August 15, 2022 is the first anniversary of Taliban 2.0 return to power in Afghanistan. Through this one year under Taliban 2.0 the war torn country has faced an acute humanitarian crisis – food and medical coupled with the rights of the women crushed.
Afghanistan is crucial to India’s security interests. Instability in Afghanistan will have a wider implication for the entire region of South Asia. “Radicalism and terrorism continue to be a threat in the region and the Taliban is likely to remain in power at least for a few years,” opines Prof Rajan Kumar, School of International Studies, JNU.
What happened last August 15?
It is almost one year since the Taliban captured Kabul following their nationwide offensive against the government forces and ended the two decades of US led military intervention.
Exactly a year ago, the hardline Islamists captured Kabul after their nationwide lightning offensive against the then President Ashraf Ghani led government forces and ended 20 years of US-led military intervention.
What was left behind was a country in chaos and several thousands of people rushing to the airport to leave Kabul on any flight leaving the country.
The situation in that country according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), is grim. After almost 20 year war in Afghanistan, 2.6 million Afghans were forced to flee abroad and it displaced 3.5 million others.
According to IRC (International Red Cross) if this continues, more Afghan lives will be lost. It states that Afghanistan has relied heavily on foreign aid and following the Taliban 2.0 back in the country much of it has been either suspended or frozen. And this has had an impact on the welfare of the people and economy of Afghanistan.
And at the same time restrictions imposed by Taliban on the women’s access to work have also contributed to the failing economy in that country – economic loss of up to USD 1bn – about 5% of Afghanistan’s GDP, states IRC report.
India and Afghanistan
Though India has not officially recognised Taliban 2.0, it has kept its commitment to the people of Afghanistan and has since last August, sent 17,000 MT of wheat out of its total commitment of 50,000 MT. New Delhi, as has been reported by Financial Express Online, 500,000 doses of Covaxin – the Covid-19 vaccine made in India have been dispatched to the war torn country. Also, around 13 tonnes of essential life-saving medicines and winter clothing and more than 60 million doses of polio vaccine.
What should be the level of engagement with Kabul?
Sharing his views with Financial Express Online, Prof Rajan says, “In a significant shift from its erstwhile policy, New Delhi has decided to engage with the Taliban regime. This is a positive development, and it does not amount to a de facto recognition of the regime. It only conveys the fact that New Delhi is pragmatic in its approach guided by interests of people in India and Afghanistan. India has a strong goodwill among the people in Afghanistan thanks to its historical ties, humanitarian aid and developmental works.”
“There is no reason why India should not engage with the Taliban, when the US, China, Russia and other countries are negotiating with the regime,” Prof Rajan opines.
In his opinion there is a convergence of India’s interests with Central Asian states and Russia. All these states wary of the export of radicalism and terrorism from Afghanistan to Eurasia. “Their concerns were articulated in meetings at the NSA level and in other forums. This issue is likely to figure strongly in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit at Samarkand in September 2022,” he adds.
India will host the SCO summit in 2023 where it can seek to build a consensus among the members on this issue of terrorism in Afghanistan.
Terror attacks against India
According to Prof Rajan, “The regime in Kabul has assured repeatedly that the territory of Afghanistan will not be used against other countries. But there are several reasons why such commitments sound hollow: a) there are too many warring factions within the Taliban, b) the regime of Taliban does not have the capacity to keep a check on some of the militant groups, c) and the presence of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups belie such commitments.”
What should be New Delhi’s policy towards Kabul?
To engage with Kabul in an incremental manner. “New Delhi will seek a clear assurance from the Taliban that its people and property will not come under attack in that country. Second, the territory of Afghanistan should not be used by other terrorist groups to launch attacks on the territory of India. Third, New Delhi will work on humanitarian assistance and developmental projects in the first few months, before it begins full-fledged diplomatic and political engagement,” states Prof Rajan.
The Taliban recognises the value of India in developmental projects and the latter can also play a bridging role in connecting with other countries.