There is a flurry of activity between New Delhi and Kabul. The writing on the Hindukush wall is clear. The Taliban are on the ascendant. Where does it leave India?
Should India be heart-broken, jilted that new US President Joe Biden has made such a clinical retreat? Or, are there opportunities in the new turn? Is a relationship of hostility with the Taliban an inevitability? Similarly, do we take it for granted that they will continue to be an Islamic militia controlled by Pakistan?
After George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan and co-opted Musharraf’s Pakistan, Washington gifted us that description for the region: Af-Pak. Does India now accept this as a given? Can we de-hyphenate our strategic thinking here? In 2011, I had written this National Interest listing the reasons India should leave ‘Af’ to ‘Pak’. How have we moved on from there?
First, is there evidence that the Taliban, out of dependence or gratitude, will remain a vassal of the Pakistanis forever? An inseparable ally, linked to Pakistan through a friendship “higher than mountains, deeper than the ocean”, to borrow that description often used in the rhetoric of Pakistan-China summits?
Your question could be, why not? Weren’t the Taliban like that with Pakistan in their first innings? But, as statutory warnings with mutual funds advertisements say: Past performance is not necessarily a guide to future performance. Would that also work with geostrategic interests?