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India-Kabul Ties: As Taliban & Pakistan Draw Swords, Can Delhi Maintain Stand?

In this cauldron, Taliban seem to be offering an olive branch of sorts to India after it reopened embassy last year.

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The 1st January Kabul bombings have forced the world’s attention back to Afghanistan. The Islamic State – Khorasan Province (ISKP) has claimed responsibility for the blasts. The bombing was the third high-profile attack in the city in the last month claimed by the terror group’s regional branch IS-Khorasan.

The very reason that the Taliban could make their spectacular comeback to Kabul was because their supporters and cheerleaders had decided that they would be the ones to keep Afghanistan safe and restore law and order, even if primitively brutally. That the Taliban has failed miserably in this, has been proved time and again since August 2021.

The USA had signed the peace accords with the Taliban, ignoring all other Afghan voices. Friends who had been engaged in some interactions with the Taliban sometime or the other had kept stressing that the group had not changed their medieval and worse mindset.
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Friends Turn Distant: How Taliban’s Regressive Policies Are Impacting Allies

This fact could not have been lost to either the USA or Qatar which so generously facilitated the agreements hosting the Taliban since 2012. While the US has held back from de jure recognition of the Taliban government, it is now alleged to be funding anti-Taliban groups. At least, the US has frozen the Taliban’s assets abroad in a clear signal that it does not trust the Taliban with funds in spite of the once UN-proscribed organisation taking over Kabul more than a year ago.

Qatar which recently tried to showcase itself as a model Muslim and Arab country through the FIFA World Cup 2022, also issued a surprising admonition of the Taliban’s policy towards girls’ education and then followed it up with another one when the Taliban banned women from working with NGOs a week ago.

It must be hugely embarrassing for the gas-rich Sheikhdom as its former and currently, unofficial First Lady Sheikha Moza bint Nasser is said to be passionate about girls’ education and women’s empowerment in general. Soon after the Taliban ensconced itself in Kabul, Qatar called for international recognition of the group and warned against isolating it.
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Clearly, some of the Taliban’s optimistic supporters are, if not turning against it, surely doubtful about its potential now. Taliban has just threatened Pakistan, its mentor, with war, promising another round of defeat for its a la 1971 war with India.

Russia, China, and the Taliban’s Central Asian neighbours in particular, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Iran were also supporters of the Taliban, paving the way for it to rise to power. While Russia, China, and Iran wanted to see the end of a US military presence in the region, they also betted on the Taliban to promise security against the then lawlessness that prevailed during the Ashraf Ghani regime.

ISIS’s Afghanistan Ambitions

The inroads that ISIS-KP were making into Afghanistan, had alarmed Russia, and the Central Asian countries, which had many of their citizens flock to Syria and Iraq to join the terror group there, and with the ascendancy of Taliban 2.0 becoming imminent, they established ties with the UN-proscribed group much before the Doha Agreements.

Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, Ashkhabad had all hosted Taliban delegations much before the group took charge in Kabul. As Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021, Moscow, Beijing, Tehran all kept their embassies open and functioning; Ashkhabad rushed in humanitarian aid immediately and Tashkent hailed the takeover.

For the Central Asian countries, as for China, Afghanistan’s geostrategic location as the roundabout connecting South and Central Asia also makes it highly coveted for transit routes for landlocked states of Central Asia in order to access the markets and resources of South Asia and West Asia.

For Turkmenistan, Afghanistan is crucial for the power and gas pipelines to Pakistan and India, that its economy is so banking on. While keeping their countries strictly secular and the ban on Taliban in place, they had no qualms in cutting deals with the group in Afghanistan.

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In 2018, it was in Uzbekistan that an international conference on Afghanistan was held, where the willingness of the US to have the then-Ashraf Ghani- led government negotiate with the Taliban was made official.

President Ashraf Ghani who also attended the high-profile conference which had amongst others China’s Wang Yi, Russia’s Sergey Lavrov, and the EU’s Federica Mogherini, officially announced that it would negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban. At this conference, thus, the Taliban officially became a legitimate political stakeholder in Afghanistan.
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On Legitimacy of the Taliban

A high profile conference last year in July in Tashkent on “Afghanistan: Security and Economic Development” saw the participation of all major powers, including India, while yielding no tangible results, simply made the Taliban more visible as the legitimate though yet unrecognised representatives of Afghanistan.

Russia, embroiled in conflict with Ukraine, announced at the conference it would remove duties on Afghan import and resume oil and grain supplies to the country.

Yet the fact that none of these countries have yet recognised the Taliban as the legitimate government in Afghanistan, tells a tale of its own.

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But, what actually happened within days of the conference meant to endear the Taliban to the International community, was the assassination of Al Qaeda head Ayman Al Zawahiri the head of Al Qaeda, thus, confirming what the UN reports detail about the presence of terror outfits in Afghanistan under the aegis of the Taliban.

In other areas too, the Taliban have been found to be lacking. The international community has repeatedly called on it to form a broad-based government but this has not happened and internal strife continues between the Taliban and the National Resistance Front of Ahmed Massoud.

Attacks on minorities have increased. About 50 people were killed when the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) attacked the Karte Parwan Gurdwara in Kabul last year June. The ISIS-KP continue to launch attacks with impunity. atrocities against former government officials, women, and, minorities.

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Why Must India Watch Its Move

The December 2022 meeting of the National Security Advisors of India and the five Central Asian Republics (CARS)Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, had at its heart, discussions over Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism emanating from it.

In large part, it reflected the position of CARS was increasingly converging with India’s and they would be the first to face any fallout of terrorism from Afghanistan.

In this cauldron, the Taliban seem to be offering an olive branch of sorts to India. India last year, reopened its embassy which had been closed since the Taliban began taking over Afghanistan. It sent humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan after the Taliban came to power. It has held, albeit limited, discussions with the Taliban.
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Certainly, growing Pakistan-Taliban animosity is good news for India. But it should tread carefully. When others were rushing to establish ties with the Taliban, India held back. Now, as International disenchantment with the Taliban grows, India should carefully calibrate its moves and desist from any unilateral actions vis-à-vis the militant group.

(Aditi Bhaduri is a journalist and political analyst. She tweets @aditijan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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