With Afghanistan under Taliban what does the future hold for the country and the region? A peaceful and stable Afghanistan, because of its geostrategic location, is vital for peace and security in the region. Afghanistan itself a mineral rich country provides land access to the natural resources rich CAR countries. Afghanistan also acted as a counterbalance in the region to Pakistan and China. India has always followed a policy of dealing with the elected government of Afghanistan maintaining a no engagement policy with Taliban. The events of Aug 2021 have suddenly changed the dynamics as the democratically elected government has been overthrown by the Taliban.
Afghanistan under Taliban – How does it affect India?
The coming to power of Taliban in Afghanistan has major political, economic and security implications for India.
Security. The occupation of Afghanistan by Taliban is likely to take it closer to Pakistan and China. Both countries are inimical to Indian interests in the region. Pakistan can use Afghanistan and its resources against Indian interests.
Though Taliban has promised not to allow terrorist groups like ISIS to operate from their country, but their words cannot be taken at face value. The likelihood of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Haqqani network of Taliban using the Afghan territory for shelter is high. The main target for such groups will always be India.
Afghanistan will provide Pakistan the strategic depth it always looked for against India.
Trade. Indo Afghan trade was flourishing and crossed the US $1.5 billion mark in 2019. The balance of trade was heavily tilted in favor of India with exports touching US $ 1 billion.
Pakistan always played a spoil sport in this trade by blocking the land route time and again. To overcome this India had created two air freight trade corridors between the two countries, one each to Kabul and Herat. The Chabahar port provided the access through Iran.
Taliban rule is likely to adversely impact not the ongoing Indo-Afghan trade but may also cut off Indian access to CAR countries through Afghanistan. The trade was abruptly stopped by Taliban on 18 Aug 21.
Engagement with Taliban. There have been reports of Indian External Affairs officials having a meeting with Taliban representatives at Doha in Jun 2021. This has been denied by Taliban and Government of India has not confirmed it.
Though till now Government of India has not carried out official engagement with Taliban but the present situation leaves no option. There is a need of official engagement with Taliban though the later has classified all actions taken by Government of India till date as anti-people of Afghanistan. Taliban feels that India has always held an anti-Taliban position and sided with forces operating against them. In an interview with India Today the spokesperson of Taliban has stated that talks with India can only take place ‘on the conditions of impartiality’. India must make find a way of engaging with Taliban constructively.
Investment. Indo-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement Oct 2011 provides for development in four broad areas – infrastructure projects, humanitarian assistance, small and community-based development projects, and education and capacity development. All the projects under progress at this stage will be adversely affected unless there is a political engagement between India and Taliban. Pakistan and China would like to see India staying out of Afghanistan.
Security of Indians and Refugees. As per a report of Embassy of India in Afghanistan there are 1710 Indians working in Afghanistan. The safe evacuation of these people will be the primary concern for the Indian government. India has started issuing emergency e visas to the Afghan citizens. There are persons of Indian origin settled in Afghanistan who have been the target of the terrorists of Taliban Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba. These people and even Afghanistan citizens having business or jobs in India may like to move to India. Their safe evacuation and settlement in India will also have to be planned and undertaken. There have been reports of Taliban not permitting Sikhs from leaving Afghanistan.
There are nearly 4500 Afghan students studying in various Educational Institutes in India. Majority of may seek permanent stay in India.
Chances of ISIS operatives and other terrorists entering India on e-visas cannot be ruled out.
The way forward
Government of India has got very limited options for dealing with the situation in Afghanistan.
Stability of the Region. The stability of the region will be the primary concern of all countries of the region including India, CAR, Russia, Iran, China, and Pakistan. All neighbouring countries of Afghanistan will be affected by the refugees and threat of terrorist actions cannot be ruled out. The terrorist attack on Kabul airport on 26 Aug is an indicator of the instable future staring at Afghanistan. Such attacks will lead to more chaos and Taliban will have to take actions to take control of the situation at the earliest.
Evacuation of Citizens. The first concern India will be to evacuate all Indians safely from Afghanistan. The evacuation process has already started through special flights.
Engaging Taliban. While a wait and watch policy has served India good in the past a more pro-active action may be required this time to engage the Taliban. Crores of investment done in Afghanistan and business gains made cannot be allowed to go waste.
Engage with Neighbours. The government will have to make an all-out effort to further improve relations with Iran and CAR countries. Iran will be most affected by the refugee influx and terrorism both and should be priority one on the list for relation building. A good relationship with Russia, Iran and CAR countries will force Taliban to open their doors too.
Security. The threat from cross border terrorism is real. The intelligence & surveillance plans must be reviewed and reinforced along the borders specially to counter the threat from the drones. There is likely to be an increase in drug trade from Afghanistan through Pakistan which will have to be effectively countered.
2. https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-reports-of- external-affairs-minister-s-jaishankar-meeting-taliban-leaders- untrue-sources/386574
4. (https://www.indiatoday.in/world/video/talks-with-india-on- condition-of-impartiality-says-taliban-spokesperson-1839693-2021- 08-11
6. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/over-4500-afghan- students-on-indian-campuses-hold-their- breath/articleshow/85419799.cms
7. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/afghanistan-crisis-indian- bilateral-trade-stops-abruptly-afghans-bleak-future-1844493-2021- 08-24