India’s big diplomatic challenge – Taliban in Afghanistan - GulfToday

India’s big diplomatic challenge – Taliban in Afghanistan


Ashraf Ghani. File

The exit of Americans from Afghanistan at the end of August, the departure of former Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani a few days earlier have clearly been a setback for India, diplomatically and economically. Though India had been kept out of the Bonn conference in December 2001 to decide on the future form of Afghan government after the fall of Taliban in 2001, in the last 20 years India had contributed generously to the economic reconstruction of Afghanistan in buildings roads, hospitals, schools and dams and training sections of the Afghan army.

Like in everything else, South Asia’s traditional rivals India and Pakistan have been vying for influence in Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan have looked to India with great warmth because among many things they loved and enjoyed Hindi cinema. India’s brush with Taliban has not been a last time when the Taliban were in power between 1996 and 2001. India is then watching developments in Afghanistan closely. It has not welcomed the return of Taliban, nor did it oppose it. India’s position has been that change in political order should come from the people, that no one should take over the government through force and that the government should be inclusive. Pakistan’s closeness to Taliban makes India apprehensive about the Taliban. But India has decided to wait and watch the developments in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the Taliban office in Doha reached out to the Indian ambassador there, and there was a frank exchange of views with the Taliban’s head of Political Office in Doha Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanikzai. He told Ambassador Deepak Mittal that Indian citizens can leave Kabul and that Afghan territory will not be allowed to be used by terrorists to attack India. Stanikzai also said that Afghanistan wanted good relations with all the countries in the region, including India. There was also the recognition that India was an important country in the region.

India’s main concern is terrorism as militant organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) have launched terror strikes on India from the Pakistan side. Pakistan remains silent on the presence of the two organisations, and it says that it lends moral support to those in the Kashmir Valley fighting the Indian government. But Pakistan has voluntarily placed itself under the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which was set up at the G-7 summit in Paris in 1989, to monitor Countering the Financing of Terrorism (CFT) since 2018 and it has been making progress. It is this concern with the terrorist organisations that makes India apprehensive about the Taliban in Afghanistan.

India’s concerns over Afghanistan gained strength when United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) William Burns was in New Delhi on Tuesday and with India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval and they discussed the situation in Afghanistan, and both sides are reported to have shared their respective concerns. The CIA chief then travelled to Islamabad. Russia’s secretary of Security Council Nikolay Patrushev was in Delhi on Wednesday, and met Prime Minister Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and NSA Doval. The topic of discussion was again Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Modi is attending three important meetings of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and he would be physically attending the Quad comprising India, the US, Australia and Japan, a group seen as a counter to China’s growing influence in Indo-Pacific in the new few weeks. Modi will be emphasising on the challenges of terrorism at these meetings, and the indirect point of reference is to the new Taliban regime in Kabul. India would want an unambiguous assurance from the Taliban and the countries supporting them that militant groups would not be allowed to operate from Afghanistan.

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