As India fights a two-pronged battle against Covid-19 internally and serious Chinese transgressions along the border in Eastern Ladakh, a Catch 22 situation stares it in the face on another front.
Though Delhi has followed a consistent friendly policy towards impoverished and fratricidal violence-afflicted Afghanistan over the last two decades, India has to decide — sooner than later — as to its stand toward the emerging power arrangement in Kabul that will involve the medieval-minded and fundamentalist Taliban.
With the changing geopolitical dynamic in the land of the Hindu Kush, the jury is still out in India on what its Afghanistan policy should be. Surprisingly, many former diplomats and geopolitical analysts opine that India must respond to the changed situation in Afghanistan and not stick to its old stance of not talking to the Taliban.
Accordingly, they suggest that India open up channels of communication with them. Notwithstanding the Taliban’s past record of grave and recurrent violence against their own people, abject cruelty towards women, their patronising of the drug culture and their utter disdain for democratic and civil norms, our experts are rooting for India to change its stance toward it! The close nexus between the Taliban and its mentor, Pakistan’s ISI, appears to be brushed aside at the altar of expedient geopolitics.
These experts say that for years, India has been marginalised in Afghanistan and that we have ceded space to Pakistan. It is worth noting that the latter’s old quest for strategic space in Afghanistan is a dead concept now, though its machinations to have a pliant regime in Kabul persist. It is well accepted that India’s consistent policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan while supporting it on peace and development have ensured for India the respect of the Afghan people.
India is the largest regional donor in Afghanistan, with its humanitarian support package of $3 billion for power, civil infrastructure projects, hospitals, educational institutions, the Salma Dam and the Afghan parliament building, apart from medical aid this year to combat Covid-19, besides the assurance to send 75,000 tonnes of wheat this year.
Delhi thus has to chart an Afghanistan policy that combines its national interest and strategic clarity while not discarding adherence to human values which are characteristic of an ancient, civilised nation like India.