If there is one territory in the world which is difficult to govern since time immemorial it is without any doubt Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a notoriously difficult country to govern. Empire after empire, nation after nation have failed to pacify what is today the modern territory of Afghanistan, giving the region the nickname “Graveyard of Empires” even if sometimes those empires won some initial battles and made in roads into the region. Starting by Britishers and their defeat in 1839-42 1st Afghan war , followed by Russian invasion in 1980s . Since then, as both the British and Russians have learned, that while it is possible to conquer territory in Afghanistan temporarily, and defeat Afghans militarily in open battle, it is virtually impossible to hold the region down for long, when it is filled with guerrillas, tribes, and castles that can constantly weigh down a foreign power. Now Americans have also realised this , that it is fighting a never ending war and that it is a drain on its exchequer for 18 years. However the way Trump’s administration in its desperation( for its domestic reasons and nearby elections) have hastily concluded the deal gave Taliban (in a way Pakistan) an edge over Washington. Also the democratically elected Ghani government was not even included in this deal shows the lack of inclusiveness in the deal. Now it is confirmed that American will leave Afghanistan and withdraw all its soldiers from there. The relevant questions we must ask here is – what this means for India’ regional security?? Won’t it will create a power void in this region which has become a fertile ground for various players for their geopolitical ambition?? Lastly and more importantly what will happen to state of Afghanistan and it’s people after Taliban takes the power whose ideology is essentially of religious fundamentalist ??
Afghanistan is a state which is strategically located as a gateway for central Asia . India Afghanistan shares a “strategic partnership” which is marked by our tremdous goodwill in the region. This goodwill is because of our development initiative taken in Afghanistan and increasing its government capabilities. We have approximately invested 2 billion dollars there and it’s results are clearly visible be the development of its Parliament, Salma dam, various housing projects, etc .We are even developing a port Chabahar in Iran mainly to bypass Pakistan and from that Delaram-Zaranj Highway as tool to provide connectivity to landlocked state of Afghanistan . Afghanistan importance for New Delhi can be seen from various facets – it’s geographical location as it is a part of India’s neighborhood . This region is also important for our regional influence as a net security provider , as a gateway to Centra Asia. This region is also important to counter Pakistani activities . There are also confirmation from various geological surveys that this region is rich in minerals. Afghanistan stability is important for not only for the whole region but for also our country too. Thus importance of Afghanistan for India cannot be overstated and which is also outside the purview of this article and already many articles have been written about it by our many diplomats and strategic analysts.
But the more pertinent question are remains to be answered . Firstly what will happen to India’s long stated position of “Afghan led Afghan owned and Afghan controlled” development?Have we put all our eggs in Ghani’s( democratically elected government) basket by boycotting Taliban ? Do we need to open channel of communication with Taliban at this point of time ?? Lastly what is at stake in Afghanistan for India after so many years of investment??
Whether we like it or not today Taliban is most important factor in the polity of Afghanistan and after sharing table with Usa in signing the peace deal it has gained legitimacy . Even other players like Russia, China has in a way or other open their channels with Taliban. This is due to the fact that Afghanistan was able to survive after so many years of war with Afghanistan’s government and Usa as it enjoyed safe havens in Pakistan. Even last year we sent our two diplomats although in non official capacity in a process led by Russia. There are two factions in which people are divided. One proposes to open talks with Taliban and secure our national interest. They put forward their theory that India’s cost of inaction will make us less relevant in the region and further decrease our ability to shape the realities on ground. Even American diplomat Zalimay Khalilzad who negotiated the deal with Taliban for America recently came to New Delhi . He was also asking New Delhi to open talks with Taliban if we read between the lines of his statements. Even Taliban is giving India signals that it is open to talks and in a way it does not want to interfere in internal matters of India like Kashmir issue . Other group is strictly in opposes this stand . The say Taliban is essentially under control of Pakistan and it’s agencies like ISI . Also its ideology is completely opposite to what we stand for. The recent revelation of Taliban being paid by Russia to kill USA soldiers further adds complexity to already complicated situation.
Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah after initial fued between them have agreed to a power sharing deal which are putting a united front against Taliban . The talks between democratically elected government lead by Abdullah and Taliban has been started. Only future will tell about the outcomes of such talk and how the power sharing agreement takes the shape.
But for India to secure it’s national interest and to remain relevant in the region we must start diplomatic communications with the Taliban. Talking doesn’t mean accepting it’s ideology . We have already started to shift from our earlier stance of realism to pragmatism in various geopolitical aspects . This must be implemented here as stability of Afghanistan is important for us . An unstable Afghanistan can be a breeding ground for Isis or other terrorist organisation to emerge as the same happened in Syria which can have internal security ramifications for states like Jammu and Kashmir . Elections in Washington is also a key factor which will further decide the future outcomes. The road to peace , prosperity and stability for the people of Afghanistan and the region still a long way ahead.