Indo-Afghan rapprochement

India and Taliban-led Afghanistan have started formal contacts to normalize relations. As the saying goes, “there is no free lunch in international relations”. Therefore, normalization of relations is dictated by their national interests. The rapprochement efforts with Taliban in Afghanistan will also have significant impact to the Afghan-Pak region in future.
The Indian delegation led by JP Singh, Joint Secretary in charge of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), visited Kabul. The visit on the one hand signaled normalization of relations. On the other hand, emphasized that visit by an official lower than the secretary or ministerial level reassures the international community that visit must not be construed as the official recognition to the Taliban government.
The delegation visited the school, hospital and a power plant in Kabul. Additionally, they were briefed regarding the status of the projects that were funded by the Indian government during the tenure of previous governments. They also came to know that the Indian embassy in Kabul was well guarded by the Taliban after they took over Kabul in August 2021. Then, the Indian government called its diplomatic mission back to New Delhi. The Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi tweeted regarding the visit that it was a ‘good start’. The Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi asked the delegation to resume India’s projects and reopen the country’s embassy in Afghanistan.
Simultaneously, there were concerns in Pakistan regarding the India-Taliban reproachment especially in the wake of strained relations between Islamabad-Kabul. In May, it was alleged by Taliban that Pakistan carried out airstrikes on Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) hideouts in Afghanistan. Resultantly, it led to mutual distrust and severed relations.
Notwithstanding, it must not be viewed from a narrow lens that better relations between Kabul and Delhi will have a negative impact on Pakistan. Sceptics are concerned that better ties between the two countries may once again start an Indo-Afghan nexus against Pakistan and the former country through the TTP terrorists and the Baloch insurgents may drag Pakistan another proxy war.
Indeed, the new version of Taliban are more diplomatically and politically oriented unlike the Taliban of 1990s. Afghanistan is currently facing acute economic challenges and they are in dire need of economic aid and diplomatic recognition. Thus, they are seeking good relations with the international community.
In this context, since India is a country that has invested heavily in Afghanistan, they want to improve their relations with New Delhi so that India should complete the developmental project that are vital to Afghanistan, as well as the former may invest in the latter new sectors that might steer economic activity in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, the Taliban have learnt so much during the last two decades of war, and are now better equipped that they know the art of diplomacy quite efficiently like any other modern nation state. They want to protect their national interests without siding any power or state. Hence, they are not going to side India or Pakistan. They are keenly interested to maximise the interests of Afghanistan through economic aid, better trade ties, and foreign direct investments (FDI).
Afghanistan also requires defense cooperation. The Taliban leadership like their predecessors are willing to strengthen their relations with India, including defence ties. In this connection, when Afghanistan’s Defence Minister Mullah Yaqoob was asked regarding sending Afghan National Army personnel for military training in India, he replied: “We don’t see any issue with it.” At the same time, he stressed that Afghanistan does not want to be involved in the Indo-Pakistan conflict saying: “We are an independent country, and our foreign policy is guided by our national interests.”
The Kabul regime has the realization that it should strengthen its military muscle as well. Above all, they want to establish and strengthen their bilateral relations with the international community in order to benefit from those relations that serve the Afghanistan’s national interests.
For the international community and Af-Pak region alike, stable Afghanistan – economic as well as militarily is more suited than unstable country. It will be able to defend itself from external aggression, and root out any terrorist outfits operating from inside Afghanistan. Only a weak state can fall prey to terrorist and extremists malicious agenda as witnessed in the past.
Furthermore, Afghanistan is a sovereign country and it has right to establish its diplomatic ties and make its decisions based on its national interests. But, these relations should not be at the cost of establishing a nexus against any other country such as Pakistan by providing bases to India to operate its proxies against the former country. Any such move will have far reaching consequences for the three countries. Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We would not like to see anyone playing a role that is negative in any sense, or the role of a spoiler”. This region cannot sustain any further misadventures.
There is a need to take a stock of mistakes committed by all the important players in the region and make a fresh collaborative start and exploit the potential that is being offered by collective cooperation. With a stable Afghanistan and normal Indo-Pakistan relations, intra-regional trade and energy cooperation will usher in the region into an era of shared prosperity and the resources can be rechannelised for poverty eradication, climate change and infrastructure development. May the better sense prevails!