For the past few decades, Afghanistan has perhaps been the most politically unstable country in south-east Asia. Post 9/11 and the ouster of Taliban from power, there were hopes that there would be a radical change in the situation and a more secure political scenario would be established. But even today, over a decade later, the vision of Afghanistan as a democratic nation, run by a strong government, has not really materialised.
Owing to a Taliban led insurgency, which shows no sign of dying down, and most regions of the nation still remaining a war zone, things do not seem to be going well for the Afghan government as per the post 9/11 plan.
In the aftermath of 9/11, India decided to act swiftly and made inroads into a new Afghanistan which had left its bloody past behind and was promising to be a strategically and economically beneficial partner, given the unpredictable relationship with Pakistan.
On account of investment and help, India came to be seen as a reliable friend by the Afghan people and their government. When the US decided to hold peace talks with the Afghan Taliban few years earlier, it seemed that there was still hope for a strong resolution to bring stability to the most volatile region in India’s neighbourhood. But with time, these hopes dwindled out with the negotiations going on the backburner and the Afghan government was left alone to deal with the Taliban.
The latest move by Afghan leader Ashraf Ghani to resume talks in Qatar, which comes after an audacious attack by Taliban in Kabul, seems well intended. But what’s worrying is the agenda with which they are moving forward. Ghani hopes to seal a deal with the Taliban according to which the extremist group will not only be politically legitimate but will also share power in the governance of Afghanistan. This turn of events, given the history of the Taliban and India, is a matter to be taken seriously by New Delhi.
Ever since the emergence of the Taliban and the public execution of India’s close ally Najibullah at their hands, India has been highly critical of the Taliban and has supported their strongest adversaries, the northern alliance.
Religious extremist groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizbul Mujahideen involved in running an insurgency in Kashmir, are believed to have close ties with the Afghan Taliban.
When Indian Airlines flight 814 was hijacked in December 2000, the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan not only allowed the terrorists to land the plane in Kandahar but also moved its militants close to the aircraft to prevent a possible intervention by India's special forces. They also ensured a safe passage for the hijackers post the release of three terrorists by India.
Post the attacks, the Indian government increased support to the anti-Taliban forces in every way by investing in projects for construction and developing infrastructure.
Following the attacks by insurgents and extremists on Indian soil, there have been concerns that the Taliban might be eyeing to expand its activities into Indian territory. This, given the already delicate security situation in India, is a worrying development.
Though India has earned the friendship and admiration of the Afghan people owing to its investment and financial help, it has not been a lot when compared to the kind of funding China is pumping into the region. Another drawback is that New Delhi isn’t really looked up to as an ally that will save Afghanistan from Taliban, as the capital never showed much enthusiasm for committing a peace keeping force for to Afghanistan.
In a desperate situation where there doesn’t seem to be much of a hope to push out the Taliban, it seems like a last resort for the Afghan government to give them access to the government to establish peace. Though this might allow the administration to fully utilize its mineral resources and other reserves, this will also mean freedom for Taliban to undo the reforms that were introduced in the post 9/11 democratic set up. For Delhi, it will mean falling behind in a crucial battle with rivals in Islamabad which will naturally be seen as a reliable friend of the Afghan Taliban which it so fondly acknowledged as the “Good Taliban”. This will be a huge strategic setback for India.
The most dangerous outcome for India will be the fact that religious fundamentalist groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba, fringe groups like the Indian Mujahideen and others in Kashmir will get a strong backing from a politically legitimate partner. Groups operating within the country that already have dreams of starting a communal insurgency in India will also find a lot of encouragement and possibly decent funding.
Though all these are still just possibilities which depend on the outcome of slow moving negotiations, the diplomatic top brass in Delhi seriously need to consider focusing more on Afghanistan and contributing more to it, not only financially, but also in terms of strong military support.