New Delhi’s Engagement with Taliban Government in Afghanistan

November 15, 2021 3:04 PM

The first Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan hosted by India after the Taliban seized power was held in New Delhi on 10 November 2021 under the stewardship of India's NSA Ajit Doval.

ajit dhovalNSA Ajit Doval with his Uzbekistan counterpart Victor Makhmudov and other dignitaries during their meeting, in New Delhi, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (Photo source: PTI)

By Farooq Wani

The first Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan hosted by India after the Taliban seized power was held in New Delhi on 10 November 2021 under the stewardship of India’s NSA Ajit Doval. It was attended by Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Though China and Pakistan were also invited, both declined offering very weak excuses- while Beijing cited “scheduling difficulties”, Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf, said, “I will not go… a spoiler [India] cannot be a peacemaker.” However, absence of either made no difference because given their vested interests and anti-India mindset, both China and Pakistan would not have made any positive contribution and instead could be of immense nuisance value.

Both Pakistan and China just can’t think beyond their self-serving interests. While the former has wild hopes that its precondition for talks with India only after Article 370 abrogation is revoked, will force New Delhi to oblige, according to moderate Hurriyat leader Dr G M Hubbi, it’s the strong Indian response to repeated Chinese belligerence that has embarrassed Beijing and is one of the reasons why it turned down India’s invitation.

Pakistan has always worked towards ensuring a pliable dispensation in Kabul and its two decades long duplicitous game plan of outwardly waging war on terror while surreptitiously sheltering Afghan Taliban and empowering the Haqqani network has paid off. However, while the Taliban government in Kabul is listening to Islamabad, it’s not blindly following its diktats. For example, while Islamabad wants Kabul to just throw out Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] from its soil, the Taliban government has refused to do so and instead; its interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani has brokered a negotiation between Islamabad and TTP.

Though the consequences of Taliban coming to power haven’t been exactly what Islamabad had imagined and hoped for, it’s finding solace in the belief that Afghanistan is now out of India’s sphere of influence. While this may be true to a great extent, it would be a serious error of judgment on Pakistan’s part to think that by giving what appears to be a cold shoulder to Kabul, New Delhi has irreversibly antagonised the Taliban. The fact is that Taliban knows very well that India has a far greater capability and capacity than Pakistan to help in reconstruction of war-torn Afghanistan and provide succor to its impoverished people, and so it just can’t jettison New Delhi.

Some feel that New Delhi has been lackadaisical in engaging Taliban and as such lost out to China and Pakistan. While there’s no doubt that India doesn’t appear to be in a tearing hurry in this regard, it’s certainly not sitting idle. In a high-level meeting of the United Nations on humanitarian situation in Afghanistan held in September, India’s foreign minister, S Jaishankar spoke for all donor nations, emphasising that it’s “essential that humanitarian assistance providers are accorded unimpeded, unrestricted and direct access to Afghanistan.” Most importantly, India offered aid in kind but didn’t pledge any money, thereby addressing the humanitarian crisis without reducing pressure on Taliban to fulfil its promises on ensuring minority rights and gender equality.

After India’s second meeting with Taliban, its spokesperson Zabihullah said: “The Indian envoy to the Moscow format meeting said that the people of Afghanistan need humanitarian assistance, Afghanistan is going through a difficult situation. India is ready to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.” This public acknowledgement indicated that all was well as far as Indo-Afghanistan diplomatic relations are concerned.

Just a few days ago, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi reiterated that “India’s support to the people of Afghanistan is very clear. It is a people-led interaction and involvement with that country. We have been extending support for many years for the people of Afghanistan.” Without taking any names he also made an obvious reference to Pakistan’s refusal to allow use of its territory for transporting 50,000 metric tons of wheat to Afghanistan by saying “We have been looking at possibilities, but there have been difficulties due to lack of unimpeded access.”

While New Delhi’s request for allowing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan via land route through Pakistan was absolutely reasonable, Islamabad’s refusal to facilitate movement of humanitarian aid from the source to the recipients was criminal. The fact that after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s meeting with the Taliban’s acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, Pakistan Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying “The Prime Minister conveyed that in the current context Pakistan would favourably consider the request by Afghan brothers for transportation of wheat offered by India through Pakistan on exceptional basis for humanitarian purposes and as per modalities to be worked out,” is proof that Taliban compelled Imran Khan to accept India’s request.

While China and Pakistan are bending backwards in trying to get the international community to recognise the Taliban, India is wisely following a practical and unambiguous system of linking recognition of the Kabul government with its accepting international norms of rights and gender equality. Since this is also the considered stand of the international community, Beijing and Islamabad are the only exceptions who have a highly questionable criteria for recognising the Taliban government of Afghanistan. So, India has the full support of the international community and hence there’s really nothing to worry about.

(The author is Editor Brighter Kashmir, TV Commentator, Political Analyst and Columnist. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).)

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