activist had been caught in Sri Lanka planning to target cricketers in Colombo. However, in 2012, the Taliban expressed its desire to have cordial relations with India and praised India for resisting US calls for more military requirements in Afghanistan.

Comeback of Taliban in 2021

The Taliban re-emerged and became strong enough to give a defeating fight to the US-led Western Army as well as the forces of the Afghanistan Government and according to a report published in the USA, as of July 2016, about 20 per cent of Afghanistan’s territory was already under the control of the Taliban. Gradually, the Taliban’s insurgency and their capture of Afghan territory became frequent and day-by-day they were proving stronger in comparison to the opposite number and meanwhile, Donald Trump became the new President of America who not only realised the futility of war in Afghanistan, but also visualised the real role of Pakistan in the American war of terror in the region. Earlier, Barack Obama, in 2010 favoured diplomatic negotiation with Taliban to end the problem and save further devastation of human beings and material assets, while among the terror groups there was a moderate group headed by Abdul Ghani Baradar, who wanted to negotiate a deal with both the US Government as well as the Afghan Government. Ultimately, a major breakthrough came in the history of the country when the United States and Taliban signed an agreement in Doha, Qatar, on 29 February 2020 in which the US agreed to withdraw from Afghanistan and the Taliban committed to prevent al-Qaeda’s violence in the Taliban-held territory and have peace talks with the Afghan Government. However, the whole exercise bore no fruit and in the post- agreement phase, the Taliban intensified its insurgency and began capturing Afghan territories one-by-one-by force, leading to conquer the entire or every major city of the country by mid-August 2021, which paved the way for installation of a second Taliban Government in Afghanistan.

Indian policy and Taliban of 2021

Earlier alike, the Taliban established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in August 2021 and implemented several laws contrary to present-day politics and made several modifications in educational policy, Islamic rules, and the ideology of the state was described as a combination of an ‘innovative’ form of Sharia Islamic laws based on Deobandi fundamentalism and militant Islamism as well as socio-cultural ethos of Pashtun called Pashtunwali. As there is no basic change in Taliban’s nature and content, India still, is hesitant in exploring the prospect of relations with the present Taliban Government of Afghanistan, although, it wished and has a legitimate interest in the stability of Kabul. After the formation of the Taliban Government, New Delhi hosted the Third Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan at the level of National Security Advisers (NSAs) on 10 September 2021. At the end of the dialogue, a Delhi Declaration was issued which condemned the terror attacks made recently and laid emphasis on the need for an open and truly inclusive government to ensure that Afghanistan would never become a safe haven for global terrorism. The Delhi Declaration was hailed by the Taliban, although it was not invited and, in a statement, said it would welcome the re-opening of the Embassy by India. Thus, at this juncture, it is difficult to say something concrete about the prospect and shape of India-Afghanistan relations despite New Delhi’s offering and supplying humanitarian aid as well as help in more than one area.

About the author:

Dr. Rajkumar Singh is presently Professor and Head, Department of Political Science and Dean of Social Sciences at B.N. Mandal University, Madhepura (Bihar), India. He has published 20 books in addition to 900 articles in national and international journals and daily newspapers in 25 foreign countries.

By Rajkumar Singh