Analysis: Delhi Is Supping With The Taliban In Our Interests

Analysis: Delhi Is Supping With The Taliban In Our Interests

The government is today doing brisk business with the Taliban, not too long after labelling the Taliban as terrorists and a Pakistani proxy — and even branding Afghanistan a pariah state after the Taliban seized power

SNM AbdiUpdated: Tuesday, February 20, 2024, 01:29 PM IST
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Representative Image | Shelly Torok/Pixabay

Relations between the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and Islamabad, which mentored and groomed the Islamist radicals, are rapidly deteriorating from bad to much worse mainly over Kabul’s support for Tehreek-Taliban Pakistan which is wreaking havoc. In contrast, India’s engagement with the Taliban is well calibrated and is progressing at an even pace, although just like other world capitals, New Delhi too doesn’t recognise the Taliban as their war and insurgency-ravaged country’s legitimate rulers since August 2021 when American occupation ended.

India’s current Afghan policy represents the triumph of its interests; strategic interests to be precise; over values like democracy, inclusive and representative governance and human rights — especially the rights of women, children and minorities. In this aspect, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is being as self-centred as successive American governments which prioritised United States’ economic and security interests over promoting freedom, democracy and the very values upon which the US was founded a few centuries ago. Some American traits are clearly rubbing off on us as we cosy up with the US.

India has excellent reasons to forge a good workable relationship with the Taliban. Whittling down Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan is an important and key objective, considering Islamabad’s unwavering hostility and enmity towards all things Indian. Another key goal is to utilise our on-the-ground presence in the country since mid-2022 — when we reopened our embassy in Kabul — to monitor terrorism threats emanating from Afghanistan, from groups like the Islamic State-Khorasan, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, which have a long and bloody track record of targeting India at every opportunity. Countering China’s dramatically expanding footprint in Afghanistan is another imperative.

Last week, Vikram Misri, Deputy National Security Advisor, not only characterised India as an “important stakeholder” in Afghanistan but openly admitted that we have “legitimate economic and security interests” in the Taliban governed nation. Misri, India’s former ambassador in China, candidly highlighted New Delhi’s deep strategic interests while addressing the 6th Regional Dialogue of Secretaries of Security Councils/National Security Advisers on Afghanistan in the Kyrgyzstan capital, Bishkek.

The Modi government is today doing brisk business with the Taliban, not too long after labelling the Taliban as terrorists and a Pakistani proxy — and even branding Afghanistan a pariah state after the Taliban seized power. The watershed moment was in June 2022 when India reopened its embassy in Kabul, ostensibly for delivering badly needed humanitarian aid and developmental assistance but the real motive was to fully engage with the Islamist hardliners to meet our national security requirements. The outreach was jointly manoeuvred by our diplomatic and security establishments headed by External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, and National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, respectively.

A major development took place in November 2023 when the Indian government facilitated the takeover of the Afghan embassy in New Delhi along with consulates in Mumbai and Hyderabad by the Taliban’s representatives evicting Afghan diplomats aligned with the previous government of President Ashraf Ghani. Ironically, the Indian government was a big supporter of the US-backed Ashraf Ghani regime until its fall in August 2021.

The displaced diplomats loyal to the old regime did not mince their words when criticising New Delhi for switching sides and backing representatives affiliated with the Taliban. Senior Taliban officials in Kabul publicly thanked New Delhi for helping its representatives take control of all the Afghanistan’s diplomatic missions in India. The takeover, “at the expense of moral and principled considerations that India long stood for”, forced some displaced diplomats to seek asylum in European countries. It also underlined how ties between the Indian government and Taliban had not only intensified but solidified.

This year there have been two major developments. Firstly, the Indian embassy in the United Arab Emirates, officially invited the acting Afghan Ambassador and Taliban envoy in Abu Dhabi, Badruddin Haqqani, for the Republic Day reception on January 26 held in a luxury hotel. The invitation addressed to “His Excellency Badruddin Haqqani” elicited shock and disapproval in many circles as the gentleman in question is a former core member of the Haqqani network which New Delhi accuses of launching several attacks on Indian missions in Afghanistan, specially the 2008 Kabul Embassy car bombing in which 58 people were killed, including two senior Indian diplomats and two Indian security forces personnel.

The Hindu newspaper reported that Taliban envoy to UAE is a confidante of the rabidly anti-India group’s top leaders, Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and his father, Jalaluddin Haqqani. The Modi government’s explanation is that the invitation had gone out as a routine practice to all diplomatic missions accredited by the UAE government, with the exception of Pakistan as New Delhi’s diplomatic ties with Islamabad are frozen. But there is no denying that the invitation did send out a clear-cut message that we have decided to bury the hatchet and move on.

Secondly, on January 29, senior Indian diplomat Ramababu Chellappa, who heads our Kabul embassy, participated in person in a regional conference in the Afghanistan capital organised by the Taliban government and chaired by Taliban’s Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi. Chellappa’s presence raised a lot of eyebrows but the Indian government defended his participation and officially acknowledged that we engage with the Taliban in “various formats”. A retired Indian diplomat characterised it as “creeping recognition” of the Taliban. Formal recognition of the Taliban is not around the corner, but it’s easy to see which way the wind is blowing.

The author is an independent, Pegasused reporter and commentator on foreign policy and domestic politics

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