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Around The Durand Line…

The writing on the 800km-long Hindu Kush mountain range is quite clear. The Taliban has returned to power in Afghanistan, as the Deobandi Islamist Movement and military organisation has taken full control of the troubled South Asian nation. After the recent Taliban attack in Kandahar, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs decided to bring back the Indian officials stationed in Afghanistan. India had to act swiftly, as the last Air India flight left the Afghan capital with 129 passengers on August 15 (2021), immediately after the Taliban captured Kabul. The aircraft landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi at night. It seems that the Indians, still staying in Afghanistan, shall return home even before the complete withdrawal of the US Troops from the war-ravaged country.

Earlier in April (2021), the External Affairs Ministry proudly announced that New Delhi was in talks with “all parties” to restore peace in Afghanistan. In mid-July, the Indian Media reported that the Narendra Modi Government was holding direct talks with the Taliban, making a major shift in New Delhi’s Afghan Policy. It was also reported that India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Kumar Doval was leading the diplomatic venture.

Ajit Kumar Doval

The scenario started changing in the last week of July, as terror attacks by the Taliban in different parts of Afghanistan cornered the Modi Administration. Now, it seems that India is isolated, as far as the diplomatic strategy in South-West Asia is concerned. The Indian diplomats had worked really hard to sit together with Taliban leaders. However, the initiative is in jeopardy. On the other hand, the Taliban’s relation with Pakistan, Iran and Russia has become cordial in recent times.

Farid Mamundzay, the Afghan Ambassador to India, recently urged New Delhi to bring the Taliban into the mainstream. He made the request, despite knowing the fact that it would not be an easy task. In actuality, the Administration of President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul was desperately trying to stay in power after losing the battle against the Taliban in different parts of the country. However, President Ghani’s attempt failed on August 15, as he fled Afghanistan even before Kabul, the ultimate prize in every Afghanistan War, fell to the Taliban. Reports suggest that the Taliban completed their takeover of the country in a lighting offensive that saw provinces and warlords give up without a fight, days after the hasty withdrawal of US troops. This is the first time since their ouster 20 years ago in the wake of the 9/11 strikes that Taliban fighters have entered Kabul… they first seized the Capital way back in 1996. Late at night, fighters in pickups and SUVs did victory rounds in the heart of Kabul.

Farid Mamundzay

Pakistan-backed Haqqani network and other terrorist outfits, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and al-Qaeda, are in constant touch with the Taliban. It would not have been possible for the Taliban to return to power in Afghanistan without the support of Rawalpindi. Whenever India has expanded its consulate in Afghanistan, invested in infrastructure projects and tried to join the Afghan peace process, Pakistan has created troubles for New Delhi. Currently, there are no diplomats in Indian consulates in Herat, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Kabul. The Government of India is yet to decide when these consulates would be reopened, and this is what Pakistan wants. Pakistan does not want India to hold direct talks with the Taliban. As families of most Afghan Taliban leaders live in Pakistan, it helps Islamabad negotiate with the terror outfit on various issues. The question arises here is: How realistic is it for the Taliban to build relations with India, without the interference of Pakistan?

US President Joe Biden and his Administration are not interested in the changing political equation in Afghanistan, as they are busy withdrawing troops from the country. President Biden is also not worried about India’s Regional Security or the rise of cross-border terrorism in Kashmir because of the Taliban. The Modi Administration recently clashed with India’s old friend Russia, Iran and Britain over the Taliban issue. Taliban has reportedly assured Russia and Iran that terrorism would not spread outside Afghanistan! Hence, Moscow and Tehran do not want to worry about the outfit’s terrorist activities.

Terror attack in Kandahar

The stunned Indian External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar recently told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov that the seizure of power through violence could not be legitimised, without going through the political process. “The World Community is against the seizure of power by violence and force and wouldn’t legitimise the Taliban’s tactics of using force to secure a stronger position at the negotiations table. The world, region and the Afghan people all want the same end state: An independent, neutral, unified, peaceful, democratic and prosperous nation,” stressed the Indian minister. Unfortunately, the Kremlin is not paying much attention to India’s Theory of Legitimacy… instead, the Russians are giving more importance to Pakistan on the Afghanistan issue.

Dr S Jaishankar

Britain, too, has informed India that London has no problem in recognising the Taliban, as the outfit comes to power in Afghanistan. The Indian diplomats believe that Pakistan, because of its geographical location, is playing an important role in Britain’s Afghan Policy. The British Army has always maintained close contact with the Pakistani Forces. And, the current security situation in Afghanistan has brought them closer.

Still, India is not ready to give up its efforts, as New Delhi is well aware of the fact that if India fails to increase its influence in Afghanistan, Pakistan-backed Afghan Taliban would create tension for India in future. In that case, Kashmir and the Indo-Pak border areas shall become more dangerous. The Indian diplomats also know that Taliban is not suicidal or stupid. Otherwise, it was not possible for them to continue war with the US for nearly two decades. Unlike the Mujahideens in the past, no major power is now providing them with weapons. Now, the Taliban is depending only on Pakistan.

Withdrawal of US troops

Any Society or State ultimately serves its own interests. Hence, the Taliban may not wage a war against India in the near future. According to sources close to the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, the Taliban fighters are putting the Indians under pressure inside Afghanistan for diplomatic gains, and it is a different issue. They might not start a war against India over Kashmir. A section of Political Analysts is of the opinion that India has already invested a huge amount of money in various development projects in Afghanistan. The Taliban is also expected to benefit from this in the future. The Taliban knows that over-reliance on a State, like Pakistan, will not get Afghanistan anywhere, administratively and financially. Their way of life, interpretation of Islam, attitude towards women, social freedom… none of these are compatible with modern society. Are those reasons enough for them to consider India a hostile neighbour? Perhaps, not. It seems that they would not fight Pakistan’s war. The Taliban does not dream of turning India into an Islamic State, as the terror outfit does not even have the power to convert the Indian Muslims to fundamentalists.

In view of the situation, India needs to take forward its Afghan Policy, and to continue talks with the Taliban, especially after the fall of the Afghan Government. Else, it would be difficult for India to fill the vacuum after the complete withdrawal of US Troops from Afghanistan in August 2021. New Delhi should not rely on Russia or the US to safeguard its own interests because no one cares about the National Security of another country.

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