December 5, 2022

Time for cementing India-Afghanistan strategic partnership (Part-2)

For Afghans, there seem to be two critical issues: the Pashtun community’s economic causes and the traditional Afghan policy regarding Durand Line. All these ultimately serve the interests of India and the strategic aspirations of New Delhi. I am confident that New Delhi, under the leadership of Dr. S. Jaishankar, will do the requisite. But initiatives should begin without delay. After all, nobody knows the discourse of wind. As the wind is blowing in India’s favour, it is time to grab this. Rest will follow   

By Shibdas Bhattacharjee

I beg pardon for the excessive delay in writing this piece’s remaining and otherwise crucial part. There are three reasons behind this delay. One is Nupur Sharma’s row for her alleged humiliation of Prophet Muhammad.  I was not an onlooker of what happened because of this in the forms of protests, agitations and, of course, rising political mercury both in India and abroad. I waited for how India diplomatically handled the situation. What happened in the diplomatic arena on the backdrop of this ultimately proved why nobody could subdue India. The attack is the best defense, and India’s assertive diplomacy proved to be productive yet again. I don’t want to elaborate on what happened to Nupur Sharma and the follow-ups in the camp of the ruling BJP. The second reason is: that I was waiting for the Iranian foreign minister’s India visit amid the Nupur Sharma row and the developments that happened in enhancing strategic tie-ups between New Delhi and Tehran. The visit was successful in the context of India-Iran strategic partnerships, particularly regarding Afghanistan. The third reason is natural calamity across Assam that happens every monsoon and paralysing everyday life. When I write this piece, it is raining cats and dogs, submerging more areas, power cuts and network errors in my locality. I believe readers will certainly pardon me for the miserable compulsion.

Let me come to the point. In my earlier piece, I tried to prove those points why so-called other stakeholders cannot play any productive role in the case of Afghanistan today. Now, this is about India and the reasons that make New Delhi the essential stakeholder in the affairs of Kabul and other part of Afghanistan under the rule of the present Taliban. One of the critical developments so far is the substantial decline in the terror activities in Kashmir since the Taliban took guard in Afghanistan. This may sound incredible, but this is obvious. This becomes clear if one compares the terror activities in Kashmir during the US-imposed puppet regime in Afghanistan and those after the Taliban came back to power in Afghanistan. In Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), the breeding ground of Islamic terror against India has remained relatively calm since the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan. Traitors like Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar seemed silent as far as their propaganda machinery was concerned. Undoubtedly, anti-India hypes were heard during the last provincial election drama in POK, particularly by Mariyam Nawaz and others. Still, political rhetoric in POK is certainly not a threat of that magnitude. This was unexpected. The opposite was apprehended; the Taliban’s coming to power enhanced terror activities against India.  More so, in this context, I would also like to refer to one of the points discussed in the earlier piece. Under the rule of the Taliban, anti-Pakistan terror machinery became proactive. So long, Pakistan regarded the terror machinery as a strategic asset. But this has proved to be counter-productive. The virtual civil war in Pakistan is also anti-China, against the China-Pakistan nexus and the resentment against the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC). These have not only created embarrassment for the Pakistan army and the ISI but silenced most wanted terrorists to continue their subversive activities against India.

This should be clarified that my point is not that behind all these activities, India has any role. This is also rubbish to think that there can be any form of India-Taliban understanding for whatever is going on in Pakistan. India’s policy has never been so. The rest of the world must not try to remind India about her age-old ethical values. India’s commitment to peace, stability, democracy and fraternity is beyond question. Here my point is: as the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, anti-Pakistan elements within Pakistan found the opportunity. This taught Pakistan the lesson Islamabad and Rawalpindi never tried to learn. My intention here is to prove that approach and trajectory of the Islamic terror in Pakistan changed, which indirectly ratifies India’s stand and serves New Delhi’s strategic interests more importantly. Why will India not try to maximise this strategic opportunity? If the US could ruin Afghanistan by searching for a terror fugitive Osama, impose a puppet regime in Iraq, hang Saddam Husain, create devastation in Syria and others, if Russia can attack Ukraine to restrict later joining NATO, then why ethical lectures are there only for India? Purists may sneer at this. But strategic interests can only be harnessed by hammering the iron when it is hot. 

Naturally, the given situation proves the radical change in the approach of Taliban leadership and serves India’s larger strategic interests. One of the reasons is that the Taliban tried to achieve international recognition through the commitment that Afghanistan will not allow terror networks to use its soil under the rule of new-age Taliban leaders. This stand of the Taliban serves the interests of India more than anybody else if things are seen in the context of POK and terror outfits operational in and around Kashmir. If the security concern of India regarding Kashmir gets minimised in some form or the other, what can be more important than that? But this does not reflect the India-Afghanistan strategic partnership. Some other points make India the essential stakeholder in present Afghanistan, ultimately opening the door to the larger strategic cooperation between the two countries at the given time. Let me refer to those points first that make India-Afghanistan bilateral relations productive in the given time:

India’s robust Afghan policy:

India did a lot of homework on dealing with Afghanistan in the backdrop of US withdrawal from that country. Within a week of the US leaving Afghanistan, India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar made an essential visit to Russia. During that visit, India tried to collaborate with Russia and Iran to deal with the Afghan situation, which proved to be very successful. New-generation Taliban leadership demonstrated diplomatic maturity on several occasions. India extended a helping hand to them, getting international recognition on the condition that the Taliban must not allow terror networks fomenting on Afghan soil. Since Russian aggression started in Ukraine, global attention shifted from Afghanistan to Ukraine’s war front. It has been only India kept on raising the Afghan situation on every platform. Dr. Jaishankar framed the policy so that the international community could consider the Afghan situation with the same importance as has been the case with Ukraine. Only India’s effort kept the Afghan issue alive during the turbulent phase of the Ukraine war. The approach has been Ukraine crisis must not overshadow the Afghan situation and security issues in both South East and West Asia. The credit definitely goes to none but the global statesman S. Jaishankar.

India’s aid to Afghanistan

A strategic partnership can never be one-way traffic. Hence, India’s humanitarian aid to Afghanistan in the hour of extreme crisis bears special significance in this context. India replaced the United States and other Western countries by assisting Afghanistan with productive collaboration with Iran. When the Ukrainian refugee crisis caught global attention, the situation also became dismal for the Afghan rank and file. At that time, the only country that stood with Afghanistan was India, and India had been providing all possible assistance to the new Taliban regime of Afghanistan for the cause of the Afghan people. Pakistan made a strategic blunder by restricting Indian aid from reaching Afghanistan, and ultimately Islamabad became compelled to provide access so that Indian aid could reach Afghanistan. This helped India in two ways, and both have more enormous strategic ramifications. One is India’s image in the perception of the Taliban, and the other one is exposing Pakistan and Islamabad’s hypocrisy on Islamic solidarity. India became a friend in need for Afghanistan and a friend in the perception of the Taliban and the common Afghan masses.

A strategic partnership can never be one-way traffic. Hence, India’s humanitarian aid to Afghanistan in the hour of extreme crisis bears special significance in this context. India replaced the United States and other Western countries by assisting Afghanistan with productive collaboration with Iran

Relations with Iran

The Nupur Sharma row and the visit of the Iranian foreign minister once again proved the depth of the India-Iran relationship. Two significant outcomes of the recent bilateral talks between the two countries are; consensus on the Afghan issue and enhanced cooperation in the case of Chabahar port. This is true that India needs Iran’s support to turn things around in Afghanistan. But Iran also needs India to resolve issues between Iran and the West. The situation provides India a more significant opportunity. Russia, which has supported Iran at the international forum, cannot do so because of its soured-up relations with NATO after the Ukraine invasion. But today, India virtually dominates Western diplomacy, and India can play an essential role in improving relations between Iran and the West.

Taliban needs India

The present Taliban needs India. I have already stated the economic needs of Afghanistan. But here, the issue is challenging on the strategic front before the Taliban. This includes Pakistan’s policy of sabotaging Afghan interests and the ethnic enigma persistent in Afghanistan. Pakistan has no doubt lost its importance in Afghanistan. But whatever is going on across the Durand Line has significant strategic ramifications. As the Taliban represents mainly the Pashtun community, Pakistan is under tremendous pressure on the security front these days. It may instigate other communities of Afghanistan against the Taliban to create fresh turmoil in Afghanistan. Ethnic communities in Afghanistan, particularly Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek, seemed demanding to become stakeholders since the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan.

But how can India help Taliban rather than contribute to the solidarity of Afghanistan? One way is mounting pressure on Pakistan which has already subdued Islamabad. Another one is: that India has good relations with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and others. Significantly, ethnic communities in Afghanistan and the demography of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan mostly share common values and cultures. India can make potential efforts to evolve a more considerable consensus in Afghanistan through these Central Asian nations.

All these ultimately show India in the driving seat. From all the parameters, India is the most important stakeholder in Afghanistan at the given time. But the need is to convert India-Afghanistan relations into a strategic partnership. Present Indian diplomacy is solid, and this does not require anyone’s ratification. Afghanistan is no longer isolated. So, this is when India must make serious efforts to cement its ties with Afghanistan. But there are some pre-requisites for harnessing the maximum. I have already discussed the Iran factor. India must put into use her special relationship with the countries like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and other adjoining nations and build the atmosphere so that these countries can play a role in solidarity and peace of Afghanistan. However, the most important point is that today’s Taliban leaders are diplomats. For them, there seem to be two critical issues: the Pashtun community’s economic causes and the traditional Afghan policy regarding Durand Line. All these ultimately serve the interests of India and the strategic aspirations of New Delhi. I am confident that New Delhi, under the leadership of Dr. S. Jaishankar, will do the requisite. But initiatives should begin without delay. After all, nobody knows the discourse of wind. As the wind is blowing in India’s favour, it is time to grab this. Rest will follow.      

India has good relations with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and others. Significantly, ethnic communities in Afghanistan and the demography of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan mostly share common values and cultures. India can make potential efforts to evolve a more considerable consensus in Afghanistan through these Central Asian nations

Shibdas Bhattacharjee is an Assam-based columnist and strategic affairs analyst. He writes his article under a specific category of “Sagacious Beholding.” The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://www.strategicaffairsindia.in 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow us on Social Media