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India's Taliban Outreach: Should India Review Its Strategy with Afghanistan?

India must work towards persuading the Taliban to form a broad-based, NRF-inclusive government to restore peace.

5 min read
India's Taliban Outreach: Should India Review Its Strategy with Afghanistan?
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Recently, in an exclusive interview to The Indian Express, the National Resistance Front (NRF) of Afghanistan asked for India’s help. The Front is the new avatar of the earlier Northern Alliance of Afghanistan, headed by the late Ahmad Shah Massoud. His son, Ahmad Massoud now heads the front in a key opposition to the Taliban, a very watered-down version of the earlier Northern Alliance, confined only to the Panjshir Valley, and having within its fold almost all Tajiks’ the most prominent of them live outside Afghanistan, mostly in neighbouring Tajikistan.

On another note, Afghanistan was also announced the 'unhappiest country' in the world by the World Happiness Report and no marks for guessing why.


One Year of Taliban Rule

As the Taliban celebrate their one year in office, they are slowly but surely reverting to the style of governance that they had introduced during their previous stint. The international community has repeatedly asked the group to form a broad-based, inclusive government and respect the rule of law.

While the group keep giving assurances of doing just that, its actions are starkly different. There have been more attacks on the minorities. About 50 people were killed when the Islamic State Khorasan Province (IS-K), a regional affiliate of the Islamic State group, attacked the Karte Parwan Gurdwara in Kabul on 18 June of this year.

The Taliban themselves have targeted minorities in the country. While the Taliban have repeatedly given assurances of breaking ties with terrorist groups and organizations, Al Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri was eliminated in Kabul, where he had been living under their watch. The Haqqani Network continues to be part of the current Afghan administration.

Taliban's Draconian Policies Police Its Women 

Suicide squads are now a part of their regular armed forces. Women and girls have been deprived of some of their basic rights like education, employment, and freedom of movement. Amnesty International, in its latest 27 July 2022 report “Death in Slow Motion” stated that “Women in Afghanistan under the control of the Taliban group are experiencing slow-motion death caused by a system of repression” as the Taliban “have violated the right of women and girls to education, work, and free movement." On Monday, Afghan women made an impassioned plea at the United Nations, saying under the Taliban’s rule “Women of that country, we don't exist…..We are erased.”

Slew of Deadly Attacks Continue


Meanwhile, internal strife continues inside the country, between the Panjshir Resistance and the Taliban, as also between the rival factions of the Taliban. A third threat has arisen – the IS-KP, which since the Taliban took over, have launched a string of deadly attacks beginning with the one in Kabul airport last year. Most of their attacks have targeted minorities, like the Shia, the Sikhs and Hindus.

More recently, it has claimed responsibility for last week’s attacks on the Russian embassy in Kabul, killing two diplomats. The Russian Federation has been one of the most enduring supporters of the Taliban, recently announcing waivers on duties on Afghan imports and resumption of oil and grain supplies to it, though the Taliban remains a proscribed group inside the country.


India's Plan Of Action With The New Afghan Rule 

Somewhat late, but India has finally begun engaging with the Taliban. After having withdrawn all staff and closing down its embassy in Kabul last year after the Taliban took charge, in February this year, it sent its first wheat consignment as aid to Afghanistan.

In June, the first official delegation visited Kabul. A team led by Joint Secretary (PAI), Ministry of External Affairs(MEA) went to Kabul “to oversee the delivery operations of our humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan,” announced the MEA. The ministry stated that India’s approach to Afghanistan would be guided by long-standing “historical and civilizational ties with the Afghan people.”

The delegation met senior Taliban leaders. “Today, Maulvi Amir Khan Muttaqi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, met with JP Singh, Joint Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs of India and his accompanying delegation. During the meeting, diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and India, bilateral trade and humanitarian assistance were discussed,” Taliban spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi said on Twitter.

A few weeks later India reopened its embassy in Kabul though with only a ‘technical team' in place. The Taliban had welcomed this, and asked India to resume consular service and continue with its developmental aid assistance to the country. The Taliban’s Interior Ministry called for Afghan military cadets trained in India and other countries to return to the country and serve their people.


The Way Forward With Taliban 2.0

Though the Taliban lacks international recognition, the Indian embassy became the 15th mission to open in Kabul under the rule of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan along with Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, European Union and four Central Asian states.

The Taliban also enjoy cordial relations and informal recognition by a host of countries, including most of its Central Asian neighbours, China, Russia, Iran, Qatar, USA, the UAE and a host of other countries. Many of them have continued supplies and business with Afghanistan uninterrupted after the Taliban takeover.

The recently held international conference on Afghanistan in Uzbekistan's Tashkent demonstrated this, where representatives of almost 30 countries interacted with the group. In Tashkent, the Islamic group was repeatedly called on to eschew all ties with terrorist organizations, not allow Afghan territory to threaten other countries, respect the rule of law, and basic rights of women and minorities.

Given this, India has to continue to engage with the group, even as it remains invested in the Afghan people, it cannot and should not suddenly start overtly or covertly aiding the Resistance Front. This is no Northern Alliance. In fact, once accommodated in governance, after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, it bears responsibility to a large extent for the Taliban’s ensuing victory.

The fractiousness, the corruption, the pilferage, the inability to take reforms and changes that cities enjoyed into the grassroots all made for the ideal recipe for the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Two of the major supporters of the Northern Alliance – Russia and Iran – have shifted their alliances and have batted for the Taliban even though the attacks on Shias have once again began straining relations. While the Taliban have struck a conciliatory note with India, simultaneously relations of some of its factions with Pakistan have deteriorated, India cannot go alone there.


SCO Summit To discuss Afghanistan 

The summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation(SCO) taking place this week in Samarkand in Uzbekistan have Afghanistan as a major topic on the agenda. India has to work with countries like Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Iran to ensure peace and security both within and outside Afghanistan. The entry of another close ally of India – the UAE – into Afghan affairs as Abu Dhabi-based firm GAAC Solutions will now be taking over the running of Afghan airports and making investments is also good news for India.

All these countries face the same threats from the chaos inside Afghanistan. India must work together with all of them to persuade the Taliban to form a broad-based inclusive government which can and must accommodate the NRF as well for peace within the country which can then route entities like the IS-KP and other sundry jihadist organizations seeking to make use of the anarchy there.

The NRF has always been open to the idea of being part of a Taliban-led government. A good leverage is the defreezing of $ 9 billion worth of Afghan assetts abroad, funds the Taliban are desperately seeking to run the war-torn, earthquake and flood ravaged country. Moreover, countries like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are Sunni Muslims countries with rich Islamic and Sufi heritage, but which also respects rights of women and minorities.

These are good role models for Afghanistan, sharing with the country cultural, ethnic, and religious linkages. This would also earn the government internal legitimacy which the Taliban lacks in swathes of the country. Internal legitimacy would go a long way to earn the Taliban international recognition which it so seeks.

(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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